Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Strangers at the Gate - Catriona McPherson

Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson

First Paragraph(s):

Looking back it's tempting to say I knew from the start, as soon as Paddy said the word for the first time.  I can nearly convince myself I shivered at the sound of it, Simmerton.
     But I'd be lying.  Truth is, there was a while back then when everything seemed fine.  Or even better than fine.  Everything seemed golden.  If there were worries they were the usual kind that everyone has and then remembers, laughing.  If I had doubts, it was only because I was prone to be doubtful.  And the odd little frights and freak-outs?  They were just stories to tell to tell the grandchildren, come the day.   

My Thoughts:

Strangers at the Gate is quite the Gothic-style mystery.  You can probably tell that from the cover - shades of Manderley and Rebecca indeed.  Set in a small community in Scotland where the sun only tops the hills at certain times of the year, the whole book feels cold and foggy and spooky.  Heavy on the spooky.  Paddy and Finnie have moved away from the city to Simmerton and feel quite lucky to both have such good jobs.  They have a small cottage to live in and one of the first things they do is go to dinner with Paddy's boss and his wife at their home.  And then the twists begin, the wild and crazy events, the quite scary things that made this reader determined to solve the puzzle.  In case you wondered, I had lots of ideas - some were right and some definitely were not. 

I listened to this book on audio and it was very ably narrated by Lucy Paterson - just a wonderful Scottish accent.  I've met the author, Catriona McPherson at more than one mystery conference and she is witty, funny, really a great toastmaster or panelist - with a wonderful Scottish accent to boot.  She writes various kinds of mysteries - historicals, cozies and her darker standalones.  If you ever get to a chance to attend one of her events, go.  She's great.     


Finnie Doyle and Paddy Lamb are leaving city life in Edinburgh behind them and moving to the little town of Simmerton. Paddy's been made partner at the law firm in town, and Finnie has snagged a job as a church deacon. Their rented cottage is quaint; their new colleagues are charming, and they can't believe their luck.

But only days after moving into the gate house, Finnie begins to have doubts. She keeps hearing strange sounds, and the thicket of trees make her feel claustrophobic rather than safe. When they witness the bloody aftermath of a brutal murder, it changes everything. They've each been keeping secrets about their pasts. And they both know their precious new start won't survive a scandal. Together, for the best of reasons, they make the worst decision of their lives.

And that's only the beginning. The deep, deep valley where Simmerton sits is unlike anywhere Finnie and Paddy have been before. They are not the only ones hiding in its shadow and very soon they've lost control of the game they decided to play...

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Unhoneymooners - Christina Lauren

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

First Paragraph(s):

In the calm before the storm--in this case, the blessed quiet before the bridal suite is overrun by the wedding party--my twin sister stares critically down at a fresh painted shell-pink fingernail and says, 'I bet you're relieved I'm not a bridezilla.'  She glances across the room at me and smiles generously.  'I bet you expected me to be impossible.'
     It is a statement so perfectly dropped in the moment, I want to take a picture and frame it.  I share a knowing look with our cousin Julieta, who is repainting Ami's toes ('It should be more petal pink than baby pink, don't you think?'), and gesture to the bodice of Ami's wedding gown--which hangs from a satin hanger and on which I am presently and painstakingly ensuring that every sequin is lying flat.  'Define bridezilla.'

My Thoughts:

After posting a query to everyone a few days ago seeking advice for my choice of first book to read in 2020, I totally ended up reading another book, The Unhoneymooners.  I actually picked this one because it had flowers on the cover and I was looking for something to go with my 2020 word 'BLOOM'.  Ha!  Plus, I read a few paragraphs and started laughing and just continued on.  I did like this book and it has been a while since I read a book that could easily be a good romantic comedy movie.  In it, Olive and Ami are twins.  Ami is lucky (or so Olive thinks) and always has been.  If something bad could happen, Olive is the twin that experiences it.  All the way from childhood.  However, even though Ami won practically everything for her wedding free, including Olive's crazy green satin maid-of-honor gown, the seafood buffet ends up making everyone very ill - everyone but Olive and Ethan, the groom's older brother and best man.  Now Olive and Ethan have met before, but neither liked the other (or so it seemed).  Ami insists on Olive taking her place on the 'free' honeymoon in Maui and Dane, the groom, insists the same for Ethan.  And the comedy begins.

This is the first book I've read by Christina Lauren, who is actually two people, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings.  Their books have been quite popular and I'm glad I tried this one.  Was it perfect?  No and I did get a little tired of some things, but overall it was a nice 'first book' for 2020.  Cheerful, snarky, and even a little poignant.  Olive and Ethan find out that they are not so different in many ways and Olive discovers that life isn't all 'lucky' for Ami.  Wonder if it will be made into a movie?  Now I'm off to find my next book...what to pick...


Olive Torres is used to being the unlucky twin: from inexplicable mishaps to a recent layoff, her life seems to be almost comically jinxed. By contrast, her sister Ami is an eternal champion . . . she even managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a slew of contests. Unfortunately for Olive, the only thing worse than constant bad luck is having to spend the wedding day with the best man (and her nemesis), Ethan Thomas.

Olive braces herself for wedding hell, determined to put on a brave face, but when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. Suddenly there’s a free honeymoon up for grabs, and Olive will be damned if Ethan gets to enjoy paradise solo.

Agreeing to a temporary truce, the pair head for Maui. After all, ten days of bliss is worth having to assume the role of loving newlyweds, right? But the weird thing is . . . Olive doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, the more she pretends to be the luckiest woman alive, the more it feels like she might be.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Walking and yoga and food and me...a pretty honest post

I shared a couple of weeks ago that my health and wellness journey continues.  I said that I try to walk several miles most days and attend yoga class a couple of times a week.  I also continue to be a member of WW (or Weight Watchers for those of us who have a hard time re-branding things - sigh!).  I've had success in getting my weight and my fitness to a better place for my health.  I'm delighted that my blood work is all normal.  My doctor is happy.  This is all true, but it's not the whole story.

I am not to the end of my journey - I haven't 'solved' all my issues with food and my emotions.  I've gotten lax about a number of things - made excuses - made, what for me, are not the best choices.  That has resulted in my weight creeping up, my head telling me it's OK to sit in front of the computer or the TV or sit reading instead of going for my walk or attending my yoga classes.  This is not a path that is good for me.  I have not quit going to my WW meetings, though in the past this is the stage where I would throw in the towel and quit.  I'm not quitting.

I have struggled with my weight my whole adult life.  We all get struggles.  My biggest is with food and using it to handle most everything that involves feelings.  Plus I never thought I liked exercise of any kind.  My pattern in the past was to lose some weight, rarely exercise even when I was 'on a diet', excuse myself out of my 'diet', gain it all back and more, and repeat over and over.  The first time I joined Weight Watchers (which has worked well for me more than once) was when I was engaged and wanted to lose a bit for my wedding.  That was 40 years ago this year.  I have never gotten to my Weight Watcher 'Goal' weight (whatever number that might be at the time - it's changed).  I would like to do that and my doctor and I have set a number that she and I can live with and that we feel I could maintain.  I'm not there yet.  I was 12 pounds away from it 15 months ago.  I'm now over 37 pounds away from it.  As I said above - this is an honest post.  It's not so much about that exact number - it's about learning to process my emotions differently, being kind yet also firm with myself regarding health and fitness, and then also being 'at goal' for the first time.  This is a challenge for a lifetime.

I think that long-term maintainable weight loss takes much longer than anyone would imagine.  I feel that 99% of it is psychological.  Some things are easy to figure out, if not very fun to do.  Some things kind of creep up on you - one thinks that a behavior or mindset is resolved and then it's not.  It just shows up in another way.  For example, I rid my house of certain foods that I have trouble with regarding portion size - we have called them 'red light' foods in the past.  And you think - OK that's done - except, something else can become one of those foods - even something that never was a struggle before - like peanut butter.  Sigh.  I was never a peanut butter lover - now I could probably eat a whole jar at one sitting.  I may not be able to eat it anymore or perhaps only rarely.

Well, I don't mean to go on and on.  I started this post to say that I have begun walking regularly again.  I attended yoga on Tuesday of this week and plan to attend Thursday, the day that this post will be live.  I am refocusing on what to do with my eating plans, tracking what I do eat, and also being a little more strict with myself again.  This is needed and, though it's a challenge, it's really good for me.  We will have some trips later in the year.  Some are to places where I have loved to take challenging walks.  I want to be able to do that and enjoy them and take beautiful pictures to share.  I don't want to have to buy new clothes again (in a bigger size!).  I liked buying clothes in a smaller size.  Ha!  I want my husband and I to enjoy this 40th year of marriage and not take for granted the good health that we are experiencing.  He works hard to be compliant with what his cardiologist says is best for his heart health - he can't make his heart history go away, but he can try to avoid more problems in that regard.  I have worked hard too to avoid becoming diabetic and to reduce all the other high numbers that I had.  I intend to continue to reinforce that hard work.  I'll share a few pictures below to remind myself what I am committing to each week.

Thanks for listening!  This post was mostly for me, but I do appreciate your kindness in being my friends and supporting me.  So, if I don't comment as often on your posts (though I do read them), just imagine that I'm in a yoga class or striding around a walking track or outside listening to something fabulous.


Friday, January 3, 2020

My 2020 'One Word', a first book choice, and podcasts?

In the last few years I've chosen 'One Word' to be my focus for the year.  I've used JOY and JUST BREATHE (OK, two words), and PERSEVERANCE.  This year I decided to take a quiz to get suggestions.  Ti at Book Chatter mentioned that she had done this and so I tried it as well.  After answering a few questions through DaySpring (a faith-based card company), the word I got was


At first I wasn't too impressed, but the more I have thought about this word, I think it might be just about perfect.  The definition of BLOOM used as a noun is: (1) the flowering state or a period of flowering and (2) a state or time of beauty, freshness or vigor.  When used as a verb, the definition is extended to (1) to produce or yield flowers and (2) to mature into achievement of one's potential.  I think there could be a lot of possibilities for growth here and so I'm keeping this word.  My word for 2020 is BLOOM and we shall see where it takes me.


I've been going back and forth and to and fro deciding on my 'First Book' of 2020.  I haven't exactly been in a reading slump, but I have not been reading quite as much.  I've watched a lot of British crime shows and reread our mystery group's January selection (Dark Matter by Blake Crouch).  I've also listened to some podcasts (see my question at the end of this post, please).  However, I've narrowed it down to two books.

by Abbi Waxman

by Julia Keller

Have you read either of these books?  If so, what did you think?  The Keller book is the latest in her Bell Elkins mystery series, which I love.  Abbi Waxman's book begins with a couple of quotes, one of which is: 

Happiness is having your own library card.--Sally Brown, Peanuts

Now who wouldn't love a book that begins with that quote, right?  You can tell me which you think I should try first...

Oh, and are you a podcast listener?  I listen to several book-related podcasts like Ann Bogel's What Should I Read Next?  If you have a podcast you really love, let me know in a comment.  I'm pretty familiar with all the book podcasts and I don't like true crime.  Otherwise, I'm open to suggestions.  I love audiobooks, but sometimes a podcast is just the right length.  Share your thoughts if you'd like.


Thanks for coming by and reading what I have to share whenever I get motivated to share things.  I appreciate all of you so much!    

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!!!

Here are a few things to ponder as we begin a new decade...wishing all of you much peace and joy in 2020!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” — C.S. Lewis

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” —Maya Angelou

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” —William James

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” —Ghandi

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” —Albert Einstein

Sunday, December 29, 2019

My 2019 reading favorites and possible plans for 2020...

Don't we all like to look back and see what books we've enjoyed most or remembered best from the past year?  I know I do.  I shared my favorites pictured below at two different book group meetings in December.  And I also got a lot of good suggestions for future reading from others.  I enjoy reading the 'Top 10' lists that many publish, though I will say that I often have read none of the books that newspapers and magazines mention in their 'Top 10' articles.  I usually have read one or two on mystery-related lists.  However, in 2019, I stepped away from the newer books much of the time and was happy with that.  I no longer belong to Netgalley or Edelweiss and don't get advance copies of books.  I miss that a bit, but it became too much of a 'good' thing for me.  

I again did not keep very detailed statistics of my reading, though I always keep my reading journal in actual paper form.  I read 132 books this last year, a few less than the 138 I read in 2018.  Many were audiobooks and I enjoyed making my way through several mystery series.  Those included:

Alice Quentin books by Kate Rhodes
Lena Jones books by Betty Webb
Tracy Crosswhite books by Robert Dugoni
Harriet Truman quilting mysteries by Arlene Sachitano
Cormac Reilly books (two so far and new one in 2020) by Dervla McTiernan

I read a very few non-fiction books, but enjoyed the ones I completed.  And I did read a bit of regular fiction for book groups or just because.  My favorites in a few categories are below with one book my most favorite of the year (not a mystery amazingly).  

Favorite Non-Fiction 

by Lori Gottlieb

Favorite Mystery Series

by Dervla McTiernan

Favorite Afternoon Book Group Selection - 2019

by Lisa See

Favorite Mystery Book Group Selection - 2019

by Kate Quinn

Favorite Book of All Read in 2019

by Lisa See

So, what are my plans for 2020?  I don't really have any particularly.  I do want to possibly continue reading a few mystery series from beginning to end.  No guesses as to which ones, but I've been considering the coffeehouse books by Cleo Coyle, Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak books set in Alaska, and perhaps Donna Andrews' series featuring a bird in each title and Meg Langslow as a main character.  I've read several of each of those series and each are quite long now.  I'd love to catch up on them. 

I'll continue to be involved with the Mystery Book Group at the Spicewood Springs Branch of the Austin Public Library (my former workplace).  Our January selection is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.  I'll also read most of the books and try to attend most meetings of the Afternoon Book Group at the same branch library.  For that group, January is Toni Morrison Month and members will read something by her. 

As to blogging - well, I'll still be around.  Not sure exactly what it will look like here, but we'll see how motivated I get.  I seem to always be on a on-again-off-again pattern, but I read other blogs more faithfully than I write on my own.  Never fear that I won't be keeping up with what you are sharing.  You'll be able to see what I've read in my sidebar, even if I don't share my thoughts. 

Our lives continue here in Central Texas.  I enjoy volunteering at two libraries.  I'm still on my quest for the best health and have made good progress there.  I walk several miles most days and try to attend yoga class a couple of times a week.  My husband is still a few years away from retirement, but we have some trips planned for this year.  Our daughter and son-in-law live in our area and we have two sweet granddogs.  We have other family close and we enjoy good friends in our neighborhood and at our church.

Life is peaceful and joyful for me most of the time.  And you're all part of that.  I'll be wishing you a Happy New Year on Tuesday (with a picture that is not from my area of the world at all - ha!).  Take care of yourselves and your loved ones and I hope you can look for the joy in your own lives in 2020! 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas...with much peace and joy...

My wishes for the holiday season this year (which has been a crazy, busy one) are the same as last year, so I'll do a repeat...

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas....truly!  Wishing each and every one of you much 'Peace', 'Love', and 'Joy'.  I am very, very blessed to have each of you in my life and I'm hoping your holiday season is filled with good smells, good food, good fellowship, good feelings.  And if you're not in that sort of place right now...well...and sometimes we are not, I'm wishing you an extra measure of 'Peace'.  Happy Holidays - however you celebrate them!

From our house here in Texas (could you tell with my little snowman?) to yours...see you in 2020!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A short fall break...

I'll be busy with a bunch of things for at least a couple of weeks.  I'll try to get back in the groove after a bit, hopefully before December.  We shall see...enjoy fall!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Kerrville Chalk Festival 2019

I mentioned in my post last week that when my husband and I visited Kerrville, TX recently, I was able to attend the Kerrville Chalk Festival 2019.  The festival was October 12th and 13th.  I stopped by early on Sunday morning and missed the crowds.  The pictures I'll share below have a lot of the artists in them and I also got to visit with a few of those talented individuals.  I was fascinated that such diverse and beautiful art could be created from chalk on a sidewalk.  I'll have a few comments below, but I encourage you to also take a look at the Festival website.  Lots more to see there.

As you can see, the artists have to kneel, crouch or sit on the ground to create their art.  Hard on the knees - most had foam kneelers or something like that to assist.  

If you make the photos larger, you can see the drawings or photos the artists were working from in several.  Some of them had grids to help them with perspective I suppose.  One painting had been completed halfway and the artist still had the whole second half to draw.  The completed part was on the right and the 'yet to come' part was the left.  I didn't get a shot of that one.

I spoke with this artist for a few minutes.  She told me that it was her first time to be part of the festival and she also said she had done her drawing freehand, while pointing out that many of the others had used that grid system that I mentioned above.  She lives in Kerrville and works as a commercial artist.

I also enjoyed a conversation with this artist.  I was interested to see the glove on her right hand as she smoothed the colors.  The sponsor above the chalk painting is James Avery Artisan Jewelry  I don't know how many are familiar with James Avery and his jewelry and stores.  He has been very popular in Central Texas for decades and there are stores in several states.  Mr. Avery started his business in Kerrville over 60 years ago.  The golf tournament that my husband was playing in was the James Avery Invitational.  

I wanted to point out this chalk art especially.  It was created by Ever Galvez and if you look closely you can see that it is a bit 3-D.  Fascinating, right?  I'm so glad I was able to attend this most interesting event.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Fall musings...travels to Kerrville and what my reading might look like in upcoming weeks...

Hey book friends!  Well, my husband and I spent a few days last week in Kerrville, TX.  I've talked about that Hill Country location before.  Hubby plays in two different 3-day golf tournaments there each year - one in the hot summer and one in the fall.  And fall arrived with a 50-degree temperature drop between late Thursday and mid-day Friday - literally 50-degrees.  It was 94 on our way driving there and the outside temp was 48 by noon Friday (with wind chills in the high 30's).  Just a little cool, especially for the guys playing a 5-hour golf round.  When I picked him up Friday afternoon, he said he couldn't feel his fingertips.  It got better on Saturday and Sunday was very nice.  However, once those cold fronts start arriving, fall has truly begun.  Of course, it's in the 80's today again.

As he played golf, I had some fun times going to a couple of favorite book shops, attending the 'Kerrville Friends of the Library' monthly book sale, and also going to a very, very interesting festival, the Kerrville Chalk Festival.  I'll have a post about the Chalk Festival later in the week with lots of pictures, but I put the one above just for interest.  I really enjoyed looking at all the chalk art and talking with some of the artists.  I also enjoyed meeting a couple of the 'Friends of the Library' volunteers and talking with them about how their bookstore works, whether they could use volunteers at a later time, and again considering whether this Hill Country town might work for us in retirement.  Oh, and I bought books - you're surprised, right?


I have a question for all of you.  Do you feel like that sometimes your reading has 'seasons'?  What I mean is that you read mainly one type or genre of book for a while or most of the time, but occasionally you find yourself turning to other types of reading.  As you all know, I mostly read crime novels, thrillers, and mysteries - usually tipped to the 'New Book' end of the scale.  Lately, I've mentioned that I have become a bit weary of the themes and plot devices used in a lot of newer books.  So many seem the same.  I feel myself wanting to turn to some older books, some rereads, even some non-fiction perhaps.  And those were the type of books that I was interested in when I was book shopping this weekend.

I don't know if those (especially the rereads) will be ones that others will be interested in hearing about here on my blog, but I am going to copy some of my blogging friends who have expressed opinions regarding their reading and blogging lately.  Cath mentioned recently that she thought it was time for 'blogging to adjust to her rather than the other way around' - I agree!  Sam told us that her way of dealing with 'wanting to read all the books' or getting a bit frantic about not finishing anything was to 'slow down and concentrate on one book' and ENJOY IT!  Whatever 'it' is.  I fully support that.  And Gayle (my dear friend Gayle who shares mystery book group with me) related that she took a bit of a break from mysteries but validated that they are her favorite place to read, with a little historical fiction thrown in.  Again, I completely understand and think that we all need to gravitate to the 'right book for us at the right time'.

My R.I.P. reading is coming to an end and I'll be sharing my wrap-up post for that event next week - a little early (it ends October 31st).  I don't know what all I'll be reading for fall, but I'll be around now and then to talk about it.  We've got a trip coming up, so I'll be in and out, but will always be reading your thoughts here and on your blogs.