Book Talk Tuesday: Behold, Here’s Poison

Georgette Heyer pretty much invented the historical romance story, in particular the Regency romance.

Only Jane Austen could argue with that.

Beautiful woman in medieval dress winking

Heyer died in 1974 but her books continue to be published, read, and loved.

Many contemporary romance writers point to Heyer when asked who was their first romance novelist.

She also wrote traditional “fair play” mysteries, in the style of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.

I was given a couple of her books by a friend who recently discovered her. I enjoyed them!

BHPThey are definitely indicative of the era they were written in. Readers then were far more patient with description and details than contemporary readers are. But the stories are still good and stand the test of time.

Behold, Here’s Poison is the story of the murder of a disagreeable man. No one is really sorry he’s dead but there’s no reason to suspect foul play. Until his sister, the equally disagreeable Mrs. Lupton, insists on an autopsy and it’s discovered Mr. Matthews was indeed poisoned.

Suspicion swings between household members. His spinster sister who kept house for him, and insisted she didn’t really mind. His widowed sister-in-law who so appreciated his care for her and her children. His nephew was being threatened with being shipped off to South America. The niece he forbade to marry her fiance, the doctor next door. The doctor himself. His other nephew, the heir. There is no shortage of suspects.

The clues are sprinkled fairly, there are plenty of red herrings, enough to keep the story interesting and the reader guessing, but not so many that the solution is unfair.

If you’re tired of contemporary romances or mysteries with their sex and/or violence, and are looking for something different, something “old school,” give Georgette Heyer a try. You just may like her!

Media Monday: Florence Foster Jenkins

Anyone who’s watched Mamma Mia! or Ricki and The Flash knows Meryl Streep can carry a tune. She has a good to great voice. So I can imagine the stretch it was to play Florence Foster Jenkins in her new movie by the same name.

Mrs. Jenkins can sing all right. She just sings … badly. Flat. Off key. And with some rhythmic pacing problems, too. But because she’s rich, she can hire the best accompanists, vocal coaches, and staff. And she does.

FFJThe movie is a dramatization of the life of the real Florence Foster Jenkins, a socialite in the 1930s and ’40s. Mrs. Jenkins loved to sing and she organized one of the New York city musicale societies that were popular then. They would present living tableaus to music.

In real life, Mrs. Jenkins was told she couldn’t sing and received lots of criticism. In the movie, her husband (played by Hugh Grant, who, may I say has been absent from movies for too long, and, while showing his age [finally!], is still looking very fine), works hard to keep all honest opinions far from her ears.

The story is about Mrs. Jenkins deciding to bless New York and returning World War II veterans with a Carnegie Hall concert. Her other concerts were invitation-only affairs, rather easy to keep kind and receptive. Carnegie Hall … not so much.

There is a lovely message about being there for one’s friends, about love persevering, and about following one’s dreams, no matter the cost.

Towards the end of the movie, we hear Florence sing as she hears herself. She acknowledges her critics with a quote, said by the real woman: “They may say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

Isn’t that the kind of people we want to be? Or is it just me?

The kind of person who wants to dance/golf/sing/cook/write/paint/play tennis/design clothing/do anything and who doesn’t let fear of what others will think or say stop them.

That’s a message I can get behind.

The movie is good, if gentle in pacing. The performances are solid, particularly Streep and Grant and a great supporting performance by Simon Helberg as Jenkins’s accompanist. Helberg is better know as Howard on The Big-Bang Theory.

Over all, I enjoyed this movie and recommend it.



Woe! It’s Wednesday: Forgiveness

Forgiveness does not come naturally. At least to me, it doesn’t.

I’m sure you’re much better at forgiving others than I am.

Portrait of sad child

Although I do seem able to move on sooner than some other people I could mention, but I’m trying to be modest here, so I’m going to focus on my issues with forgiveness.

I know all the usual answers:

  • To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover the prisoner was you. ~ Lewis Smedes
  • Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for other person to die ~ Many attributes but I first heard it from Carrie Fisher
  • To err is human; to forgive, divine. ~ Alexander Pope
  • Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. ~ The Lord’s Prayer

I recently came across one more quote. It stopped me right where I was, reached in my chest, gave my heart a little rub, and then whispered in my ear, “This. This is what you’ve been feeling.”

Here it is:

To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.’ ~ Frederick Buechner

I’ve come and read this again and again in the week since I first found it. It still stops me.

So much wisdom.

So much truth.

Detail of a Christmas quilt with scissors


My pride doesn’t want me to forgive others. Pride wants me to wrap my grudge around myself like a warm winter quilt.

The only problem is that eventually that quilt gets thin and smelly. Much like a grudge.

It fades until no one else can see the colors and shapes.

“Here.” I point to a faded triangle of red paisley. “This is when you called me a name. And here”–I rub a green rectangle–“here is when someone else spread gossip.” I can go on, identifying each patch in the ratty old quilt. But eventually even I have to admit I’m the only one who cares anymore.

It’s easier to recognize that although I have a “right” to my hurt feelings, the only one being punished is me.

What about you? Does forgiveness come naturally? Or am I the only one who struggles?


Food Talk Friday: Meatloaf

My meatloaf is amazing. I’m not bragging, just stating a fact. I get compliments whenever I take it to someone needing a meal or when we serve it to guests.

My two secrets:

  • I use a mixture of ground beef and ground pork
  • I use lots of BBQ sauce instead of ketchup or tomato sauce

I don’t have a picture of my own meatloaf and it seems creepy and disingenuous to post a picture of someone else’s, so this recipe will have to be picture-free. Until the next time I make meatloaf.

Carrie’s Amazing Meatloaf

1 lb. ground beef

1 lb. ground pork

About 1/2 C bread crumbs

Two eggs

1 medium red onion, chopped

About 1 1/2 C your favorite bottled BBQ sauce (I use whatever is on sale, or Kraft original)

Mix together thoroughly with your hands. Add more bread crumbs if you don’t like the consistency.

Mold together and place in a good size casserole dish.

Top the meatloaf with another 1/2 cup of sauce.

Bake at 350 degrees, 45 minutes to an hour. Drain off any fat accumulating in the corner.

Enjoy! It also makes great meatloaf sandwiches the next day!



Woe! It’s Wednesday: Reputations

There’s an old Shakespeare quote: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them.

POBoxWe’ve been wrangling with the post office this week. Two families have been receiving mail here for the last ten months. A change of address form was submitted last week for three people. That leaves three people still getting mail here.

Except someone at the post office decided to have all the mail with this address forwarded out of state.

That included some things Stud Muffin and I had ordered.

It took a trip to the post office and multiple calls to find out our mail was on its way to Idaho. A state I’ve never visited, by the way. But my new underwear, ordered from Amazon, will have visited! undies

The post office has become such a source of derision and frustration, that I wondered today:

Does the United States Post Office seek to hire apathetic jerks who don’t give a rip? Or do they hire hard working, conscientious people and train them to become apathetic jerks who don’t give a rip?

In other words, was the post office born incompetent, did it achieve incompetence, or did it have incompetence thrust upon it?

Has it grown too large to sustain itself?

I don’t know the answers to any of that. I just know that before my underwear is ever worn, it will have traveled more this summer than I did.

Media Monday: BOSCH

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books are gritty, compelling, and darn good reads. I was unsure how the Bosch character would translate to the screen so I took my time tuning into the Amazon series.

BoschI’m pleasantly surprised. We just finished binge-watching Season 1. Titus Welliver is pretty darn good at conveying Bosch’s weary and worn take on life, while keeping him human. He’s a father, struggling to relate to his daughter. He’s a cop, focused on finding evil and putting it away. He’s a man having a really bad year.

The series captured the mood of the books. The story arc of Season 1 is dark and grisly and not for the squeamish. The mysteries are layered with complex characters playing pivotal roles in the solutions. But the solutions didn’t come out of left field. The groundwork was laid very well.

I have a busy week and weekend so it’ll be a couple of weeks before we dive into Season 2, but dive in we will.

Food Talk Friday: Comfort Food

Thinking and writing about Chicken Divan last week got me thinking about other comfort foods and what makes them so comforting.

In my humble opinion, it comes down to two factors.

  • Something creamy and starchy, or
  • Something cheesy and sticky

For the cook, easy preparation is another important factor.

Besides Chicken Divan, our other family go-to comfort food is:

Abbie’s Chicken and Rice


Named for the friend who first introduced it to us. I’ve since learned it’s a staple on Campbell’s soup cans and on their website. I have no idea if our version is the same as Campbell’s. I’m including a picture from Campbell’s though and it looks pretty similar. I make a big batch of it because we love the leftovers.

2 cups uncooked long grain rice

3 cans of Campbell’s Cream of … soups (I usually use one Cream of Mushroom, one Cream of Chicken and one Cream of Celery. But I’ve used two of one and one of another in all combinations and it always tastes great. I’ve also heard some people add a packet of dry onion soup mix. I’m sure that’s yummy too.)

Combine the soups and the rice, pour into the bottom of a greased 9×13 casserole dish.

Lay raw chicken breasts and or thighs on top.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper or your favorite chicken seasoning. Sometimes I sprinkle on some Pappy’s or other seasonings. Whatever strikes my fancy from the pantry. Lemon Pepper. Montreal Steak Seasoning. Madame Pele’s Heat. Sea salt. Fresh ground pepper. Really. Whatever.

Cover with foil.

Bake at 325 for 45 minutes to an hour. It can cook faster, but the slower and lower, the creamier the rice turns out.

This one is always a winner, especially on a winter evening after a hard day. Because sometimes we need a little comfort food.




Woe! It’s Wednesday

Summer is still here for another six weeks.

So why does it feel like it’s almost over? Each day seems to go by more quickly than the one before.

I know part of the reason is that many schools have already started classes or are about to.

summer-photographer-pier-adventureDidn’t summer break used to be nearly three months long? It’s down to less than two months for most kids now.

I know the argument for having year-round school: students retain more when they don’t take a break. And we’re no longer an agrarian society with family farms that need all hands on the plow for the summer growing and harvest season.

But something about having that summer break just seems to fit with our natural God-given biological rhythms. We stay up later. We get up earlier (well, some people do).

Each year we plan to take a grandchild on some sort of trip or adventure. We — okay I, really want to take them to Southern California to visit some of the places we used to take their parents. The Space Museum. Griffith Park Observatory. Gene Autry Museum. A Dodger game. The beach.

The most we managed this year was a long weekend and a visit to the Fossil Discovery Center.  We did get to go swimming a few times and watched some movies.

But I’m writing on next year’s calendar right now to plan some summer trips.

Book Talk Tuesday: An Elegant Facade

An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter.

I’m going to have to stop saying I don’t really read Historical much. I’m reading more of it and loving it!

elegant facadeI absolutely adored this book.

At the beginning, I wondered how the author was going to get her hero and heroine to their happily ever after, since they were so different. But she skillfully showed their growth until I (and they) knew they were perfect together.
Lady Georgina has a secret and in an attempt to keep it to herself has hatched a plan to marry well. Very well.

Unfortunately, there are only a few dukes and earls suitable. And the first two had to go and fall in love with someone else. Lady Georgina is getting desperate.
Colin McCrae is a businessman, fully aware that he is considered far beneath the peers in society, but perfectly acceptable to do business with while making them money. He’s drawn into his friends’ family drama and is thrown together with the spoiled and bratty Lady Georgina. Or so he thinks of her. Until he begins to see the young woman behind the desperate hunt for a husband.
Reading the first book in the Hawthorne House series would be helpful but not required to enjoy this one. I can hardly wait to see who’s next up in the series.

I received a free copy of this book from Baker House, in return for a honest review. I honestly loved this book!

I was privileged to be in the room when Kristi Ann Hunter won a RITA® award from Romance Writers of America® for her first novel in this series, A Noble Masquerade. It may have been the first but I predict it won’t be the last.

Media Monday:Night at the Museum trilogy

We recently visited the Madera County Fossil Discovery Center. We took our grand-daughters to see the pre-historic fossils on display there. It’s a fun place to spend a few hours, giving kids the opportunity to dig up “fossils” and learn about the animals who inhabited the area in ages past.

Since we’d never visited it, Stud Muffin and I weren’t clear on what exactly was on display there and we erroneously prepared the girls to see dinosaur bones. The center has skeletons of Columbian Mammoths, Saber-toothed cats, horses, sloths, and camels, all from pre-historic times, but no dinosaurs.

NATMThe night before our visit we decided to watch Night at the Museum. Both girls both enjoyed the movie, but the five-year-old loved it. When we told her that there was another movie (and another!) she had to watch them, too.

So I was able to watch all three movies in as many nights, giving me the unusual (for me) opportunity to see an entire series close enough to judge them together as one work.

Each movie is able to stand alone. There’s not much backstory in the sequels to slow down the stories and they launch pretty quickly.

The first movie is undoubtedly the best. The second movie, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was good, too. The weakest of the trilogy is the third, Secret of the Tomb, but arguably funnier with the addition of Rebel Wilson as a night guard at the British Museum. It felt rushed, like it was thrown together to capitalize on the popularity of the first two.

We shared the first movie with another family member a few days later and she did not enjoy it all. She found it too “slap stick.” While there is some physical humor (and the slapstick quotient goes up in the next two movies), it’s not overly distracting. Kids love it.