The last few months, my blog has devolved into mostly book reviews, and those are mostly of books I received advance copies of and committed to review. Which is great! I love receiving early releases, reading them, and sharing them with others. Especially when they’re from authors I’m going to snatch up and read anyway.
A couple of years ago, I did an overhaul of my blog. I received some good industry advice about what publishers and acquisitions people would look for when they considered my submitted fiction. They would visit my blog and evaluate if my posts were pertinent to my fiction and how many views I had, yada yada.
But let’s face it, no one–beyond my immediate family (any maybe not even they)–cares what I think about … anything. Not movies, not current events, not anything beyond book reviews.
I do have a few followers who like my thoughts about books. And I’m supremely grateful for every one of you!
But a curious thing happened when I changed the focus of my posts …
I lost interest.
So if I’m not interested, why would I expect anyone else to care??
Short answer: I wouldn’t.
So, I’m going back to my former format. But I’ll also retain elements of the new schedule.
Mondays: Monday Musings or Media Monday. Basically whatever I feel like talking about. I love movies and TV shows and podcasts and I like talking about them. Mondays were supposed to be about quilting, because I had a novel set in a quilt shop, but I complete only one or two quilts a year. It’s hard to blog weekly about that kind of production. 😉
Tuesday will still be Book Talk Tuesdays. Around May of last year, I decided 2018 would be devoted to catching up with favorite series I had lagged behind in. I did pretty well in that endeavor, so I’ll bring you all up to date as well.
Wednesdays will continue to be Wednesday Wanderings with tales of our travels or Woe! It’s Wednesday, when I talk about something personal, something I’m struggling with, something I don’t understand.
I will likely take off Thursdays, or will post an Author Spotlight on Thursdays.
Fridays will be devoted to food. Yes, Food Talk Fridays will be back. Restaurant reviews, recipes, whatever I feel like talking about.
Realistically, I know it’s January and I’m full of good intentions, and I may run out of
steam and ideas by … ummm … May … but I’m hoping planning to be more consistent in 2019.
Here’s to good intentions! And even if I do less than perfectly with my posts, it’s okay. I’ll have improved, and that’s really all that matters.
I’ve had this one on my TBR stack for quite a while, but I was in the mood for something chilly to offset the hot days to come, so I pulled this one out.
Very atmospheric. The Adirondacks, Lake Placid and Lake Saranac are described in not overly detailed terms, but well enough that if I ever go there, it will feel familiar. I’ve said the same thing about Julia Spencer-Fleming’s books set in upstate New York. When we visited there in 2011, it really did seem like I’d been there before. But only in the pages of a book.
A Cold and Lonely Place is described as a “literary mystery,” and I don’t disagree with that description. While it may not be your typical “fair play,” mystery, there is a mystery at the heart of the story. Actually two mysteries.
What happened to Tobin Winslow? And what happened to his brother six years ago? Both drowned, although in vastly different circumstances.
Our “detective,” is Troy Chance, a freelance writer in the Lake Placid and Lake Saranac area. She’s taking pictures of the construction of the annual Ice Palace when a body is found. She recognizes the frozen face, as the boyfriend of one of her roommates, and begins piecing together the last days, months, then years of the victim’s life.
When I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. The chapters were short and engaging and begged me to turn the page and keep going. As the story progressed, it wasn’t quite as compelling, especially as I suspected we weren’t going to receive a villain neatly captured and handed over to the authorities.
But that didn’t lessen my enjoyment. A Cold and Lonely Place is an excellent, engaging, and enthralling story. I’ll read more by this author.
Friday in London … well, it really began Thursday night. After we got back to the hotel from seeing Phantom, I opened up Facebook. I knew my agent and her friend/co-worker were in England on a Jane Austen tour and Janet and I knew we’d be overlapping in London by a few days. But it’s a big city and we didn’t compare notes about where we’d be or make any plans to meet up. But every night on her tour, Janet posted a picture of her view out of her room. Thursday night … her view was my view! So I knew she was in our hotel and in a room nearly adjacent to ours.
The view from “our” rooms
My agent (BTW, I never get tired of saying that), and me
But, still, it’s a big hotel with lots of guests leaving and coming at all hours. We would be up early the next morning and off to catch a train from Paddington Station to Oxford.
We went to breakfast Friday morning at seven o’clock, when the buffet opened. We were shown to our seats and I went to fill a plate while Stud Muffin waited at our table. As I made my way back to him, who did I see seated two tables over?
Yes! My wonderful agent and her friend! We exclaimed over the crazy coincidence, hugged, took a picture, and compared notes on what we had seen/hoped to see/planned to see. When Wendy heard we were headed to Oxford, she said to be sure and see the Ashmolean. I filed that tidbit for future reference, but didn’t really know what it was.
After breakfast and saying goodbye, we walked the short distance to Paddington Station. It was through a different neighborhood than we had walked before, and was about half a mile. We found it with no problem, but as we approached the station, we heard sirens in the distance, then law enforcement officers of some sort passed us, walking briskly, all business. We weren’t sure (still aren’t) if they were Tube/Underground security, London policemen, or Brute Squad officers.
We printed our tickets from the kiosk, found our train, and took our seats. We had about an hour ride to Oxford, where we had a bit of time to kill before our Thames River cruise. On the train, I checked email and found a message from the US Consulate in London, advising us that there had been a “security incidence” in London and we should let our family and friends at home know that we were safe. I did that, not knowing what kind of incident had occurred or where.
In Oxford, we wandered the town and found our way to the restaurant where our cruise began. We had some tea and coffee while we waited and I added more data to our embattled cell phone plan.
The day was cloudy and chilly, but the boat had blankets and plastic that could be pulled down to protect us from the wind. It was a lovely time. Our boat had five couples and the captain, Alex, a young local woman. We saw some of the loveliest countryside, I believe, in England. Cows grazed along the river banks. There were community gardens lining the river just outside of town. We knew from watching Escape to the Country that what we call a yard, the British call a garden. We asked Alex if what we were seeing was indeed a community garden, but she replied, “No, they’re just vegetable plots.” It took a bit of back and forth before we remembered the language disconnect about yard/garden.
A pair of swans swam up to the boat, peering intently at us. I’m sure they were looking for a tidbit of something yummy to fly their way, but I swear they looked like they were expecting someone. They’d invited a guest and were quite certain she was arriving on that boat.
We had to pass through a lock, both coming and going. I’d never seen one work from the inside before and it was fascinating how the gate closed, the water gurgled away or whooshed in, the boat lowered in the compartment or was raised, then the opposite gate opened and we chugged along again.
We stopped for a bathroom break at The Perch pub on the riverside. It was delightful, old with low ceilings, but updated inside with a warm fire. We had about half an hour there to thaw out, get something warm to drink and eat, and then we headed back to Oxford.
At The Perch
Inside The Perch in Oxfordshire
My must-see in Oxford was the Eagle and Child Pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and their Inklings writer’s group met. It’s old, small, wood-paneled, and we absolutely took a step back in time. The food was fabulous. I had macaroni & cheese, Stud Muffin had a mushroom (beef) pie. Both were incredible. We shared a Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. We bought some postcards of the pub with drawings of the building and it’s famous patrons.
Sticky Toffee Pudding we shared for dessert for our late lunch
The Eagle and Child inside
We still had a couple of hours before our train back to London and we passed by the Ashmolean, so we went in.
Incredible! It’s free, but we tossed a few pounds in the box and prepared to wander. We separated. Stud Muffin went to the top, I stayed on the bottom and we planned to meet in the middle.
Unfortunately, after just fifteen minutes, a guide came and told me the museum was closing. We hadn’t even looked at the time or the open hours, so sadly we only got a brief taste of all the Ashmolean offers. If I get to return to Oxford, the Ashmolean is top of my do-over list.
There wasn’t much left to see in walking distance, so we headed back to the train station. Tip: when booking a train to London from one of the outlying towns on a Friday evening, be sure and reserve your seats. We had, just by luck or Divine Providence, so we didn’t worry about having a seat, but the station and the train were both very full of people making their way to the city. While waiting on the platform, we chatted with a man and learned the extent of the “security incident” in London that morning. A homemade bomb on the Tube had injured several people, including the would-be bomber. The man didn’t know many more details.
We made our way back to London safely and walked the now familiar path back to the hotel.
Next up: Driving on the left side in England: Different from driving on the left in Ireland.
On our first morning in London, it was a beautiful September day, a bit cool and clear and perfect walking weather.
We met up with Will, our guide from Strawberry Tours, at a Tube station. There were about twelve or so of us. There were two tours that morning, one in Spanish and Will’s in English.
Our first site was part of the crumbling Wall of London which stands near the tour’s beginning point. We learned about the original city, Londinium, its fall to William the Conqueror, and about the City of London, which is the historic and business square mile inside what we usually think of as London.
The City of London has been governed by the Lord Mayor of the City of London since William the Conqueror gave governance of the city back to its inhabitants in 1066. And we learned that when the Queen wishes to enter
the City, she must request permission from the Lord Mayor, bow to him, and touch his sword, then she may enter the city behind him. The Lord Mayor of the City and his sword are the only things she bows too. Fascinating stuff!
We then moved to the Tower of London. We didn’t enter the Tower, but Will shared its history and stories about some of it’s occupants. We also visited the Royal Courts of Justice, the Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral (I wish we could have returned here, it looked fabulous!), Temple Church, and several others. We learned about the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Knights Templar, the financial and business district, Leadenhall Market (which could have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley), and Fleet Street.
We chatted and walked with a young man from Irvine, California named Tran. He’s been traveling the world for the last nineteen months. Well, it was nineteen months at that time, in September, so it would be closer to twenty-five months now. He does go home
for holidays and his mom’s birthday. We mentioned that we were on the trip celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. Tran then asked us lots of questions about love and relationships and how to make them work. It turned out to be a fascinating conversation. We ended at the Edgar Wallace pub for bangers and mash or fish and chips. We sat with Tran and a woman from Canada. She left as soon as we were done eating, as she had a reservation on the Harry Potter walking tour at three o’clock. We talked for a long time with Tran and several of his new friends from the hostel they stayed at. A young man from Pennsylvania, one from Australia, and a woman from Chile.
We headed back to the hotel for a rest since we’d done a good bit of walking. Then we headed out again. This time we headed to Her Majesty’s Theatre for our evening show: The Phantom of the Opera. We’d never seen it live, so that was a definite highlight! The theatre was a bit more comfortable than the one the evening before. The show was spectacular. The chandelier is as awe-inspiring as I’d heard. The voices and music were incredible. Amazing show!
After we got back to our Hyde Street tube station, we stopped at a neighborhood pub for a nightcap and to toast another day.
On the docket next: An unexpected meeting at our hotel and Oxford!
Our flight from Dublin to London was delayed a couple of hours due to high winds. So we missed our arranged ride from Heathrow to our hotel. After a phone call (just what our over-worked AT&T data plan did not need), and a half hour wait, our driver arrived. He was from Moldova and spoke excellent English. He’d obviously had something heavy on garlic for dinner the night before, but after a few minutes my nose adjusted. He muscled our bags into his car and we were off. The drive into London was fascinating, although not unlike heading into the downtown area of any of our urban cities. Dave and I both commented on the large number of car dealers lining the freeway and their dizzying displays of cars. The buildings were tall, full of windows and spiral displays with gleaming cars.
After checking in, we found the nearest fish & chips place on our map and headed on foot to Hobson’s. It wasn’t a long walk and on the way we passed a phone booth, a school getting out for the day, and assorted shops.
On the way back, around the corner from our hotel, was a plaque on a building proclaiming it the site where American writer Bret Harte died.
I had to take a picture there because I attended seventh grade at Bret Harte Junior High (now Middle) School in Hayward, California. Bret Harte wrote short stories and poetry about the American West.
My current women’s fiction series of novels take place in a small mountain community I’ve named Harts Leap. So it seemed appropriate.
After a short rest back at the hotel, we looked at options for the next day. We didn’t have anything booked and Dave left it up to me what to do. I booked us a walking tour with Strawberry Tours of Central London for the next morning.
Then, we decided to brave the tube and find our way to the St. Martin’s Theatre where we had tickets to that night’s performance of The Mousetrap.
The Mousetrap is by Agatha Christie and has been playing for 53 years, since it opened in 1974. It’s the longest running play in history. The show was great, the theatre small and gorgeous, the seats extremely uncomfortable. But the show and the experience were worth the discomfort.
We lucked out on our tube rides and accidentally got on the right trains, both to the theatre and back to the hotel after. It wasn’t until the next day when we got on a “wrong” train, that we learned how to tell the difference. But we’re old hands now. We felt very safe and the tube was quick and efficient. The Lancaster Gate station was a short distance from the hotel and we walked it at all times of the day and night without a problem.
I’d given up on my hair in Ireland. But now that I was in calmer weather and had a blow dryer near by, I upped my hair game after this first day.
Next week, the great Strawberry Tour with the amazing guide, Will.
We pretty much laid low at our niece’s home for the weekend. The weather was pretty blustery and the grand-nieces had swimming lessons and gymnastics and various activities, so David followed them around while I relaxed, read, and rested at the house.
It was a sweet little respite after a busy few days and still lying awake from 2-4 am every night. David spent some time walking the land and seeing how the family farm has evolved over the last century, and how our nephew is still working the land.
Their home is lovely and I enjoyed the amazing views, as well as the cozy fire, and my book. Of course, I brought my Kindle so I wouldn’t be toting books all over Ireland and the UK. I did bring paperback travel guides, but I left them behind in hotel rooms in each country. I also left two pairs of pants, some toiletries, and whatever else I felt didn’t need to come home with me. I was lightening my suitcases so I could fit in the souvenirs and gifts we would buy. And it worked out. We had no problems with overweight luggage. Mostly. That’s a story for the end.
Nephew-in-law and his 2-year-old, overlooking the peat bog
Matt Molloy’s Pub in Westport
Our way home from our first outing, to the Museum of Country Life, we crossed paths with Patrick, our nephew-in-law, and followed him to a pharmacy and the grocery store. We got to meet his brother’s fiancee, who works at the pharmacy. As we were chatting another man walked up to Patrick and they greeted each other. Patrick introduced us to Matt Molloy, a flautist with The Chieftains. Mr. Molloy has a local pub in Westport. On one of the outings when I stayed home, David and Patrick stopped at the pub. That’s pictured above.
We finished the weekend with dinner at a Westport hotel, the same place Cory and I went for our after concert drink Friday night. Patrick’s brother and his fiancee joined us. I’m still incredulous that I didn’t get a picture of all of us that night, and I didn’t get a picture of Colin and Tara. They were delightful and we had such a great time that evening getting to know them. We love them and love that they love our Cory. It was a special time.
Sticky Toffee Pudding to die for
Dave and his mussels 😉
All in all, we had a wonderful weekend and it was a great way to wind down our time in Ireland.
Next week: Our last full day and the Cliffs of Moher!
After our visit to Kylemore Abbey, we arrived back at our lovely host/niece’s home. I wasn’t quite over the time change so I took a nap. But then it was time to party. My pictures didn’t turn out very good, but I’ll post them here.
Beethoven: Piano Trio in D major Op.70 No.1 ‘Ghost’
Leon McCawley, Jack Liebeck, Guy Johnston
Penderecki: Cadenza for solo viola
Schubert: String Quintet in C major D. 956
Navarra Quartet, Guy Johnston
The Beethoven and Schubert selections were my favorite. The violist was excellent, but the music was a bit too … strident for my taste. Although I enjoyed the whole evening immensely.
Before the concert and during the break we were able to walk around Westport House, which is a local historic home and is now an event center with many attractions. The house itself is full of art, sculpture, and memorabilia from the original family and the community.
The house was built on the foundations of one of Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley‘s 16th century castles.
We had a blast dressing up and going out, just us big girls, for a night on the town.
After the concert, we went to a local hotel’s pub for some more live music and a nightcap. We heard a duo, maybe brothers, who played an eclectic mix of folk, contemporary, and 20th century pop music.
It was a satisfying, if contextually confusing, end to a great day.
Next week: More random pictures and thoughts about Ireland, the sights, the people, and our farewell dinner.