Preserving the Season by Mary Tregellas

Years and years ago, maybe hundreds, I learned to make a simple strawberry jam with my grandfather. I thought I was a proper know it all at that point because none of my friends knew how to do that. It was like magic watching the berries and pectin slowly meld into such a marvelous concoction. That simple strawberry jam was as far as I got for year and years more until I discovered the joys of food preservation. Now I look forward to summer when I gather fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables together knowing that I can make this bounty last all winter long.

That knowledge is the basis of Mary Tregellas’ book, “Preserving the Season,” a beautifully illustrated, simple to understand guide, full of easy to understand recipes about using and preserving the wealth of your garden or local market. There is an introduction to items you will need or find useful for preservation which moves into the recipes for actual preservation. The recipes are varied and mostly unique ranging from jams, jellies and marmalade to cordials and vinegar.

Some of my own preservation thus far this season. Yummy!

The second half of the book is dedicated to using what you have preserved – herbs, jams, etc., in your cooking. There are recipes for herb breads and scones, chutneys and so much more, all using the items from your well preserved panty. While the book and recipes are written simply enough that a beginner preservationist could certainly understand, I think the content might be geared more toward those like me who have been doing this for some time. We’ve got the basics down and now are looking for new ideas and ways to use what we actually preserve, taking it to the next step. We rarely do see guides that answer these questions and Preserving the Season does that brilliantly. I loved it; it’s a perfect addition to my kitchen library and I hope it will be to yours as well.

Recent Reads, Rapid Reviews: The Heirloom Garden, The Long Call, The Fourteenth of September

It’s time for some quick-fire reviews of books that I’ve pulled from my TBR list, some which were hits and others, well, not so much.

The HEIRLOOM GARDEN by Viola Shipman

For the PopSugar reading challenge I needed a book about a passion of mine. As you know, gardening is a huge passion for me, this year more so than in the past. When I saw the title of this book I thought it would be a perfect read for me. Sadly, I should have read the synopsis more closely. What I read was a younger woman and an older one bond both of whom are suffering bond over their love of the flower garden. What the book is about is a woman who endured the suffering a loss of WWII and a family suffering the effects of the Iraq war. The fact is that I’ve grown a bit weary of reading books about WWII written from the romanticized viewpoint of the US and UK and I simply do not read books about the unjustified Iraqi invasion. Period. I’m very sure that readers of Viola Shipman will love and adore this book. It’s very predictable, a bit on the saccharine sweet side but it definitely wasn’t a book for me. 😦

THE LONG CALL by Ann Cleeves

You already should know what I think about Ann Cleeves writing – I think she is a master, in a class all her own. Since I’m quickly nearing the end of the Vera series and am almost caught up with the Shetland series, I’m thrilled that The Long Call is the beginning of a new and quite different series by Cleeves.

The Long Call introduces us to Matthew Venn, a Detective from North Devon, who has just attended the funeral for his estranged father when he receives a call regarding a murder very near his home by the sea. The case brings Matthew in circles back to his former life in a very strict church which then collides with his new life for which he was ostracized by his family and church. As always with Cleeves, the story unfolds slowly as the characters and the clues unfold allowing the characters to come alive for the reader. I was a bit unsure about Matthew when the book began but by the end I wanted more and, thankfully, the next book in the series is out this summer!! If you like Ann Cleeves, you will adore The Long Call. If you haven’t read her before, this is the perfect starting point for you.

THE FOURTEENTH OF SEPTEMBER by Rita Dragonette

At the opposite end of the plethora of WWII novels is the scarcity of books about the Vietnam war. Amazingly, here in the US, we just skim right over that war as though it’s the black sheep stepchild we’d rather forget, pushed in a corner, brushed under the rug, out of sight, out of mind. And then along comes books like The Fourteenth of September to remind us exactly why we never should forget that period in US history and why it changed an entire generation of American lives forever.

On September 14, 1969, Private First Class Judy Talton celebrates her nineteenth birthday by secretly joining the campus anti-Vietnam War movement. When her birthday is pulled from the draft lotto a few weeks later, she realizes that if she were a male, she would have been one of the first ones shipped out to Vietnam with very low survival expectancy. This realization propels her toward action that will alter her life forever.

This book is a stark, realistic look at the late 60s/early 70s, the anti-war movement, the emerging feminist movement and the anger that was sweeping across university campuses throughout the US. It is extremely well researched and very tightly written. What appears as hyperbole is actually just the facts of that time. It’s harsh and thorough and a must read, especially for Americans. It asks the question, will anyone remember? I do! I will never forget and my entire life has been based on what I learned from this war, from the atrocities committed by the US government during the entire era (50s-70s) and the horrors that linger long after the governments say the war is over.

The Noise @JDBarker and James Patterson

Let me state up front that J.D.Barker could write a phone book and I would read it and enjoy it. I have, in the past, given his books less that five stars because I thought he could do a better job than he did – NOT because I thought he wasn’t stunningly awesome. That said, I started The Noise late in the afternoon and did not put it down once, not even, until I finished late last night. I was spellbound from start to finish. As with all of Barker’s books, The Noise will not appeal to everyone but it sure as hell made my day!

The Noise… two girls, part of a survivalist group in the mountains of Oregon, are the lone survivors of something that wiped out their entire village, literally everything was decimated to the ground as though a tornado had leveled it, crushing everyone and everything in its path. Except that there was no tornado, or any other weather related incident in the area. Nor were there nuclear events, military attacks nor any other reasonable explanations for the horror. Scientists are called in to study the area and the two girls – one whom appears to be fine and the other who is behaving strangely. And then it happens again in a small city just up the road from the village…

Holy. Freaking. Terrifying. You know, I don’t watch movies or television, books are my thing, and I love it when books are written in such a way that I can visualize exactly how they would play out on a screen. Often what I picture in my head is far more horrifying than anything producers come up with which is why I stick to books. The Noise is a perfect illustration of this. It ticked all of the boxes for me: Disaster. Science Run Amuck. Government Gone Wrong. Barely Plausible but… what if? And then there is the ending…….. they were still running… The Noise is a little Sci-fy, a little disaster thriller, a little medical thriller, so cross-genre that you can’t really put it into a category at all. I loved it, obviously, and highly recommend it, especially to those who are bored to tears with most of the stuff coming out right now.

I’ll also note here: You can put James Patterson’s name on any book that you want. I’ve never been a Patterson fan and I never will be. Clinton wrote that poli-sci thriller and The Noise is all Barker from start to finish. It was the same with the last book as well. Hell, I don’t even know if Patterson is still alive. Sacrilegious? IDK. IDC. I just read J.D. Barker.

Tell Me (Inland Empire 2) #AnneFrasier

Tell Me, the second in the Inland Empire (a specific area with the Mojave desert) series, picks up a few months after the first with Remi back in her desert abode and she and Daniel physically recovered from their previous ordeal. Daniel is called out to the Pacific Coast Trail in search of hikers who are missing after one of the hikers is found brutally murdered. He, of course, enlists the help of Remi because of her tracking skills. The secondary story line, searching for Daniel’s mother, also plays a key role in this offering.

Tell Me ultimately circles back to the role of social media influence, how much young girls will do in order to attract attention and gain viewers. The story here asks that question – is this really what has happened? Have these girls set up a fake scene in order to gain more followers?

While I didn’t find Tell Me to be as fast paced or compelling as the first in the series, I realize that second books seldom are. However, I love Frasier’s writing, her ability to illustrate the atmosphere from the claustrophobic woodlands of the Pacific Coast Trail to the sheering winds and glorious colors of the Mojave desert. I would read her books for her descriptions of locale alone, the fact that I also like her characters is just icing.

I highly recommend this series but you really must read the books in order or you will be totally lost in Tell Me. Then, after you’ve read these two, go back and pick up her other series. They are terrific as well.

Beyond the Headlines

Beyond the Headlines is the fourth book in the Clare Carlson series and the second that I’ve read. Clare is a seasoned journalist now working in a news room but the hard core journalism bug never quite let go of Clare. When she comes across a good story, she runs with it – which is exactly what she does in Beyond the Headlines. Clare goes beyond the 5 second sound bite to get at the truth, something I sorely miss in the news today.

If you are old enough to remember the old Murphy Brown series starring Candace Bergen, the dry wit and sardonic humor that was prolific in that show is very present in this book series. In fact, I have a hard time separating out the vision of Murphy Brown from Clare Carlson when I’m reading these books. That’s most likely why I love them as much as I do. And, yes, I do realize that I just aged myself considerably. Now that I’ve read the last two books in the series, I’m going back to grab the first two. There’s so much to catch up on! Obviously, I highly recommend the book and the series.

Recent Reads and Rapid Reviews: The Hive, When a Stranger Comes to Town and The One I Left Behind

This is the third book I’ve recently read involving cults, bees and the perfection of their hives. It’s weird BUT I absolutely loved this book! Gregg Olsen is a hit or miss author for me and this one definitely was a hit.

If you think about Mary Kaye Ash, the home based “beauty” guru, and put her philosophy on drugs then you have the main protagonist of The Hive. Marnie, the “queen bee” is obsessed with bees and their royal jelly. All of her beauty products are made with it. In addition, she forms a community of women who help her with her empire – they are called “The Hive.” It’s a cult but it’s a strange one. These women are encouraged to leave their family, their husbands, children and homes behind in order to fully encase themselves into The Hive. As with most cults, it eventually turns deadly.

This is a terrific police procedural, something that Gregg Olsen does very well, and despite knowing the “who,” it is the why and how that is important. If you like good crime fiction then you should enjoy The Hive.

WHEN A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN, various authors, edited by Michael Koryta

Living in a very small town I have found that one of the most used phrases here is “there’s a stranger in town.” Living in the city is so different – who would know if someone is a stranger or not? But here, everyone knows. Are they here for good for bad? That’s always the question.

When A Stranger Comes to Town is a compilation of short stories based on the premise of a stranger in our midst. Admittedly there were some stories that I enjoyed more than others and, surprisingly, some of those were by “new to me” authors. Of course, there also are stories by some of the best mystery writers of today: Michael Connolly, Dean Koontz and Joe Hill (shivers on the thought of Hill and his entry) but you’ll find a collection of really good mysteries throughout the book.

This would make a great summer read because you read each mystery at your leisure, at the beach or beside the pool, in between innings. 😉 This one is a great addition to my library and one I highly recommend.

THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND by Jennifer MacMahon

I read one Jennifer McMahon book and then another and now I cannot stop. I’m hooked – all the way. Her writing style is so fluid that once you begin a story, you simply cannot stop until the end. Literally. I need to sleep but I have another book ready to go. Sleep can wait!

The One I Left Behind, on the surface, is about “Neptune,” a serial killer who cuts off the right hand of his victims, leaves it on the police station steps and then four days later he leaves the body of the dead woman, sans hand, lovingly bandaged, naked with stomach contents of a recently eaten lobster dinner. Bizarre, right? But the real story is that of Reggie and her friends, Tara and Charlie, three outcasts who bonded years ago during the time of the Neptune killings. Reggie’s mom was the only victim to be taken but never returned – now she’s back and the three friends are reunited. This is their story, told in two different timelines. It’s raw, edgy, suspenseful and satisfying. As always, I adored the ending. I truly believe that the powerful stories that McMahon tells make her endings all the more beautiful. And now, I’m off to read another McMahon book….

The New Husband by #DJPalmer

This is one of those strange books that I read, reviewed and the review disappeared so I read it again and, hopefully, this time around the review will “stick.”

I really like Palmer’s domestic thrillers. They are well written, the women are stronger than you generally find in these types of books and the kids aren’t too annoying. That is certainly the case with The New Husband. In fact, if you didn’t know you were reading a domestic thriller, you would think you were reading a book about second chances until about mid-way through when you start getting the hibbie-jibbies because things just don’t add up or feel right. Then you have to hurry to the end to find out why and, wow, that was a surprise.

I realize I’m late to game with this one since it was published in 2020, but if you have not read The New Husband then you should definitely check it out. It’s a good read!

Aftershock by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell

You know, I realize that I am a horrible blogger. I’m inconsistent. I rarely follow up like I should. My heart is in a good place but my bipolar brain sometimes does it own thing. Then the guilt sets in and I think, oh god, I’m so far behind or my reviews are too lame or too short or too far behind so I just don’t post. It’s a never ended cycle. SO just know that I’m trying. I’m reading like the crazy person that I am and will post as often as my brain allows….

Aftershock is the second in the Jessie Teska series revolving around Teska, an abrasive, hard core forensic pathologist in San Fransicso. I absolutely loved (!) First Cut, the first in the series by this writing duo and anxiously awaited the arrival of this Aftershock. I was quite disappointed with myself, actually, because I simply could not connect with the story line or even with Teska, herself, in this follow up. There is another questionable cause of death, this one at a construction site, but then there is a major earthquake which Teska must survive. Simply put, there was too much going on. Pick one – forensic thriller or earthquake thriller but I didn’t need both on top of Teska’s already bit over the top personality. I’m just not sure I’ll bother with another book, if there is one, in this series despite my love of the first.

She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by #JDBARKER

NOTE: I read this book as an ARC and wrote a review that is now missing. How do these things happen? I’ll never know.

JD Barker is rapidly becoming my favorite author. I read his books the moment they are available to me, usually from Barker himeself, and then impatiently wait for the next one. At times my reviews seem a bit harsh, especially considering that I let others books slide, but this is only because I know Barker to be a masterful storyteller and there are times I want more. This book, whose title is unweidingly long, is quite near perfection. It is dark yet beautiful, suspenseful yet a love story, it has crime, suspense and marvelously witty dialogue – as always. The book is LONG but you will read it quickly because you HAVE to know where Barker is taking you, that place that resides deep in his very dark mind. To say that I loved She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Should Be is an understatement. It is a book that has now become part me. It truly is a MUST READ. 

PS – How gorgeous is that Cover!?

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

You know that if there is a circus in town, I’ll be there and if there is a circus book to be read, then it will be in my pile. Imagine my delight when I discovered this amazingly wonderful book, Circus Mirandus, that is filled from cover to cover with wonder, awe and magic.

Micah’s grandfather has told him tales about Circus Mirandus all of his life. Part of the telling is that eventually the Circus will provide a much needed miracle. When the need and time for that miracle arrives, Micah, a pet parrot and his very pragmatic friend set off on their adventure. Part magical, part realism and all of the beauty of true fantasy that younger readers love so much, the author has provided a perfect balance between the fatastical and the miraculas where love and magic blends and balances together perfectly through this tale. Meant for “middle grades,” I have no idea what that really means since this very mature adult loved the book, a good starting age might be around nine years old. There is a tad bit of darkness in parts of the book but what is a good book without both light and dark? If you don’t select any other book for your tween this year, make sure that the one you do get is Circus Mirandus.