Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book Review: The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

Title: The Girl Who Chased the Moon
Series: Standalone
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 03/16/2012
Publisher: Bantam
Genre(s): Women's Fiction, Fantasy


Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, not only wishing to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth but also dreaming of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.


The Girl Who Chased the Moon is the second book I've read by Sarah Addison Allen and I favored it slightly over the first—Garden Spells. I was intrigued by the small town family secrets, and the mysteries, which felt more organic than those formulated for 'whodunnit' mysteries. It was all about the why and not so much about the who, what, or when. I was quite captivated by this "fable" and its main characters: Julia, Emily, Win, and Sawyer. There were several particularly beautiful passages I wanted to highlight. Quite an enchanting read!

(Note: I read the hardcover edition represented by the above cover.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Color of Hope

"There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope." ~ Bern Williams

Digital photograph of the Rappahannock River by Virginia Hill taken with a BlackBerry Style 9670 on 03/28/2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What the Clouds Say

"The moon is like a mystery novel, the sun like a motivational self-help book, and the stars a coffee table book of photography. The sky is the whole library, and God the librarian." ~ Pepper Giardino

Digital photograph by Virginia Hill taken with a BlackBerry Style 9670 on 03/27/2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book Review: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Title: Garden Spells (Waverly Family #1)

Author: Sarah Addison Allen

Rating: Four out of five stars

Published: 08/28/2007

Publisher: Bantam

Genre(s): Contemporary Fantasy


In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it. . . .

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.

Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own...


Reading Garden Spells felt rather like the author was telling me a story. It is a fanciful and romantic story filled with quirky and (mostly) likable characters. The sisters, Claire and Sydney; the cousin, Evanelle (my favorite character); the daughter, Bay; the neighbor, Tyler; and the farmer, Henry. One of the main characters in this story isn't even a person, it's the Waverley's apple tree. I have to admit the apple tree is the one thing I had an issue with in this lovely tale. Realizing, of course, the book is fantasy, I personally connect better with the reality in books. People have personalities and some personalities are more fanciful than others. But, a tree? The apple tree made the story a little too fairy-tale like for me and I've never cared for fairy tales. I do feel the book is evenly paced with no lulls or unexpected turns, which made it a steady read and easily continued when returned to. Overall, it is quite charming!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Recipe: No Chicken, Pot or Pie Casserole


This is a low-fat vegan dish using Seitan instead of chicken and potatoes in lieu of a crust.  If you have a stovetop to oven-safe skillet use that otherwise transfer from skillet to an 8" x 11" baking dish.


2 large potatoes, peeled, boiled, cooled, and sliced
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup + 1 Tbs. flour
4 cups vegetable broth
1-1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped or sliced
1-1/2 cup celery, chopped or sliced
1-1/2 cup carrots, chopped or sliced
1/2 cup peas, frozen
1- 8 oz. pkg Seitan cubes, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 - 2 dashes Tabasco sauce
to taste salt (optional)
to taste black pepper
Parmesan (vegan) Cheese (topping, after baking)
Paprika (topping, after baking)


1.  Peel potatoes, slice in half crosswise and boil until tender.  Let cool.  Slice crosswise about 1/2 inch thick.

2.  Heat oil in skillet; add onions and sauté until translucent.

3.  Add flour and blend well.  Gradually add broth, stirring over low heat until thick and smooth.

4.  Add mushrooms, celery, and carrots;  cook about 8 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally.

5.  Add peas, seitan, lemon juice, tabasco, salt, and pepper.  Heat through on low heat.

6.  If the skillet is oven safe cover with a single layer of the sliced potatoes.  If not, transfer to an oven-safe baking dish before topping with the potatoes.  Bake in a preheated 450° oven for about 20 minutes.

7.  Sprinkle with Parmesan and Paprika before serving.

Servings:  6

*thanks to my Facebook Friends for their recipe name suggestions!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Miracle of Nature

"The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man."  ~ Author Unknown

Digital photograph by Virginia Hill taken with a BlackBerry Style 9670 on 03/22/2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: Birthright by Nora Roberts

Title: Birthright
Series: Standalone
Author: Nora Roberts
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 03/30/2004
Publisher: Jove
Genre(s): Romantic Suspense


When five-thousand-year-old human bones are found at a construction site in the small town of Woodsboro, the news draws archaeologist Callie Dunbrook out of her sabbatical and into a whirlwind of adventure, danger, and romance.

While overseeing the dig, she must try to make sense of a cloud of death and misfortune that hangs over the project-fueling rumors that the site is cursed. And she must cope with the presence of her irritatingbut irresistibleex-husband, Jake. Furthermore, when a stranger claims to know a secret about her privileged Boston childhood, she is forced to question her own past as well.


I read Birthright when it was first published in March 2003. I rated it 4 stars then, and because it's by Nora Roberts (my favorite author) I was looking forward to reading it again. I treated myself to the Kindle edition, which is now my preference. Nora writes in such a way that I pretty much always want to read something of hers.

** spoiler alert ** Birthright is well paced with just the right amount of archaeology and anthropology mixed in to let the reader know what drives the characters and to set it apart from Nora's other books. There is a rather complicated storyline, but straightforward writing kept me on track. The relationships of several couples are covered; all at different developmental stages—new (Lana and Douglas), revisited (Callie and Jacob), rekindled (Suzanne and Jay), and long-lasting (Elliot and Vivian). The cleverly written banter is a joy to read whether it was of the friendly or playfully adult variety. There is all matter of suspenseful and dangerous goings-on—murder, poisoning, explosions, fires, and then good old sleuthing. All of this makes for a first-rate romantic suspense. I am thrilled that I revisited it!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Color of Winter

"The color of springtime is in the flowers, the color of winter is in the imagination."  ~ Terri Guillemets

Digital photograph of the Rappahannock River by Virginia Hill taken with an Olympus SP510UZ on 03/11/2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lizzie By a Nose

One thing about Corgis (short-legged dogs), their noses are always conveniently located close to the ground. It's so easy to sniff-as-you-go when you don't have those "pesky" long legs keeping your sniffer up in the air. Oh yeah, all those heavenly smells that attract dogs' noses to the ground. Lizzie is much more interested in sniffing than going most times. I've never given much thought to the health of my dogs' noses before.  It must be because they've never had anything bothering them...before Lizzie, that is. Oh, her nose is still busy as can be when she's outside for a walk and inside when it's meal time, but the little darlin' now has a runny nose. Okay, so I went online to read about nasal discharge in dogs. Sneezing often coincides with a discharge, but Lizzie isn't sneezing. It could be...a lot of things. Being worried enough about it we took her to the veterinarian yesterday. 

A slight discharge from both nostrils. One has only a clear discharge. One not always clear. A slight fever. She weighs the same as she did her last visit. Her fecal was negative. Her left eye (the one affected by "dry eye") looks pretty good, but the doctor puts some ophthalmic ointment in it anyway. He checks her teeth and gums (a root infection is one of the causes of nasal discharge) and everything looks great. No evidence of nasal mites (another cause of discharge). I treated her with a Melaleuca grooming mist after I brushed her on Sunday. I've used it several times before with no apparent side effects. Is she sensitive to that now? It's almost spring and allergens are in the air and on the ground. Maybe this sinusitis is related to allergies. Treat her for 7 days with doxycycline (for possible sinus infection?) and if it doesn't clear up we take her back. Of course, I really want it to clear up. She is extremely timid and her health seems so susceptible to every little environmental thing—loud things (wind, thunderstorms, certain household sounds), big things (boxes, bags, things that flap, loose dogs) and now, maybe itty bitty things (dust, pollen). Sheesh, what next?

She certainly doesn't mind taking her pills twice a day. Painless medication delivered in a spoonful of soy nut butter...mmm good. Great, no trauma there. Get better Lizzie. No more nose trouble, okay? Your "reward" for getting better? Vaccinations at the end of the month.  Aww, I feel bad for her already.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Review: Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Title: Firefly Lane
Series: Firefly Lane #1
Author: Kristin Hannah
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 01/06/2009
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre(s): Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction


From the New York Times bestselling author of On Mystic Lake comes a powerful novel of love, loss, and the magic of friendship. . . .

In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all---beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.

So begins Kristin Hannah’s magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives.

From the beginning, Tully is desperate to prove her worth to the world. Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she longs to be loved unconditionally. In the glittering, big-hair era of the eighties, she looks to men to fill the void in her soul. But in the buttoned-down nineties, it is television news that captivates her. She will follow her own blind ambition to New York and around the globe, finding fame and success . . . and loneliness. 

Kate knows early on that her life will be nothing special. Throughout college, she pretends to be driven by a need for success, but all she really wants is to fall in love and have children and live an ordinary life. In her own quiet way, Kate is as driven as Tully. What she doesn’t know is how being a wife and mother will change her . . . how she’ll lose sight of who she once was, and what she once wanted. And how much she’ll envy her famous best friend. . . .

For thirty years, Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship---jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they’ve survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart . . . and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test.

Firefly Lane is for anyone who ever drank Boone’s Farm apple wine while listening to Abba or Fleetwood Mac. More than a coming-of-age novel, it’s the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It’s about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you---and knows what has the power to hurt you . . . and heal you. Firefly Lane is a story you’ll never forget . . . one you’ll want to pass on to your best friend.


Nothing I read about Firefly Lane could have prepared me for the moving story of Tully and Kate. Sure, I've read other books that were emotionally charged and brought me to tears. Several of them were also written by Kristin Hannah. She's a genius at writing human stories that make it impossible not to feel the emotions right along with her characters. This one though...this is an immeasurably touching depiction of family love & strife, career choices, and undying friendship. I haven't read a more profound fictional portrayal of those real life issues before. I'll be thinking about this book and these characters for some time. It will be quite difficult to leave them behind.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Review: Dream Man by Linda Howard

Title: Dream Man
Series: Standalone
Author: Linda Howard
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 11/24/2009
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre(s): Romantic Suspense


Had she finally met the man she longed for...or was she dreaming?

Marlie Keen was trying to lead a quiet, ordinary life. She thought the knowing -- the clairvoyance that allowed her to witness crimes as they happened -- had been destroyed in the nightmare of her past. Then one night it returned with a vengeance, and she desperately needed to find someone to make it stop.

Detective Dane Hollister of the Orlando police department had never met anyone like Marlie. He had doubts about her clairvoyance, but there was no doubt how much he desired her. Her soft, sweet scent set his blood afire, and he wanted to wrap her in his arms and chase the sadness from her eyes. To Marlie, Dane was all heat and hard muscle, and he made her body come alive as it never had before. But not even she could foresee where their passion would lead: a hungry quest for the elusive, dreamy ecstasies of love...and a dangerous journey into the twisted mind of a madman who would threaten their happiness and their lives....


Technology didn't have a big part in this book, which was published 16 years ago! Because of that, it holds up very well. The chemistry between Dane and Marlie is the star! I only had an issue with a small amount of dialogue between them—words that didn't seem true to the characters. I liked the secondary characters a lot and appreciated the insight into Dane's character shared by his partner/friend, Trammell, with Marlie. The majority of the book is told from the good guys' point of view with very little written from the killer's. This is one reason I prefer romantic suspense over traditional suspense/thrillers. The less time spent in the mind of the bad guy, the better. Dream Man is still a winner after all these years!

(Explanation 03/09/2011: I read the first edition paperback of Dream Man twice (in 1995 and '99), but donated that copy years ago. It's remained one of my all-time favorite romantic suspense novels and now that I have the Kindle Edition I can keep it, re-read it, and hopefully enjoy it as much or more than I did the first two times.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Review: Bless the Bride by Rhys Bowen

Title: Bless the Bride
Series: Molly Murphy Mystery #10
Author: Rhys Bowen
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 03/01/2011
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery


With Molly Murphy’s wedding to NYPD Captain Daniel Sullivan quickly approaching, the Irish sleuth heads to the Westchester County countryside, where his mother can lend her a hand and advise her on a bride’s proper place. And shockingly, Molly seems to be agreeing. She has already promised that she’ll close up her PI business and settle down after marrying, but she isn’t a married woman yet. So, when she gets word of a possible case, she sneaks back into the city to squeeze in a little more sleuthing before the wedding bells can ring.

A wealthy Chinese immigrant wants her to find his missing bride, and Molly---sure she isn’t getting the whole story---suspects that his bride ran off. But where could she go? The only Chinese women in early-twentieth-century New York are kept under lock and key, and Molly can’t help but wonder if she’s saving the woman from the streets or helping to lock her away for good.

Rhys Bowen’s deft touch and charming wit make Bless the Bride another stellar addition to her Anthony and Agatha Award--winning historical series.


Mollie is such a likable character. I find her to be genuine, curious, intelligent, and loyal. She has an innate goodness even when she’s doing something she shouldn’t—like keeping things from her fiancé. I enjoyed Bless the Bride immensely! The historical aspect was fascinating, as were all the characters. I couldn’t be more pleased with the ending. It was fabulously romantic with just a hint of things to come. Marriage can’t tame Molly completely no matter how much she loves Daniel. She will remain true to her basic nature by continuing to get into difficult situations and solving cases, assuring us fans of future adventures in this delightful series.