Author Spotlight: Richard Bach

Author Spotlight: Richard Bach

Happy Birthday, Richard Bach, June 23

Quote: Richard Bach, “Fly free and happy beyond birthdays and across forever, and we’ll meet now and then when we wish, in the midst of the one celebration that never can end.”

 

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Richard Bach’s best known work is without a doubt Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Even though Jonathan Livingston Seagull was published as an adult book in the 70’s, my uncle and aunt gave it to me for my 10th birthday. I adored the story of a seagull’s stubborn pursuit in the joy of flying and took to doodling seagulls in flight for years down the margins of notebooks and homework. Jonathan Livingston Seagull truly fits the definition of a picture book — where both the text and pictures interact to tell the story together.

 

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Although, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, was my personal favorite growing up, indubitably, his Ferret Chronicles made the most impact on my family as a whole. The Ferret Chronicles is the sort of book series that should come with large warning labels and wrapped in caution tape. After reading the series to my children, son #1 asked for a pet ferret and wasn’t sidetracked from the idea even after I demanded an essay on the care of ferrets researched in our local library. And those critters lived for a long time, from the time my oldest was in elementary school till he was in high school.

The books in the Ferret Chronicles were favorite read-alouds when our boys were growing up. Son #2 appropriated the family copies of the Ferret Chronicles books for his forever bookshelf – those books he re-visits and re-reads like old friends. These books make for great shared reading for elementary aged children.

We gave our extended family the first book in the series, Rescue Ferrets at Sea, as Christmas gifts the year it came out because the ferrets as coast guard sailors were probably the closest to a book we’ve encountered about the Coast Guard. (This was a big deal to our family because my mom worked as the civilian personal officer on Governor’s Island a Coast Guard base in New York City’s harbor for many years before the base was closed.) Although, Rescue Ferrets at Sea, will probably be our all-time favorite Richard Bach book, the rest of the series is a fun romp that’s a mix of fairy tale and modern parable. Ferrets are always the lead characters who have an adventure that leads to personal growth.

 

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Author Spotlight: Richard Bach

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie King

Recipe & Review : Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

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Mystery Series Review: Mary Russell Novels, Laurie R. King

Mary Russell is the leading character in Laurie King’s mystery series that takes place between World War I through the roaring 1920s. American raised 15 year old, Mary Russell meets the retired detective Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs one day and they create a unique relationship that grows from mentor-protege to friends to an equal partnership as the series moves forward in time. Mary Russell is a match for Holmes with her keen observational skills, a logical mind with the ability to deduce as quickly as Holmes himself, and an independent spirit with a compassionate and loyal heart. For most of the series, Mary Russell is an academic from Oxford, studying both the Talmud and chemistry; and Holmes has no issues dragging her from the library or lab into an assortment of adventures.

The series itself is suppose to be the personal writings of Mary Russell, mysteriously gifted to the author, in order to create a memoir of Holmes’ later years and the Russell – Holmes partnership. Therefore, the majority of the series stories are told from the perspective of Mary Russell that include personal reflections on the narrative as reminisces that point out youthful folly or include hidden background information.  The characters, interactions, and dialog of Russell and Holmes truly belong to King, even though, Holmes was clearly grown from the cannon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle even makes cameo appearances through out the series as well as other fictional and historical characters. In The Moor, Russell and Holmes return to the Dartmoor setting of The Hound of Baskerville to solve a case for the historical figure of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. In The Game, the partners work with the adult Kim from Rudyard Kipling’s work. In addition, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes, and Dr. Watson also appear in the series. The historical detail in each novel make it easy to slide into the period, not only the outward setting of clothes and daily details, but the also the more nuanced social norms and interpersonal manners.

As with many multiple volume series written over a large span of time (first book in 1994 and still going strong), the best starting point is the first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. King was already an accomplished writer at the start of the series and the craftsmanship in her writing has maintained its high quality throughout the series. With the first book starting with Mary Russell as a teenager, this series is very approachable to readers in middle or high school. The first book could easily be classified as a Young Adult coming of age novel.

As an academic or detective, Mary Russell needs a heartier tea like an Assam black tea from India or an English Breakfast blend to get her through both late night study sessions or trailing clues across the country. Likewise, if you can get her to stop and eat, a savory scone or filling sandwich would be needed to refuel her energy level for the next chase and plot twist in a case.

Savory Cheese Scones

  • 2 cups self rising flour
  • 6 TBS cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup grated or chopped extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 TBS crushed french fried onions
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk, cream, sour cream, greek yogurt, or ricotta cheese
  • Optional: smoked paprika for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the flour and butter  to make an unevenly crumbly mixture.
  3. Add the cheese and onion, and pulse till cheese is just coated with flour.
  4. Add the eggs and dairy of your choice; pulse just until everything is evenly moistened; the dough will be very sticky.
  5. Spray an ice cream scoop with pan release; then portion scones (about 12) on the baking sheet, pat the tops to flatten lightly. Sprinkle with smoked paprika.
  6. Bake the scones for approximately 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Curry Tea Sandwiches

  • 2 cups rotisserie chicken breast shredded or 13oz can chicken  
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 tart green apple (like granny smith or crispin), finely chopped 
  • Salt & pepper to taste (optional, depends on how much curry you use)
  • ¼ cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • Vidalia onion vinaigrette/salad dressing or a light mayonnaise based salad dressing (enough to moisten, so the salad will hold together, but not be runny)
  • Curry powder or paste to taste (if using paste, warm in microwave oven for easier mixing)
  • half a loaf soft whole wheat bread or brioche buns
  • unsalted butter, room temperature
  1. In a large bowl, break the chicken into flakes.   Combine with nuts, apple, cranberries, and onion; stir until well blended. Add curry powder or paste and salt & pepper.
  2. Spread one side of each piece of bread lightly with butter, and go all the way to the edges. Top the buttered side of bread with some of the chicken mixture and top with the remaining bread slices, buttered side down.
  3. Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a serrated knife. Cut the sandwiches into quarters. Yields about 4 whole sandwiches or 8 halves or 16 fourths.

 

1250055709 0312427395 0553386379 0804177961

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Also see —

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Book Review: The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper

Book Review: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

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Fiction: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

Friday, March 5th, 1954. A young freshman congressman wakes up from a drunken stupor lying in the bottom of a ravine in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Nearby is a crashed Studebaker…and the body of a young woman. So begins the story of The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper’s first novel, but hopefully not his last.

 

Jake Tapper is a leading correspondent and analyst for CNN’s Washington DC bureau. As such, he has seen the inner workings of modern Washington firsthand. In his debut novel, though, he turns his attention to an earlier era, the 1950s. Ike Eisenhower is president, Jack and Robert Kennedy are rising young stars, and Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn are headlining the news on a daily basis with their hearings on “the Red menace.” Tapper may not have been alive to cover Washington during that time, but he brings a journalist’s eye and a storyteller’s art to bring the time to life in this book.

 

The Hellfire Club is a private, invitation only, club that is one of several such secret societies in Washington. It is so secret, in fact, that few know about it and even fewer will talk about it. There, barons of industry socialize with political leaders from both sides of the aisle. Deals are done, sins are shared, reputations are made and destroyed, and the real power in Washington is exercised. First-term congressman Charlie Marder gets swept up in this world before he knows what’s happening. His exemplary service as an Army captain in WWII Europe and his career as an academic at Columbia have failed to fully prepare him for the battle lines in Congress. Enemies masquerade as friends, true friends are hard to find, and successes become failures with the stroke of a pen. Even the strongest of relationships are tested in this kind of turbulence.

 

Charlie’s wife, Margaret, is an academic herself. A zoologist, she is much more familiar with the workings of nature than of politics. Wild horses could drag her away–and they do. She leaves Washington to participate in a study of wild horses on islands off the coast of Maryland. This leaves Charlie alone in Washington. There, he finds that the taste of power and the pressures of the job lead to compromises he never expected to make, and he finds that he is not entirely the person he believed himself to be.

 

Charlie and Margaret are wonderful characters. Neither are saints. Both make mistakes. Their journey together and their recognition of the other’s failings and strengths makes for a powerful story arc. There are times in the book when neither of them is particularly likable. Yet, by the end, I was cheering for each of them and for their relationship to make it. Any long marriage will face struggles–though most of us don’t have to confront the temptations or the threats that walk the halls of Congress. Charlie discovers that he is not the same person without Margaret. He needs her to be his best self–and that humility guides him (and them) through the powerful conclusion of The Hellfire Club.

 

Tapper brings the transitions of the 1950s powerfully to life. It is easy to look back and gloss over the Eisenhower era as one of peace and stability. In fact, the dramatic transformations of the 1960s were already taking root in the previous decade. Black veterans were being elected to Congress–in very small numbers–but they were not allowed any real power. Women were seldom seen in any leadership roles. Mostly they were used by men in power as toys. Sexual abuse was not only tolerated but expected. Yet the book hints at the changes that were brewing. Margaret Marder has a career, one she intends to pursue even while her husband is in Congress and even while she is pregnant. Charlie’s one true friend throughout the book is Isaiah Street, an African American congressman from Chicago. These relationships help him survive the challenges facing him. Beyond their value to the story, though, Margaret and Isaiah help us remember how far we’ve come in such a relatively short time.

 

Tapper makes 1950s Washington come to life in The Hellfire Club. Within the first 50 pages we have appearances by the Kennedys, the Nixons, Lyndon Johnson, and other power players from history. It may be a book of fiction, but Tapper weaves actual historical figures into the narrative, along with actual events (such as a shooting in the Capitol by Puerto Rican separatists), to make it feel like we’re reading about actual intrigues and cover ups. The Hellfire Club may be a dangerous club to join, but it’s a wonderful book to read.

 

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Book Review: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

Book Review: The Android’s Dream, John Scalzi

Book Review: The Android’s DreamJohn Scalzi

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Science Fiction: The Android’s DreamJohn Scalzi

I will admit it. Part of me is still 13 years old. It probably always will be. So when a book’s opening chapter involves a complex plot to murder an alien trade negotiator using provocatively scented flatulence to send coded messages, messages understood by the negotiator as questioning his virility, I could not help but laugh. Loudly. As I said, part of me will always be 13.

 

The Android’s Dream may be the funniest science fiction book I have read in a decade. Written in 2006, I am so sorry that I was not aware of it years ago. It has the trappings of serious sci-fi. An alien race, nominally aligned with the earth, is facing a succession crisis. Part of the succession plan for the ruling clan involves the sacrifice of a sheep, a sheep specially genetically designed for the ruling clan by biologists on earth (a result of a previous treaty between earth and this planet’s rulers). However, all of the sheep on the alien planet succumbed to an illness, so the original line is only available on earth. And someone is killing those sheep.

 

Harry Creek is a low level state department employee, but he is much more than that. A computer prodigy, he won the Westinghouse Science Award as a teenager. A war hero, he single-handedly saved the few members of his battalion who were not wiped out in a pivotal battle. Back on earth, he just wants to live a quiet life. When he is asked to try to find the sheep for the government, he traces their DNA to a very unlikely source: Robin Baker, a young woman who owns a pet store near Washington, DC. What follows is a combination of humor and hijinks that send Harry and Robin from a shopping mall to an interstellar cruise ship to the halls of power on the planet Nidu. All of Harry’s formidable skills are needed to keep Robin and himself alive and one step ahead of their adversaries.

 

Scalzi is hilarious. He introduces us to characters like Takk, an alien on a religious quest to experience sin, who occasionally eats people when his job requires it (were he not on a quest to experience sin, that sort of thing would be too sinful to contemplate). We meet Chet, whose job it is to monitor a play space in the mall (it uses an anti-grav generator that requires the use of special shoes) and who lives to regret giving those special shoes to Harry and Robin before they get into the play space. A computer possessed of a human consciousness (uploaded upon the person’s death) realizes just how horny she is. These are not the usual tropes in science fiction, and they make for some laugh out loud moments throughout the story.

 

And, because it’s John Scalzi, we are asked to consider some deeper questions. What are the ethics involved in genetic manipulation? Is a computer with a human consciousness a sentient being? Do the rights of individuals trump the needs of a planet? With his usual deft touch, Scalzi presents the dilemmas without being heavy handed or dogmatic. His characters find their own answers, but seldom does he leave us thinking that their answers were the only possible right answers.

 

Science fiction as a genre has long been marginalized, not considered worthy of serious consideration by literary critics. Frankly, this is ridiculous, and says more about the critics than it does the genre. Any who still hold this prejudice should be silenced by two words: Margaret Atwood. The Android’s Dream is not a literary classic, but it is a delightful work by an author who himself is creating great books that belie that stigma. Even in a book that is comedic and lighthearted, Scalzi tackles deep, current issues of identity and ethics. He might be playing in The Android’s Dream, but he is playing with grownup toys in the grownup’s playground. And he proves with each new chapter that he belongs.

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Book Review: The Android’s DreamJohn Scalzi

Also see

Book Review: Redshirts, John Scalzi

Book Review: Lock In, John Scalzi

Also read Head On: A Novel of the Near Future (Lock in) — the next book in the series.

Book Review: Lock In, John Scalzi

Book Review: Lock InJohn Scalzi

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Science Fiction: Lock InJohn Scalzi

In Scalzi’s Near Future universe, Haden’s Syndrome, named after former first lady Margaret Haden, who was one of its first victims, has claimed millions of lives worldwide. Over 400 million have succumbed to the disease, which usually presents with meningitis symptoms. Most die. A lucky few survive without apparent long-term effects. But for a small percentage of survivors, there is a permanent change. They suffer from “lock in.” Their minds are alert, but they have no control at all of their bodies. With care, they can live a normal lifespan, but they will never be able to so much as blink their own eyelids.

 

To help these lock-in survivors, three major technologies have been developed. One is called the “Agora.” More than just an online meeting place, the Agora allows lock-ins to inhabit an avatar, create their own private and public spaces, and interact with each other in a virtual reality. A second is called “threeps.” Androids that can be completely controlled by the minds of lock-ins, threeps (short for C-3PO) can interact in the real world and allow lock-ins to hold jobs that healthy persons can do. A final technology allows lock-ins to control neural networks implanted in the minds of people who are both willing and able to get them. These people recovered from Haden’s, but the neural mapping of their brains was changed allowing them to become “integrators,” able to host the neural network that allows those fully locked in to share their bodies temporarily. This allows lock-ins to actually experience life in a working physical human body, though the technology does not completely remove the body’s owner from the equation. It is a shared experience, giving lock-ins sensory experiences like taste that would otherwise be impossible.

 

This is the setting for John Scalzi’s masterful work, Lock In. Chris Shane is a Haden, locked in since infancy but now an adult and just hired by the FBI. He is partnered with Agent Leslie Vann, a former integrator. They are part of the Washington, DC, field office in charge of Haden related crimes. Since location is not a factor in Haden involved crimes (a person’s physical body can control a threep or be in an integrator from anywhere else in the world), the FBI is automatically in charge of any crime involving a Haden. And on his second day on the job, Chris falls into a doozy. One man is dead, his throat slit, and an interrogator is sitting in the room with the body, refusing to talk.

 

Shane’s investigation takes him via threep to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, to Los Angeles, and all over Washington. In the process, we the readers get to know him. A former “poster child” for Haden’s, his father was a Hall of Fame basketball player who later became a billionaire real estate investor and a very politically active resident of Virginia. Seemingly everyone knows who Chris Shane is. This opens doors, but also makes people think they know him without having met him. There is a tension between the public “boy with Haden’s” and the private man trying to become a good agent that Scalzi does an excellent job probing. I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of John Scalzi’s books, and although this book did not win the big awards that some of his others have, in my mind it is one of his best. Every character, even the fairly minor ones, is written with compassion and understanding. They are complete, whole people. Some are likable, some are appalling, but all are whole. You feel the pain of being locked in, the freedom and constraints of living life in the body of an android, the challenge of sharing your own body with someone else, the pain one character has being mentally challenged and how that leaves him open for manipulation and abuse by others, and the tension between those who are “able” and those who are “different.” Scalzi does not avoid the live electric wires of race, gender, sexuality, and ability. Rather, he grabs those wires to give power and life to the wonderful characters in Lock In.

 

A more timid author would shy away from some of the topics in Lock In. A lesser author might try for a simple or easy answer. Scalzi is a master. He is able to introduce subjects that make you think, yet avoid being heavy handed or dogmatic. Part of the backdrop of the novel is the political battle over rights and funding for Hadens. The fault lines look familiar to anyone who reads today’s news. But Scalzi avoids stereotyping or judging. Some are for, some are against, but all have their reasons and no one is completely with the angels.

 

Read Lock In. Read everything by Scalzi. You’ll be glad you did.

Book Review: Lock InJohn Scalzi

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Also read Head On: A Novel of the Near Future (Lock in) — the next book in the series.

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Also see — Book Review: Redshirts, John Scalzi

Book Review: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: Type and CrossJ.L. Delozier

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Fiction: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Persephone “Seph” Smith is a profiler. Her acute empathy allows her to get into the minds of criminals, understanding the way they see the world and sometimes anticipating their next moves. When a killer executes a plot to release a deadly virus into the world, one with the potential to kill well over half the population, Seph is called to join the team pursuing him. What follows is a globe-trotting chase matching Seph’s wits against those of a killer who seems just as capable of seeing through her as she is of seeing through him.

 

J.L. Delozier is a doctor with years experience in both community medicine and in treating people during the worst of emergencies. Her clinical expertise shows in the details of the book, but does not overwhelm the story. This may say something about me, given that the book is about a mass murderer using biological weapons to cull the population, but I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. Seph is a thoughtful protagonist, capable of using her intelligence to track and capture the criminal, but also one who considers seriously the ramifications of life and death when confronted with the reality of plague in a modern era.

 

Type and Cross raises some interesting questions. What would people do when they knew they had a month to live? Delozier poses some intriguing possibilities. Some would turn to religion. Some would see an opportunity to strip off the veneer of civilization and give in to much baser instincts: rape and pedophilia, for example. Some would withdraw their savings and take that “bucket list” trip. Others would huddle close to loved ones. These possibilities are not dwelt upon. They are listed as observations Seph makes as the world confronts mass mortality, but they show the depth of the author and the character. We are mortal creatures who never fully accept our mortality. Each of us tends to live as though we have all the time in the world. Curiously, though, that refusal to bow to the inevitable might make us powerful enough to live beyond our years.

 

Seph realizes she will die. (Spoiler, though, she doesn’t.) The disease will kill almost everyone. This gives her an element of freedom to pursue a hurried relationship that, if they had more than a month to live, might not have developed. It pushes her to appreciate and welcome her family roles as a sister and an aunt. But it also focuses and motivates her to complete her task and find the killer. If she dies, when she dies, she will die doing what she is supposed to do. Ultimately, that may be all any of us can live for.

 

I am looking forward to finishing the prequel book, Storm Shelter. Although Type and Cross was published first, it should be regarded as the second book in the series according to the author. Regardless of the order you read them, J.L. Delozier has given us a delightful protagonist who may have to save the world again someday. I am glad she is up to the task.

 

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Book Review: Type and CrossJ.L. Delozier

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

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Book Series Review: Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Mitford, NC is an idyllic town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that bursts with all the drama of big city lights in the package of small town interpersonal relationships. In Mitford, cake competitions are as fierce as Superbowl Sunday and potlucks can vibrate with the tensions of a boardroom during a hostile corporate takeover. In Mitford, folks celebrate the first harvest of sweet corn and the turning of the fall leaves. In Mitford, they bake from scratch and start making Christmas presents in the fall. In Mitford, people share joys and hide pain. In Mitford, they laugh and cry, and some die, but mostly they live. The characters of the town are all people who live and they don’t feel like characters but like real people.

The heart of the Mitford Books belongs to the main character, Father Tim Kavanagh. Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest, shepherds, cares, and prays for his eccentric parishioners and the entire town of Mitford. The majority of the series is seen through his eyes. As clergy, or retired clergy, or just good friend, Father Tim is the man that the town goes to share all of life’s secrets, sorrows, challenges, milestones, and triumphs. Father Tim is just the fellow to share a story or two over a glass of cold southern sweet tea.

The Mitford Books should be savored on a Sunday afternoon or evening as a gentle way to prompt reflections during the transition between weeks — preferably, in a cozy and cheerful room with some southern sweet tea and a light treat since Father Tim always needs to look after his blood sugar levels.

Southern Sweet Tea

  • 12 regular sized black tea bags
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (to keep liquid clear and not cloudy)
  • 1 cup sugar or Splenda/stevia (if serving to Father Tim)
  • 1 quart filtered water
  • 1 quart ice cubes

In a large glass measuring cup, place the tea bags and add the baking soda.

Pour the boiling water over the tea bags.

Cover and steep for 15 minutes.

Take out the tea bags and do not squeeze them.

Pour the tea mixture into a pitcher; add the sugar.

Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Add in the ice cubes.

Let cool; chill in the refrigerator and serve over additional ice.

Garnish with lemon slices or mint sprigs

 

Cornbread Cookies

Father Tim is very fond of cornbread, however, cornbread is not very fond of Father Tim as it sends his blood sugar to bad levels. Hopefully, the lower sugar, ground chickpeas, and whole wheat flour in these cookies will prevent a sharp sugar spike, yet satisfy that cornbread craving.

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Splenda/stevia
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 cup canned chickpeas drained and minced in food processor
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven 325

In stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and Splenda/stevia. Add extract, honey, and egg.

In separate bowl mix together remaining dry ingredients (corn meal, flour, baking soda, and salt). Then slowly add to wet ingredients with the mixer on slow.

Use a cookie scoop to form dough balls on baking sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes till edges barely start to brown.

 

0735217394 B00IGFL8IE 0399183736

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

If you like this post see —

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

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Book Series Review: China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

China Bayles is the main character of the 28 and counting China Bayles Herbal Mysteries, a cozy mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert. After an intense career as a lawyer, China Bayles moves to the small college town of Pecan Springs, Texas to restart her life as the owner of an herbal shop. China uses her logic and  critical thinking skills gained as a lawyer and her knowledge of herbs and human nature gathered as a business woman to solve the mysteries and crimes that she and her best friend Ruby seem to fall into in their not quite quiet little town.

Each book features an herb that figures predominately as the title, theme, and key to the mystery. In addition, Albert sprinkles herbal facts, recipes, and even the occasional craft to support the herbal theme. The generous number of books in the series allows readers to follow the milestones of China’s life in Pecan Springs as her relationships, business, and role in the community grows. China is the kind of character you want to get to know in a small town like Pecan Springs. She’s funny, friendly, and has all the typical concerns and baggage that readers can relate to in a heartbeat like her stress in pulling together a meal after a long day or her musings over wardrobe and weight.

China Bayles Herbal Mysteries are the perfect books to savor on a summer weekend while sipping iced tea with something sweet.

Fresh Mint Iced Tea

Albert generously shares through out the series different recipes that China and best friend and business partner, Ruby would serve in their tea shop venture Thyme for Tea or at home. However, this fresh mint tea outlines a simple process that can be done as a quick gather in the garden after work that will be ready in time for a week night supper.

  • 8 sprigs of mint per cup of water
  • Optional: mix and match mint sprigs with basil, lemon verbena, lemon balm, or chamomile
  • Honey or sweetener of choice to taste or one sprig of fresh stevia per cup of water
  • Boiling water half the amount of water needed based on number of fresh herb sprigs gathered
  • Ice to equal to half the amount of water needed based on number of fresh herb sprigs gathered
  • Garnish: a slice of fresh citrus – lemon, lime, orange and/or a small slice of melon – watermelon

Let the fresh herbs, sweetener, and steep in the hot water for 10 minutes in a heat proof pitcher to create a concentrated liquid. Add the ice and let cool in the refrigerator until serving. Remove the pitcher herbs with tongs and serve with a fresh sprig of mint and ice in individual glasses. Add a garnish of citrus and/or melon for extra flavor.

Variation: use 4 sprigs of herbs and one tea bag per cup of water

 

China Bayles, lives in Pecan Springs, TX so in honor of her town here are two pecan recipes to snack on while reading about her adventures.

Pecan Butter Balls

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Chop the pecans in a blender or food processor until you have two cups. Combine all of the ingredients except confectioners’ sugar. Gather the dough into a ball. With floured hands, shape into one-inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheets. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and spray them with Pam. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Pull the cookies and papers off the cookie sheet and onto a cooling rack and let them cool slightly; be sure they’re still warm and then gently shake them in a bag with the confectioners’ sugar. Place them back on the paper and add more confectioners’ sugar while they cool. Makes 5 dozen.

 

Ginger Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
  • 3/4 cup pecan halves
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger  or 2 teaspoons grated crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Directions

Grind the oatmeal and pecan pieces in a food processor until they resemble cornmeal–reasonably fine but with some texture. Whisk the whole wheat flour, cornstarch, ginger, salt and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the oat/nut mixture.

In another medium bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth and light, about 1 minute. Gradually add the granulated and light brown sugar; continue beating until evenly combined, about 3 minutes more. Add the vanilla and the egg.

Mix in the dry ingredients to make a dough. Line a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans with plastic wrap and pack dough into the bottom half of the pan. Press to level off the dough. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on top and refrigerate until completely firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove dough from the pan and unwrap. Slice dough in half lengthwise if using a large pan. Slice each log crosswise into 1/4-inch thick cookies. Place the cookies about a 1-inch apart on the prepared pans. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and crisp. Serve.

Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 1 week.

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

If you enjoyed this post see:

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Book Series Review: Arcadia Project Series, Mishell Baker

Book Series Review: Arcadia Project Series, Mishell Baker

 

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Fantasy: Arcadia Project Series, Mishell Baker

 

Mishell Baker has created a magical world with an extraordinary protagonist. In this world, the world of the magical Fae and the non-magical world we inhabit are inextricably linked. That is the premise of the Arcadia Project books, a series that tells the story of one member of the Arcadia Project.

 

Millie Roper is broken. Damaged goods. She has borderline personality disorder (BPD), a mental condition that expresses itself in sudden, sometimes violent, mood swings. She can be in turns emotionally fragile and emotionally manipulative. She is difficult on her best days and almost impossible on her worst. She is also physically damaged. A suicide attempt left her a double amputee with metal screws holding many of her bones and joints together.

 

These challenges make our world a difficult place for Millie. But they uniquely suit her for dealing with the fae. The metal in her body makes her immune to most spells and enchantments. It even allows her to nullify many of them with a touch. And her emotional challenges help her in unexpected ways when dealing with the fae, who bring their own emotional uniqueness to the party.

 

Borderline and Phantom Pains introduce Millie and the other major characters in the series. They also introduce us to the major conflicts between the fae and the human world, and between those within the Arcadia Project who are willing to enslave spirits (and others) to gain power and those who are unwilling to enslave others. Millie is a freedom fighter. She works with others in the Los Angeles office of Arcadia, and with her fae allies, to oppose the London headquarters of Arcadia. Awkwardly, London is the headquarters of the entire project, ostensibly devoted to keeping the peace and promoting the advancement of both humans and fae, but secretly enslaving fae to take their powers for themselves. In Imposter Syndrome the battle is fought on two fronts, our world and Arcadia (the home of the fae), and Millie is at the center of it all.

 

Imposter Syndrome truly is centered on Millie. Although the book tells the story of the conflict between the chapters of the Arcadia Project and between fae kingdoms in Arcadia, the story is really all about Millie. She is a powerful protagonist, though she seems to be the last to recognize her own power. Her struggles are the arc of the book: coming to terms with her power within the Arcadia project; coming to terms with her sexuality as she wrestles with relationships with men, women, and fae; coming to terms with both her brokenness and her strength. Millie cannot be categorized. She is neither gay nor straight, she is neither whole nor broken, she is neither a leader nor a follower, she is neither mentally ill nor mentally healed. She is weak and powerful, sexual and aloof, intelligent and foolish, and utterly remarkable and unlike any other figure I have encountered in literature or in life. In other words, Millie is individual, special, unique, both like and unlike everyone else. That, in many ways, makes her extraordinary.

 

Mishell Baker has created a special character in Millie Roper. In being unlike anyone else, she is possibly the most human character you will encounter in science fiction–or in fiction in general. Millie Roper’s “differences” give her a strength and power that leaps off the page. She is worth getting to know through the pages of the Arcadia Project.

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Book Series Review: Arcadia Project Series, Mishell Baker

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Review & Recipe: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter Series, Susan Wittig Albert

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Book Series Review: The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series by Susan Wittig Albert is filled with many delightful ingredients — cozy mystery, historical Lake District setting, fantasy elements. Albert uses the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter as her main character. As a single female Londoner, Beatrix gets a mixed welcome to her new home in the village of Near Sawrey where she goes to her farm to write and draw her books as well as grieve for the loss of her fiance and escape her domineering parents. Over the course of the series Beatrix solves mysteries large and small while slowly becomes an integral and respected part of the village community.

Each book features a main mystery as well a couple of smaller intriguing issues that are neatly concluded by Beatrix’s keen observation skills, quick wit, and compassionate heart. Albert adds a whimsical fantasy addition by including a parallel problem faced by the animals of the village community who act and talk in the same manner as Beatrix’s literary creations – helpful dogs, generous badgers, marauding rats, even a brave dragon makes an appearance. The language of this series is definitely within the reach of readers as young as upper elementary or middle school and the light fantasy element would be appealing to them.

Albert’s attention to historical detail brings you into the heart of village life of Near Sawrey, as her characters react and reflect on their daily life, enjoy meals, gossip about neighbors, apply manners according to social status, dress for outings, and work the land of the Lake District. The land itself, like the people and animals, becomes a character in how it influences village life. At least once in each book, Beatrix takes time to just appreciate the land with walks or picnics or sketches. The land feeds her need for beauty as well as provides a venue for reflections.

In addition, Albert provides historical commentary in Historical Notes, Resources, recipes, maps, character lists, and glossaries of Lake District dialect words. This series would make a fine bridge into historical novels and period literature for young readers. Readers interested in the life of Beatrix Potter will also enjoy seeking the biographical references listed in the Resources.

Even though, readers know that the series is fiction, Albert makes Beatrix such a plausible and real character that we want to spend time with her. We cheer her steps as she grows from her grief, matches wits with the local matriarch, and discovers the answers to local mysteries. We watch as her makes friends, rebels against her controlling parents, and finds a new romance. We want to become her friend and just sit down and share a cup of tea while she spins another fascinating story. This is the perfect series to read on a picnic blanket in front of a beautiful lake view with some tea and scones.

Tea

In The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Beatrix often gathers clues while sharing a cup of tea visiting different villagers. The tea served was probably a black tea where the leaves go through an oxidation process in order to produce a richer flavor. The heartier flavor of black teas enable it to be served with either milk or lemon. Ceylon or Darjeeling teas would be examples of teas that would be served any time of the day. If Beatrix went on a morning visit, a strong tea, such as Assam or English Breakfast would be served. A lighter tea, such as Earl Grey or Formosa Oolong would be served in the afternoon without the milk or lemon due to its more delicate flavors.

Scones

Scones are a traditional treat to serve with tea. In the Cottage Tales series, Beatrix got her scones from a friend that ran a village bakery. This recipe was originally developed for an office gift-in-a-jar exchange. The basic dry mix was layered in a glass jar topped with the dry ingredients for the cranberry orange variation and decorated with a pretty cloth bow and recipe card with the instructions. Note: the addition of an egg is not a traditional ingredient in scones, however, I found a prize winning recipe using an egg and have discovered that the texture less crumbly making it easier to spread toppings. You can omit the egg for a more traditional recipe with the addition of a TBSP or two of extra liquid in the wet ingredient section.

Basic Dry Scone Mix (can be mixed and stored in a jar)

  • 2 ½  C self-rising flour baking mix or buttermilk biscuit mix
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs dried milk powder (optional, unless using juice as a flavor add-in instead of milk/half & half)

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup milk or half/half
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Flavor Add-in Variations (Note dried ingredients can be stored with dry mix)

  • 3/4 cup cranberries & (choose 1) 1 TBS orange zest or 1 tsp orange extract or 1/3 cup orange juice frozen concentrate (defrosted)  in place of milk
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries & (choose 1) 1 TBS lemon zest or 1 tsp lemon extract or 1/3 lemon juice concentrate in place of milk
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries & 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • decrease butter to 2 TBS, add 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese & 2 tsp herbs de provence
  • replace sugar with 3 TBS maple syrup & 1 tsp cinnamon & 1/2 tsp ground ginger or 1 tsp minced crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 400. 

Start with dry mix in a bowl.

Top with wet ingredients.

Add any flavor variations from above.

Mix gently with a spatula until the dough just comes together.   

Using a cookie scoop, drop dough balls on to a sheet pan and lightly pat down to flatten – makes about 12 individual or 24 mini-bite scones.

Optional: sprinkle sugar on the tops for a slightly crunchy, shiny topping that browns faster.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on size, until the edges are just lightly browned on edges – tastes best warm from the oven.

 

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Review & Recipe: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

If you enjoyed this post also see:

Recipe & Review : Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Booklist: If You Like Peter Rabbit… Bunny Books for Shared Reading with Children