08 Feb, 2016

Welcome to Night Vale

/ posted in: Reading Welcome to Night Vale Welcome to Night Vale on October 20th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

If you aren’t familiar with the podcast Welcome To Night Vale, here’s the scoop.  The story is told by Cecil, the radio announcer at the Night Vale radio station, where being an intern is a fatal position. Night Vale is a place where weird things are normal.  The dog park is off limits to everyone, including dogs.  The Secret Police are watching and no one believes in angels – including Old Woman Josie who happens to live with several.  A scientist named Carlos moved to town to study the weirdness of Night Vale.  Carlos has beautiful hair and Cecil loves him.

I’ve only listened to about 8 of the podcasts but it is enough to get familiar with the concept.  The book tries to put a plot to the strange happenings.  I don’t think that it succeeds very well.  I enjoyed this book in brief snippets of 5 to 10 minutes at a time.  Longer than that at one sitting and it got to be too much.  This is a book that you enjoy for the absurdity of the discussion and not the greater story.



Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

05 Feb, 2016

Of Oysters, Pearls, and Magic

/ posted in: Reading Of Oysters, Pearls, and Magic Of Oysters, Pearls and Magic by Joyce Chng
on 2011
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 79
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Enter the world of Mirra. She is a magic user, but her gift is scorned by the menfolk in her village. Men are allowed to use magic; women are not. So, after a tumultuous event, Mirra decides to leave and heads for the City to continue her own self-journey. This is her tale.

Mirra lives on a planet settled long ago by travelers from Earth.  Their planet is volcanic and prone to a lot of seismic activity.  Mirra’s village is on the coast.  The women work as divers who harvest oysters for the meat and the pearls.  The men in Mirra’s village are able to work with magic but that skill isn’t developed by women.

As a small child, Mirra finds that she is able to produce magical circles of light from her hands.  She is punished for this.  That is men’s work.  She stifles her talents until one day the Sea Witch, a reviled female magic user from a nearby village, comes to the village to see her.  This enrages the men of the village who throw Mirra into seclusion.  The consequences of this action are dire.  In the aftermath, Mirra leaves and moves to The City to attend a school the Sea Witch is running to learn about her magic.

Of Oysters, Pearls, and Magic is a novella.  It is listed as only 79 pages on my ereader and the ebook contains a few short stories at the end from the POV of other characters.  It tells the story of Mirra’s life as she is educated and finds love in The City, only to have to leave her home again because of natural disasters.

The setting of this book is a planet settled mainly by Asians from Earth.  I don’t think I’ve read anything with that setting before and now I’ve had two reviews of books in a row like that.  Also like yesterday’s book, The Stars Change, this story looks at changing family structures.  Here people choose to either be single, paired, or a triad.  Mirra becomes part of a triad.

Because of the brief length of the story and the many years that pass during it, there isn’t a lot of development of each story point.  This reads a lot like a detailed outline for a longer book.

Food is a major part of this story.  I didn’t anticipate that when I started the book.  Mirra associates home with the taste of seafood stews and oyster fritters.  Sharing food with strangers is customary.  There are several recipes for the food in the book shared.  Most of seafood based so it won’t be something I’m making but there is a recipe for rice balls that sounds tasty.


About Joyce Chng

I am Singaporean. I write SFF and YA. 😉

I also write urban fantasy under J. Damask.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

04 Feb, 2016

The Stars Change

/ posted in: Reading The Stars Change The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj
on November 5th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Erotica, Science Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Outer Space three-stars

The Stars Change: an erotic science fiction novel-in-stories. On a South Asian-settled university planet, tensions are rising, and as they reach the brink of interstellar war, life (and sex) continues. Humans, aliens, and modified humans gather at the University of All Worlds in search of knowledge... and self-knowledge... but the first bomb has fallen and the fate of this multicultural, multispecies mecca is in question. Some people will seek solace in physical contact, some will look for spiritual answers, while others will find their strength in community, family, and love.


In the future people from South Asia settle a distant planet.  Their descendants have established a prestigious university that attracts students from all over the galaxy.  But tensions have been rising for years between humans and nonhumans and now the human supremacy movement has launched a missile into a nonhuman population center.

This story is told starting with short stories that introduce the main characters.

Kimsriyalani  – a feline-like nonhuman computer programming student who has sex with a stranger in the park that night

Amara a human woman who is married to the man Kimsriyalani has sex with.  He comes home and tells her and she grabs a bag and leaves him.  She doesn’t know where to go.  She can’t go home to her very traditional mother.

Narita – a genetically modified human woman who wanted to marry Amara nine years ago.  Amara knew her family wouldn’t accept a modified human so she left her and had her mother arrange a marriage.  Now she goes to Narita’s house to escape her marriage but Narita doesn’t want to let her in because she is sheltering a group of aliens who were injured in the blast.

Gaurav – a reptilian police officer who is the only one of his kind on the planet.  He got stuck here when his planned transport disappeared into a worm hole.

Chieri – a religious prostitute and empath who had a customer tonight who was celebrating the successful missile strike he set off.  She goes to Gaurav to report it.

When Gaurav’s superiors don’t believe the words of a prostitute who says that more attacks are coming at sunrise, it is up to these people to follow the clues to stop further attacks.

This is advertised as erotic fiction and it is that in the beginning but as the story progresses that aspect of it falls away.  There’s no time for sex when you are fighting for your life.  (Yeah, I’m still giving you the side eye Outlander.)

This is a short book and a quick read.  It shows how people of various creeds and species can pull together to protect what they love.



Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

02 Feb, 2016

My Favorite Historical Settings

/ posted in: Reading

What are my favorite historical settings for books?

Regency England

You know I’m a sucker for a good regency romance.  I love them from Jane Austen all the way until today.

Poland – not in World War II

I’ve been working on finding out more about my Polish roots.  I want to find historical fiction that doesn’t focus on World War II.  Poland has a rich history before then but it is hard to find books about it.

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great (Catherine, #1)The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak

This book is about Russia but Catherine comes from Poland. This is the first book I read that talks about a vibrant Poland.



Winter JourneyWinter Journey by Diane Armstrong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is half World War II and half early 2000s but it is such an amazing book that I still recommend it. It is the story of a fictional investigation into war crimes committed in a Polish town. It is based on a true story.


I have these Polish historical fiction books on my TBR.

Push Not the RiverPush Not the River by James Conroyd Martin

A panoramic and epic novel in the grand romantic style, Push Not the River is the rich story of Poland in the late 1700s–a time of heartache and turmoil as the country’s once peaceful people are being torn apart by neighboring countries and divided loyalties.



The Journal of Countess Francoise KrasinskaThe Journal of Countess Francoise Krasinska by Klementyna Tanska Hoffmanowa

The coming of age diary of a young Polish Countess, Francoise Krasinska who in the space of three years travels from the shelter of her father’s court and becomes the secret consort of the Duke of Courland. In so doing she manages the transition from innocence to awareness in a time of political treachery.



France – turn of 20th century

I like reading stories about the artists of the time.

Luncheon of the Boating PartyLuncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

“Instantly recognizable, Auguste Renoir’s masterpiece depicts a gathering of his real friends enjoying a summer Sunday on a café terrace along the Seine near Paris. A wealthy painter, an art collector, an Italian journalist, a war hero, a celebrated actress, and Renoir’s future wife, among others, share this moment of la vie moderne, a time when social constraints were loosening and Paris was healing after the Franco-Prussian War. Parisians were bursting with a desire for pleasure and a yearning to create something extraordinary out of life. Renoir shared these urges and took on this most challenging project at a time of personal crises in art and love, all the while facing issues of loyalty and the diverging styles that were tearing apart the Impressionist group.”


Pre-Columbian America

People of the River (North America's Forgotten Past, #4)People of the River by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear

“A gripping new saga of pre-historic America that takes us to the Mississippi Valley and the tribe known as the Mound builders. It is a time of troubles. In Cahokia, the corn crop is failing again and a warchief–and the warrior woman he may never possess–are disgusted by their Chief’s lust for tribute. Now even the gods have turned their faces, closing the underworld to the seers. If the gods have abandoned the people, there is no hope–unless it comes in the form of a young girl who is learning to Dream of Power.”

This couple have many books out about Native American life.  They are archeologists so their understanding d of the current research adds to the stories.


01 Feb, 2016

February Foodies Read

/ posted in: FoodReading


You guys were amazing in January!

We had 27 posts linked up.  If you haven’t checked out all the great reviews (and food inspired by the books) go back and look.  You can also find links to all the posts with pinnable images on our Pinterest board – Foodies Read.

We’ll have our first giveaway at the end of February. Every link in January and February will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of this Foodie book.

SEAsoned - A Chef's Journey with Her CaptainSEAsoned – A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain by Victoria Allman

“Victoria’s Recipe for Marriage
Take two adventurous newlyweds and place them on a floundering yacht where the wife is the chef, and her boss, the captain, is also her husband. Add two inexperienced crewmembers, an anorexic diva and her bully of a husband, a CEO who thinks he’s in charge, a drunken first mate, and a randy wife looking for diversion. Stir with a violent storm and a rapidly flooding engine room. Apply pressure and watch the situation simmer to a boil.

Sprinkled with over 30-mouthwatering recipes and spiced with tales of adventure, SEAsoned is the hilarious look at a yacht chef’s first year working for her husband while they cruise from the Bahamas to Italy, France, Greece and Spain, trying to stay afloat.”

I can’t wait to see what you are all reading and creating this month.



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31 Jan, 2016

January 2016 Wrap Up

/ posted in: Reading

I had a great reading month.  I read 16 books.  Vacation helps.

They were set in:

  • Outer Space
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Libya
  • Denmark
  • California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey
  • England
  • Tenerife
  • Italy
  • Kenya

Six were nonfiction. One was on audio but I am in the middle of 2 audiobooks now.

I noticed about two weeks in that although I was reading about characters from all over, the authors of the books were all white.  I looked ahead to what I was going to be reading next and realized that those books had all white authors too.  I shuffled around my mental TBR order and moved up some books by POC authors.  The books I picked though are fairly heavy so I’m moving through them slowly.  I only managed to finish one book by a POC author this month.  That was The Stars Change by Mary Anne Monhanraj.  With several books on the go now hopefully February’s finishes will not be so overwhelmingly white.

I’ve decided to focus on POC authors and books in translation on February. I was going to make it a reading challenge for myself but changed my mind. I have the mood reader problem of not being able to stick to a strict reading plan. As soon as I make one something shiny comes along and throws a wrench in the plans.

I actually went to the library. I’ve been reading ebooks from the library and requesting books to pick up at the counter of a branch library so much that I can’t even remember the last time I went to the main library just to browse.

I added these books to my TBR while I was there. I just love using the Goodreads app scanner to add books. It makes me feel cool.

The Werewolf of BambergThe Werewolf of Bamberg by Oliver Pötzsch

This is a translation of a German book about a family of executioners who are trying to solve a crime that people think is the work of a werewolf. Historical fiction about werewolves? I’m in.




The Pirate's DaughterThe Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

This is historical fiction based around the time Errol Flynn spent in Jamaica at the end of his life.


30 Jan, 2016

Animal Kingdom

/ posted in: travel

I ended up taking Z to Animal Kingdom because the husband got sick. They also needed a break from each other. She ended up being the best that I’ve never seen her. She was calm and focused and self aware. It was actually really weird.

It always amazes me how few animals you actually get to see at Animal Kingdom. I guess it shouldn’t. Most people are there for the rides. When you actually go to animal areas, there aren’t many people around.

During this visit most of the trails where you can walk and see animals were closed. The only major animal viewing places were this safari ride and the petting zoo.

Linking up with Saturday Snapshot

29 Jan, 2016

Strange Gods

/ posted in: Reading Strange Gods Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri
on June 24th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Kenya three-stars

In early 20th century British East Africa, there are rules for the British and different ones for the Africans. Vera McIntosh, the daughter of Scottish missionaries, doesn't feel she belongs to either group; having grown up in Africa, she is not interested in being the well-bred Scottish woman her mother would like her to be. More than anything she dreams of seeing again the handsome police officer she's danced with. But more grisly circumstances bring Justin Tolliver to her family's home.

Vera’s uncle is the doctor at the Scottish mission where Vera lives.  His body is found with a Masaai spear in his back.  The colonial government wants a suspect in custody rapidly and seizes upon a local witch doctor who has been highly critical of the white doctor.  The African people know that he would never have done this in this manner.  A cursory investigation points at several English suspects but this is not acceptable to the local authorities.

Vera, Justin Tolliver an English policeman, and Kwai Libazo, a half Masaai/half Kikuyu policeman are left to investigate on their own if they want to get the real killer before an innocent man is executed.

This book captures an era where British landowners were running roughshod over the local tribes in Kenya.  There were African police employed by the British but they were not allowed to be seen having any authority over Europeans.  They weren’t allowed to speak in meetings about cases.  Police investigations did not bother to interview Kikuyu people who may have information about crimes.  The goal was to show that this was a safe place for British people and to keep Africans subjugated.

Vera was born in Africa to Scottish parents.  She was raised by her Kikuyu “second mother”.  She understands the unfairness of British rule and the resentments of the African people but can’t do anything about it because of her sheltered status as an unmarried European woman.

Justin has come to love Africa.  He is the second son of an Earl but his local status fell sharply when he joined the police.  Now he is ostracized from society in Nairobi.

Kwai wants to learn about how the British investigate crimes but is seen as a traitor because he works for the occupiers.  He has never fit in anywhere because of being half Masaai.  He has never been fully accepted by either tribe.

There is a casual racism throughout this book that was probably typical of the time.  Even characters who are supposed to be enlightened are dismissive of most Africans.  Attempts are made to include the Kikuyu point of view but I’m not sure how effective it is.  They seem a bit too passive for everything that is happening to them. This may be because we are only hearing the stories of Africans who have chosen to work closely with the British.


Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

28 Jan, 2016

A Fall of Marigolds

/ posted in: Reading A Fall of Marigolds A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
on 2014
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Pages: 370
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

A beautiful scarf, passed down through the generations, connects two women who learn that the weight of the world is made bearable by the love we give away....


Clara Wood worked as a nurse in a doctor’s office in a building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the top floors.  She has a flirtation with a bookkeeper who works at Triangle.  After the fire happens, she doesn’t want to return to the building.  She gets a job on Ellis Island.  She nurses the potential immigrants who are too sick to be admitted to New York.

When a man comes in whose wife died on route, Clara is drawn to him because of his grief. When she finds evidence that things weren’t as her patient thought in his marriage, she agonizes over what to do with this info while also working through how to move on in her own life.


Taryn Michaels was on her way to meet her husband at the World Trade Center when the planes hit. Now just before the 10 year anniversary, a picture has surfaced of Taryn and a man on the street just as the first tower fell. Reminders of that day make her realize that she is still carrying a lot of guilt about her role in inviting her husband to go to the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the Tower that day.

Clara and Taryn are linked by a scarf that Clara’s patient’s wife owned that eventually being worn by Taryn when her picture was taken on 9/11.

The story is told alternating between Clara and Taryn. I found Clara’s story to be more interesting. I had read about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire but didn’t realize that it was in a multistory building with other businesses underneath that were unaffected.

I also didn’t know much about the treatment of sick immigrants in the hospital at Ellis Island.


Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

26 Jan, 2016

Reader’s Workouts

/ posted in: Fitness



I was on vacation last week and so there were no formal workouts but I had to pop in to show off these numbers.


January 15 – airport day – 6569 steps – not so good

January 16 – convention starts but no exhibit hall – 8093

January 17 – exhibit hall opens at convention – 12,770

January 18 – more exhibits – 10,727

January 19 – the whole convention thing is getting old -9741

January 20 – Animal Kingdom – 16,905

January 21 – Universal (Harry Potter world!) – 21,771

January 22 – lazy day visiting relatives – 5755

Now I’m back to normal life and probably won’t see those numbers for a while.


I’ve also realized that the floors climbed setting on my Fitbit is completely imaginary.  There was a big escalator at the convention place.  It was three floors long.  One day it was not working and I walked up it with lots of other people.  People were acting like it was a death march because with the crowd you couldn’t stop without getting run over.  There is no break between floors on an escalator.  Fitbit floors climbed reading – zero.  I turned off that setting.

26 Jan, 2016

5 Literary Places I’ve Visited

/ posted in: Readingtravel

Platform 9 3/4

When I was in London I had to go to King’s Cross and get a picture at Platform 9 3/4 even though my mother did not understand at all.



Anywhere you go in England could count as a literary place because there is probably a book set there but we went to Bath specifically because of Regency romances.  I wanted to cause a scandal in London so we had to flee to Bath to let society settle down but we didn’t manage that.  We did manage to have tea at the Pump Room, to visit the Jane Austin museum, to see the Assembly Rooms, and to see the famous architecture.


The books Carousel Sun and Carousel Tides had me running around Ohio looking at carousel sites.

Hemingway’s House

I’ll admit that I’ve never read any Hemingway.  Way too much macho posturing for me but the husband is a fan.  We stopped at his house in Key West.  I just went to see the cats that hang out and get petted by tourists.

John Brown’s House

After I read The Mapmaker’s Children, I decided to go see John Brown’s house in Akron.  I don’t have any pictures because they don’t allow them.  It is a guided tour only.  He lived in Akron until he got run out of town and moved to New York, where the events in The Mapmaker’s Children take place.

25 Jan, 2016

The Violinist of Venice

/ posted in: Reading The Violinist of Venice The Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Palombo
on December 15th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Italy four-stars

Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d'Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family's palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.

This is a wonderful historical novel about the life of Antonio Vivaldi, the composer best known for writing The Four Seasons. 

I didn’t know anything about Vivaldi’s life when I started this book.

He was a priest who worked in a home for abandoned children in Venice.  He wrote many of his works to be performed by the female musicians there. These women were talented musicians who signed a promise never to perform again if they left the home to marry.

In this book, he takes a private student from a prominent family who is wonderful violinist.  As he teaches her they fall in love and begin an affair.  When the truth of this comes out, her family is scandalized.  The book follows both Vivaldi and his student, Adriana over the next thirty years to see what this affair cost them both.

The writing is wonderful and conveys the sense of place and time beautifully.  From the excesses of Carnival to sneaking around at night, you feel like you are there.  The musicians’ love of music comes through in the story and the despair that comes from being denied the right to express yourself in music.

If you’d like to win a copy, join in the #historicalfix chat on 1/26/2016 at 8:30 pm EST.  We’ll be discussing historical love stories and this book will be given away to one participant.  It will also be discussed at #bookclubfix on 2/24 at 8:30 PM.


Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

24 Jan, 2016

Vacation Highlights

/ posted in: Family

All hail the power of my psychic ability.

Usually, I go to conventions and go to lectures all day and read books all evening and don’t talk to anyone.  It is absolutely lovely.

I predicted that this vacation would consist of me going to lectures all day and then having to deal with the husband being miserable because he had to deal with Z and his family.  I’m so freaking smart.

The Good

I ate lunch every day at my favorite restaurant in the Gaylord in Orlando.  I will miss this place because the convention is moving.  It has 5 tables of great food for your choosing.  I ate my weight in marinated olives and peppers, artichoke hearts drizzled with balsamic vinegar, an amazing tomato bisque, flavored rice, cucumber and tomato salads, pastas etc.  I always forget not to go on Sunday.  They have a bigger spread but take most of the vegetarian stuff away to make room for huge hunks of dead flesh and then charge more.

The conference was pretty good.  The lectures weren’t as practical this year as I like so that got frustrating.  I’d go to something called, “How to deal with X” because yes, X is a difficult problem.  The lecturer would spend the time discussing in detail all the reasons why X was a problem and then conclude with “and those are all the things that you need to think about when you have to deal with X.”  I’d be sitting there thinking that I knew all that when I started and was really looking for something a bit more helpful.
This is where Freckles would have hung out if she was there.

These dogs were having a very bad day.

These signs were all over. You have to understand that every surface is covered with advertising. I kept trying to understand what these were selling. They didn’t make any sense. It took me two days – 2 DAYS – to understand that they literally meant, “Don’t take your lunch and go across the street and sit on the golf course while you eat it.”

We did go to Universal. It was me and the husband and Z and the husband’s brother.  We went on the Hogwarts ride first.  Only a 5 minute wait!  Anyway, she got off the ride crying because she claimed that her hands were burnt by the slightly warm air that blows on you at one point.  We rode the baby coaster and then I went on the big roller coaster.  We took the train to Diagon Alley and we rode the Gringotts ride.  Again she was very angry and came off it yelling about how terrible it was.  After we finished there we did Men in Black, which she was ok with, but then she got very angry that there was a Simpsons section of the park.  That was completely inappropriate in her mind.  She refused to go on any rides so we left her sitting on a bench and went on the amazing Krustyland ride.  She refused to go on any of the kid’s rides in the park because they were Simpsons themed and she didn’t like the Simpsons.  This started a trend.  We ended up leaving her outside of the next four rides.  Eventually she decided that she wasn’t having any fun like that and that we weren’t going to give into her demands and she decided to play along.  She rode the rest of the rides and we went back and rode Gringotts and the Hogwarts rides and she enjoyed them both the second time.

The Bad

The husband got a really nasty cold.  He had taken Z to Magic Kingdom which seemed to go well until they were in the parking lot and she decided that her day wasn’t “magical enough” and attacked him.  Good times.  I took the next day off the conference and took her to Animal Kingdom because he was too sick to go anywhere.  I figured after so many days in a row with her he needed a break.  She was absolutely perfect for me.  It was almost creepy.  She acted like a normal 12 year old.  I think she knows that I don’t care one bit about her feelings so I can’t be manipulated so she doesn’t try.  I think she could sense that I wouldn’t hesitate to use the “This isn’t my child, officer, I don’t know why she is following me” defense.  We got back to the hotel and she immediately got nasty with her father.  I banned them from speaking directly to each other and that seemed to work well all through Universal day.

They spent time with the husband’s family.  Z was relatively well behaved because it was a new situation.  That lead some people in his family to blow up his phone with texts about how she doesn’t have any mental problems at all and he is just exaggerating and he should be happy that he has such an easy child to raise.  The term “cake walk” was used.  Wow, it is amazing that he got all those schools to kick her out just to feed his delusion.

I had a mental melt down about halfway through.  Usually I read lots of books during this trip.  I started out well with reading Violinist of Venice on the plane.  I read A Fall of Marigolds over the next few days and then I hit a wall.  I couldn’t settle into anything that I had brought to read.  I decided I needed something absolutely mindless so I downloaded
Top Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum, #21)Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

from my library account and that helped. I downloaded another chick lit book that I got halfway through before deciding that it was just way too stupid to be read. I think that was the point where my brain kicked back into gear after days of lectures fried it.

I ended up finishing two more books on the trip home and I partially read bits of two more that were just too heavy for that week.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

22 Jan, 2016

More Ketchup than Salsa

/ posted in: Reading More Ketchup than Salsa More Ketchup than Salsa by Joe Cawley
Published by Joe Cawley on December 9th 2013
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 253
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Set in the Canary Islands three-stars

A hilarious insight into the wild and wacky characters of an expat community in a familiar holiday destination, More Ketchup than Salsa is a must-read for anybody who has ever dreamed about jetting off to sunnier climes, finding a job abroad or flirted with the idea of ‘doing a Shirley Valentine’ in these trying economic times.

Joe Crawley’s step father bought a bar on the island of Tenerife and strongly suggested that his two stepsons and their partners run it. They all had dead-end jobs and no experience in the hospitality business but they moved from England to the Canary Islands to give it a go.

They quickly realized that running a bar and restaurant in a resort is very different than being on vacation yourself. They are surrounded by British people who want all the comforts of home – just on the beach.

“…at times it seemed like an imported little Britain full of patrons who thought that abroad was any sunny place bedecked in red, white and blue where the locals couldn’t talk properly.”

There was no call to go getting adventurous with the food either.

“For some stalwarts even our Hawaiian burger, simply chicken breast crowned with a pineapple ring, would prove too exotic for simple palates: “Hawaiian burger? Oooh nooooo. Foreign food doesn’t agree with me. Have you not got anything like curry or bolognaise?”

In between power outages, bureaucratic nightmares, the mafia, and hordes of cockroaches, they manage to make a go of it even if their relationships might not survive intact.

If you’ve ever considered quitting your job and going to live on the beach, read this book first.

You can also read-

A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the CaribbeanA Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean by Melinda Blanchard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of a higher class beach restaurant and has the recipe for the world’s best cornbread.


Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

21 Jan, 2016

The Last Midwife

/ posted in: Reading The Last Midwife The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
on September 29th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.

For someone who hates babies as much as I do, I sure do like reading books about midwives.

Maybe it is because at one time it was the only opportunity available for women interested in health care.  Maybe it is because midwives aren’t taking any lip from anyone.  I don’t know.

This story takes place in an isolated Colorado mining town high up in the mountains.  The men here are miners, looking for the claim that is going to make them rich.  They head out into the mountains in the summer for months at a time leaving the women to fend for themselves.  Gracy Brookens is a midwife with a reputation for helping in difficult cases.  Her reputation is put to the test when the owner of one of the local mines accuses her of strangling a baby.

This isn’t really a mystery story.  You know right off that Gracy didn’t do it.  This book uses the framework of the accusation and trial to discuss what life was like for people in the mountains.

  • What is it like to know that this pregnancy may kill you?
  • Does a midwife have a responsibility to help you if you don’t want a pregnancy?
  • Who raises the children if a woman dies?
  • What happens to two men who have lived together for a long time when one finds a wife?
  • How do women cope if they can’t have children or if their husbands are having affairs?


If you are interested in another book like this one, check out:

The Birth HouseThe Birth House by Ami McKay

“The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife’s apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.

When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau’s methods – and after Miss Babineau’s death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her.”


Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

19 Jan, 2016

Last 10 Books Added to My TBR

/ posted in: Reading

Of Oysters, Pearls and MagicOf Oysters, Pearls and Magic by Joyce Chng

“Enter the world of Mirra. She is a magic user, but her gift is scorned by the menfolk in her village. Men are allowed to use magic; women are not. So, after a tumultuous event, Mirra decides to leave and heads for the City to continue her own self-journey. This is her tale.”


Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood, #1)Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard


“Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A Priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, High Priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.”



Roastmaster (A Coffee Novel)Roastmaster by Janice Lierz


“In the spring of 1984, John Mallory, the seventh sister in a coffee family dies a legend when she is uprooted from Kansas City and travels to a coffee farm in Costa Rica to become a Roastmaster. Now, eighteen years later, Capri is connected to her dead aunt through a surreal sense of smell. When Capri runs away with her boyfriend, she unearths John Mallory’s story and the myth of the Pleiades, a cluster of blue stars known as the Seven Sisters. But her quirky mother, grandfather and five aunts fear love will also lead Capri to an early grave.

A tale for those who know magic can be found in the bean of a fruit.”



A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and BackA Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard


“A former paramedic’s visceral, poignant, and mordantly funny account of a decade spent on Atlanta’s mean streets saving lives and connecting with the drama and occasional beauty that lies inside catastrophe.


Skin in the GameSkin in the Game by Sabrina Vourvoulias


“Three kinds of people live in Zombie City-La Boca Del Diablo: the zombies, los vivos, and the ghosts. Officer Jimena Villagrán, not truly at home with any of these groups, patrols the barrio for stalking monsters. Magic con men and discarded needles make this beat hazardous enough, but the latest rash of murders threatens to up the ante by outing the horrors of Jimena’s personal history.”



A Rising ManA Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee


“A senior British official has been murdered, and a note left in his mouth warns the British to quit India: or else. With rising political dissent and the stability of the Raj under threat, Wyndham and his two new colleagues – arrogant Inspector Digby, who can barely conceal his contempt for the natives and British-educated, but Indian-born Sargeant Banerjee, one of the few Indians to be recruited into the new CID – embark on an investigation that will take them from the luxurious parlours of wealthy British traders to the seedy opium dens of the city.”



Kingdom of Strangers (Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #3)Kingdom of Strangers by Zoë Ferraris


“A secret grave in the desert is unearthed revealing the mutilated bodies of nineteen women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade.

However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani, is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing, since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women on the force. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own.”


The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe: A novelThe Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe: A novel by Romain Puértolas


” Meet Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod. One day a fakir leaves his small village in India and lands in Paris. A professional con artist, the fakir is on a pilgrimage to IKEA, where he intends to obtain an object he covets above all others: a brand-new bed of nails. Without adequate euros in the pockets of his silk trousers, the fakir is all the same confident that his counterfeit 100-Euro note (printed on one side only) and his usual bag of tricks will suffice. But when a swindled cab driver seeks his murderous revenge, the fakir accidentally embarks on a European tour, fatefully beginning in the wardrobe of the iconic Swedish retailer.”

The Polish BoxerThe Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon


“The Polish Boxer covers a vast landscape of human experience while enfolding a search for origins: a grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather’s past and the story behind his numbered tattoo; a Serbian classical pianist longs for his forbidden heritage; a Mayan poet is torn between his studies and filial obligations; a striking young Israeli woman seeks answers in Central America; a university professor yearns for knowledge that he can’t find in books and discovers something unexpected at a Mark Twain conference. Drawn to what lies beyond the range of reason, they all reach for the beautiful and fleeting, whether through humor, music, poetry, or unspoken words. Across his encounters with each of them, the narrator—a Guatemalan literature professor and writer named Eduardo Halfon—pursues his most enigmatic subject: himself.”

Air Awakens (Air Awakens, #1)Air Awakens by Elise Kova


“The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.”

18 Jan, 2016

My Accidental Jihad

/ posted in: Reading My Accidental Jihad My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
on June 25th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 361
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in North Carolina and Libya three-stars

Fifteen years ago, Krista Bremer would not have been able to imagine her life today: married to a Libyan-born Muslim, raising two children with Arabic names in the American South. Nor could she have imagined the prejudice she would encounter or the profound ways her marriage would change her perception of the world.But on a running trail in North Carolina, she met Ismail.

This book defines jihad as:

An individual’s striving for spiritual and intellectual growth


This is the story of the author’s personal growth during the last 15 years.  I’ve seen many reviews that complain that the story is all about her.  That’s sort of the point.  How has she adapted to a life that she never meant to have?

She was in journalism school when she met Ismail.  An unintentional pregnancy early in their relationship accelerated their plans.

Ismail was entirely different than Krista.  He was fifteen years older than her, an immigrant from a poor background in Libya, and a Muslim.  She was a California girl from a middle class background with vaguely Buddhist tendencies.    He gets crankier than she thinks he should during Ramadan and she can’t understand why he doesn’t understand Christmas.  She is horrified that Ismail insists on haggling in the mall, especially when it was for her wedding ring**.  Like all relationships, they need to find a way to blend together their differences to make their own unique life.

When their daughter is young and she is three months pregnant with their second child, they travel to Libya to meet his family.  She has visions of adventure but is faced instead of the realities of life for a poor family under Gaddafi.  She doesn’t speak Arabic so can’t understand the women who she with all day long.  She hates the oppressiveness that the political situation has over the whole country and it makes her bitter about being there.  She needs to work hard to find any beauty in the situation.

Back in North Carolina, the openness she thinks she has is challenged when her now preteen daughter decides to wear a hijab.  How should she react when a new neighbor says that they love the neighborhood because of the diversity?  All the neighbors are white so she doesn’t know what they mean until she realizes that they are referring to her family.

The writing in this book is lyric and vivid.  She is very open about her own faults in the way that she approaches her relationship.  This is a story that I think could be written about any marriage.  Some of the complaints and insights seem familiar even if you come from the same culture.


**I feel her pain.  The husband likes to negotiate.  It is so embarrassing.  I also was given an engagement ring with the following declaration of love – “I got you this.  I got a really good deal on it.”  This Christmas I got earrings with the price sticker peeled off but the 50% off sticker left on so I’d be proud.  My husband and Ismail together would be a force to be reckoned with.


Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

15 Jan, 2016

Ada’s Algorithm

/ posted in: Reading Ada’s Algorithm Ada's Algorithm by James Essinger
on September 28th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in England three-stars

Over 150 years after her death, a widely-used scientific computer program was named "Ada," after Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of the eighteenth century's version of a rock star, Lord Byron. Why?
Because, after computer pioneers such as Alan Turing began to rediscover her, it slowly became apparent that she had been a key but overlooked figure in the invention of the computer.

Ada Lovelace’s life sounds like it was made just for the tabloids.

Her father was the poet Lord Byron.  He was famous in England for his legendary affairs as well as for his poetry.  He decided to marry when he was in need of a major influx of cash to keep up his lavish lifestyle.  He married a heiress and soon fathered his only legitimate child, Ada.  His wife soon found out that he was still carrying on affairs, including one with his half-sister.  (Apparently, it didn’t count as real incest because they didn’t share the same mother.) She took Ada and left when the baby was one month old.  Lord Byron left England soon after, never to return.

Ada’s mother was determined not to let her child fall victim to the overactive imagination that she thought plagued the Byron line.  She had her schooled in mathematics.

Two events focused the direction of Ada’s life.  First, she learned about the Jacquard Loom.  This was an automated loom that used punch cards to tell the loom what threads to raise and lower.  Very complex patterns could be made this way.

This is considered the first computer program.

Secondly, she met Charles Babbage.  He was working on machines that could do complex mathematical problems.  She was fascinated by his work and started to help him figure it out.  She was also able to imagine the implications of the machine.  Her vision eclipsed anything Babbage had considered.  She published a translation of an article on Babbage and added extensive notes that explained what a future with computing machines could look like.

The combination of the “overly imaginative” Byron line and her mathematical education created a visionary.

However, as a woman, she knew she wouldn’t be taken seriously.  At first she didn’t even want to put her name on the article that became known as her Notes.  Babbage persuaded her to at least put her initials.  Over the years, her contributions to his work were downplayed.  Letters written late in her life when she was heavily drugged against the pain of terminal uterine cancer were used to claim that she was a madwoman.  However, letters to and from Babbage show that she was highly involved and that he valued her work.

Alan Turing referred to her work in the 1940s and 1950s when he was laying out the foundations for modern computing.  He called it the Lovelace objection.  She wrote that machines can only do what they are programmed to do.  He said that she meant that computers can’t take us by surprise.

Babbage ended up rejecting a proposal from Lovelace where she offered to essentially be his spokesman for his analytical engine.  She knew that he didn’t have the people skills to get it the exposure that she could.  She was right.  He never got it made.  Some historians now think that if he had listened to her about its potential that England could have had a technological revolution in the mid-1800s. This model was made later.

My favorite quote from this book sums up Babbage.  In college he and a group of friends “… founded a club which they called The Extractors, designed to help its members should any of them be the subject of a petition to get them sent to a lunatic asylum.”  Planning ahead is important.  It doesn’t seem that they never needed to invoke it.

This book is an excellent look at the life of an extraordinary woman.  She died at the age of 36.  Imagine what she could have accomplished had she lived longer.

The featured image at the top of the post is Ada’s Algorithm that she developed when working with Babbage.  My only issue with this book is that I found myself skipping over long passages quoted from her writing on mathematical theory.  My brain doesn’t like that kind of thing.


Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

14 Jan, 2016

You Can’t Make This Up – a sports memoir

/ posted in: Reading You Can’t Make This Up – a sports memoir You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television by Al Michaels, L. Jon Wertheim
on November 18th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

One of America’s most respected sportscasters—and the play-by-play voice of NBC’s Sunday Night Football—gives us a behind-the-curtain look at some of the most thrilling games and fascinating figures in modern sports.
No sportscaster has covered more major sporting events than Al Michaels. During the course of his forty-plus-year career, he has logged more hours on live primetime network television than anyone in history, having covered all four major sports championships—the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA finals, and the Stanley Cup final—as well as the Olympic Games, the Triple Crown, and many more. He has witnessed firsthand some of the most memorable events in sports, and in this highly personal and entertaining account, he brings them all vividly to life.

While most kids dreamt about playing in the World Series, young Al Michaels wanted to announce it. He followed his dream to being the voice of a minor league baseball team in Hawaii in the 60s. Then the major league came calling but required him to move his family from Hawaii to Ohio – oh, the horror!

He moved up from there to a place announcing all types of sports including football, horse racing, and motorcycle racing on ice.

He covered hockey at the Olympics including the dramatic ‘Miracle on Ice’ game between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

I thought his most interesting stories were the ones that didn’t directly involve sports.

  • He had just opened the broadcast of the World Series when the Northridge earthquake hit. The game was cancelled and he broadcast from the street until the next morning for ABC’s live coverage.
  • One of his best broadcasting partners, tennis partner, and neighbor was O.J. Simpson. He had been to the house many times and was even able to secretly tell ABC not to broadcast the news that O.J. was trapped in his house because he knew that there were other ways out.

This was a great overview of the world of U.S. sports in the last 40 years from Wide World of Sports to Sunday Night Football.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

13 Jan, 2016

WIP Wednesday

/ posted in: Quilting

I actually made some progress on my Raspberry Kiss blocks. Are you shocked? I know I am. I’m not one for follow-through in my quilting.

I got a few hours of sewing in this week and now have this many blocks.

These are the four center fabrics I’ve worked with so far. I’m liking the way it looks with the beige corners around the brighter centers. It feels very peaceful to me.