Sunday, June 25, 2017

Half a year's reading - 2017

I really do mean to jot down my monthly readings, but, hey, six months is better than 2016's yearly report!

In the early months, I spent my reading time right here in New Hampshire, down on the seacoast. The author changes the names of the towns, but anyone who lives here knows exactly where he means.


I have meant to read Brendan DuBois (pronounced boys) for ages, and finally, after listening to him on NHPR here and here (and just a warning you may not want to listen if you are just beginning the books), I bought some of his books for the kindle and read eight of them. Amazon says that Lewis Cole, is "one of the most appealing heroes in mystery fiction," and he really is. We learn in the early books of his back story and how shattered it has left him. He is settled into an old house right on the sea where he rebuilds his life in the community, solving mysteries along the way. He is not your usual 'hero.' He is close to a mafia type from the North End of Boston. He does some things he is not proud of. But he also is very kind to women, and is close friends with the local cop and newspaper writer. I don't want to give much more detail because it is very interesting how his story unwinds with each book. This is a series that needs to be read in order. Part way through my reading, I actually emailed the author. A few days later it came back saying it was undeliverable. Must have been an old address. But I wanted to tell him how bad the kindle versions were of the early books. There were glaring misspellings. I told him that I loved the books so I soldiered on, but that some readers might be so put off they would just quit. So, I would recommend that you buy or borrow the print versions, at least for the first several in the series.

I've not read any books like this before. They are mysteries, but also I think they could be called thrillers. There is a lot of excitement.

Have you noticed how the price of kindle books just goes up and up? I never minded paying eight dollars for the old mysteries I love, but it seems like newer books cost almost as much on the kindle as they do in print. In most cases, I'll  go with the print version, and just read the old books on the kindle.

I read The Little Book of Hyyge which I had noted here. Although I am interested in the concept, I found the book labored to make its point, and said the same things over and over in different ways. I don't think a whole book on it was necessary. An article would suffice.

I read the six books in the Fred Vickery series one right after the other. They were written in the 1990s by Sherry Lewis, and I found them really wonderful. He is a widower, a few years old than I am, with adult children and grandchildren. Only one of his four kids lives in the same Colorado town as he does, but the others pop into the books, sometimes being the main story. These are mysteries, and though the setting is nice and he is a great character, they are not 'cozy.' Bad murders happen, and innocent people are suspected. Fred is friends with the Sheriff, who was his daughter's high school boyfriend. The local doctor is his friend but also his nemesis, always watching what Fred is eating after a small heart attack. The books develop as the series moves along, and we find out more about the man, his late wife, and his family. I really love these six books. They are an excellent little set. The titles and order of the books may be found here.

I read and enjoyed two old ones by Freeman Wills Crofts who should be as well known as Agatha.

I continued where I left off in the Hamish Macbeth series (number 26) and decided I am done. I just don't like them enough for me to spend my time on. I also checked in on Simon Brett's Fethering series and after only a few chapters I decided I was done with those books, too.

The MC Beaton, Hamish Macbeth book, Death of a Chimney Sweep, and Peter May's The Blackhouse were read for the Read Scotland Challenge. As bland as Hamish was, the Blackhouse was an edge of my seat kind of book. Whew. And I've been assured by my friend Kay that the second one, The Lewis Man, is even better. I bought a lovely picture book companion to May's work that helps bring the setting alive.


I read In This Grave Hour, the 13th and latest Maisie Dobbs book by Jacqueline Winspear. It was wonderful. I love this series so much, and there is a special place in my heart for these excellent books.

I read an installment in the always delightful Coffeehouse mystery series by Cleo Coyle - A Brew to a Kill. Snappy dialogue, intelligent characters with loads of personality, and that wonderful New York City locale.

I began the first book in a new series by Susie Steiner, called Missing Presumed, which I liked very much. I could see the BBC or itv making this into a television show. I was annoyed by the bits about the main character's dating life, but not enough to keep me away from the great story.

A refreshing quality about the older mysteries is that there is very little about the main detective's life. Sometimes I just want the mystery, thank you very much, and I'm now reading more Michael Gilbert, one of the very great writers, I believe. One of his sleuths lives in a boarding house and that's about all the reader knows!

I didn't write about the other 'perfect' book I read that I mentioned in my book report on Stir. I want to spend a full post on it at some point, but I'll tell you here what it is, The Song of Hartgrove Hall, published in Great Britain as The Song Collector, by Natasha Solomons. I loved it beyond words, and will try to do it credit when I finally sit down to write about it.

So there you have it. My reading from January through (most of) June. 29 books.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Stir by Jessica Fechtor

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home
by Jessica Fechtor
nonfiction 2015

print
finished 6/9/17

I've read two perfect books so far this year, and Stir is one of them. (Stay tuned- I hope to write about the other one soon) 

When she was in her late twenties, Jessica Fechtor suffered a brain aneurysm.This is the story of a very lucky young woman who made it through what could have killed her. She intersperses her medical story with people and food from her past, and from her time of healing. We learn of the beginnings of her great love story with her now husband, Eli. We meet her family and friends. The author has a wonderful wry sense of humor that made me smile even as she went through some very difficult medical situations. We know she lives, and we know she is alright which makes the book really a joy to read. 

And that's pretty much all I want to say about the book. I don't want to spoil a minute of a future reader's pleasure in reading Stir. It is, of course, a foodie's delight. It is also an excellently written book by a most interesting, kindly, and witty person. I so enjoyed being in her company as I read along. 

It has been ages since I shared a post with Weekend Cooking, 


so here is a dish a friend made for Jessica when she was recuperating. We really enjoyed it, and will make it again.


There isn't a recipe in the book, just a mention of a dish her friend Julia made.
One of those things was farro, a tender Italian grain that feels nice to bite into. I'd heard of it, but never tried it until that night at our friends' table. Julia had cooked up a pot and mixed it with peas.
I have cooked farro before but only in a stew. This time I cooked it until softened. In the meantime I sautéed some onions, and cooked some peas. When the farro was done I stirred in the vegetables, making a delicious, simple, and filling meal. I have rarely cooked with peas, other than cooked fresh from the garden with butter. I used frozen peas in this dish, and really the taste was quite exquisite. They mixed well with the onions and farro. If you've not heard of farro, it is a grain-lovers treat. Here is a page offering high praise for the humble grain.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ray for the day

On Ray Davies' 73rd birthday I decided to put up the title song from his latest album, Americana. What is so interesting to me is that The Kinks and all the 'British Invasion' bands brought England to this young teenager in New England. The music led me to study British literature in college. Much of my reading still is by British writers, and my television viewing is almost exclusively British shows.

I've written about Ray quite a few times here in my letters. You may just type his name into the search bar if you're interested.

After the Americana video, I've also posted two short ones about his knighthood. Sir Ray!







PS - You may read where Ray for the day comes from here. Ten years ago today!!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Update on blueberries

In early September I wrote about the blueberries we had bought during the summer. I am amazed to announce that just today we used the last of the blueberries I had frozen. Every day we've had a 1/2 cup each in our yogurt or smoothies.

We first bought them on July 27th which means that we get enough blueberries to have them for about ten months a year. I'm so delighted and can't wait to tell our neighbor the grower.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Back on Facebook

I have been off Facebook since April 2016. I've been completely content and haven't missed it at all. But I rejoined today because of a family situation. A few days ago I read the obituary of my cousin in a newspaper. If I hadn't happened to see it, I would not have known he was dead. I don't have a landline anymore, and I'm not in touch with most of my cousins except via Christmas cards.

The world has changed, and I guess I must change with it. We used to all have telephones with our numbers listed in the phonebook. If someone didn't have access to a regional phonebook, they could dial information and find out our number and call us. I even remember the days when the operator would tell you the address of the person whose number you were seeking.

Today, both Michael and Estée called to say my late cousin's daughter got in touch with them via Facebook, having found them by their last name, so they could tell me of his death. The incident left me a bit shaken, and made me realize that this is a strong reason to be on Facebook.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Ticks (more than you want to know)

This is by far the very worst tick season we've ever had. April 25th, Tom found the first tick on himself, and I found one a couple days later. From then on I have tried to avoid being outdoors in the grass. It wasn't hard to do because April and May were chilly and rainy for the most part. However, Tom takes Lucy up the hill twice a day (Labradors need a lot of exercise!). He rides the four-wheeler so you'd think he would be protected but he still finds them on himself. Lucy runs through the tall grasses and woods and comes home with ticks. We find a lot of them still crawling over her body. Luckily she is light colored so we can see them, but try as we may we still miss some and have pulled off a few big ones. And the other delightful thing is that they get caught in clothes, and I've found live ones crawling up the cloth laundry holder, and even inside the washing machine. I've found them crawling on the floor and crawling on the walls. Not many, but still.... Tom pulls them off Lucy with his bare hands and squishes them. I take them off with a kleenex and burn it in the woodstove. And though we check ourselves every day, we are still apt to wake up in the morning with a tick crawling around or semi-attached. Yuck, yuck, and yuck. They were never here in my childhood or my children's childhoods. They seemed to show up in the early 2000s. I did a search to see if this was recognized as the worst year by anyone else, and got this result. In a way, it is heartening to know there is an answer. Matt thought it might be the warm winter, and I thought it might be the wet spring, but it looks like we can blame acorns! Who knew? What I do know is they should be mostly gone by July, and I can lose my vigilante persona. If you can't get enough of this subject, I've mentioned ticks in my letters - here and here.


Acorns, Not Weather, To Blame for More Ticks
National Pest Management Association explains why 2010's crop puts people at risk for tick-borne disease

The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) is forecasting a heavier tick season than in previous years, but it's not due to the unseasonably mild winter as one might expect. Rather, acorns can be blamed for the predicted surge in tick populations this year, particularly in the Northeastern U.S.

Oak trees produced an extremely large acorn crop in 2010, which led to a boom in the white-footed mouse population last year. As a result, the blacklegged (deer) tick population also increased because the ticks had an abundance of mice to feed on when they hatched. However, this spring those same ticks will be looking for their second meal as nymphs, but a decline in the mice population may force them to find new warm-blooded host - humans.

Experts are concerned about an increase in human cases of tick-borne disease. "Many of these nymphal ticks may have contracted Lyme disease from feeding on infected mice as larvae," said Jim Fredericks, technical services director for NPMA. "These hungry ticks will soon be looking for another blood meal, which puts people at risk as they head outside to enjoy the weather."

NPMA offers the following tick tips:

• Use tick repellent when outdoors and wear long sleeved shirts and pants, preferably light in color, so ticks are easier to detect.
• Use preventative medicine on pets, as prescribed by your veterinarian.
• Once indoors, inspect clothing and your entire body. Check family members and pets that have been outdoors.
• Keep grass cut low, including around fences, sheds, trees, shrubs and swing sets. Remove weeds, woodpiles and other debris from the yard.
• If you find a tick on your body, remove it with a slow, steady pull so as not to break off the mouthparts and leave them in the skin. Then, wash hands and bite site thoroughly with soap and water.  Ticks should be flushed down a toilet or wrapped in tissue before disposing in a closed receptacle.
• If you suspect a tick bite, seek medical attention.
For more information on ticks, please visit www.pestworld.org.