Creeping Around the Dark With The Night Sister

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I’ve read (and listened to) a few of Jennifer McMahon’s books now and there are a few things I’ve come to expect: there will be a creepy kid or two, red herrings galore, and weird happenings. The Night Sister is no exception.

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Piper is called back to her hometown of London, Vermont after her sister Margot tells her of the death of their old friend Amy. It was no ordinary death, but an apparent murder-suicide. There is one piece of evidence at the scene that mystifies the police, a photo with the words “29 rooms” written on it. Both Piper and Margot know the significance of those words.

Twenty-five years earlier, the girls discovered the mystery of the 29th room as they played in the dilapidated rooms of Amy’s grandmother’s motel. The Tower Motel was a busy venture in the days after the Second World War. The motel boasted 28 rooms, a pool, and a unique roadside attraction known as the Tower of London built by Amy’s grandfather as a tribute to his British War Bride. Then a highway was built. Tourists no longer stopped to stay overnight and the motel closed in the 1970s.

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Amy’s family history contains more than the story of a failed business. There are secrets and stories of Amy’s missing Aunt Sylvia, the girl obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock and Hollywood, Amy’s mother Rose, who lived in her beautiful sister’s shadow, and their German grandmother who filled Rose’s head with stories of “mares” or shape shifting monsters who hunt at night.

In the present time, Margot is bedridden with a high risk pregnancy and married to Jake the local cop. Margot begs Piper to find out what really happened to Amy while keeping Jake in the dark.

The Night Sister shifts back and forth in time between Jake and Piper in the present and the 1980s, and Rose in the 1950s and 60s. There are also glimpses into Sylvia’s mind through her letters to Alfred Hitchcock. This is something Jennifer McMahon often does in her books.

I always like how she mixes the supernatural with the rational. Hints at something totally normal going on that an unstable character is not seeing. There could be a logical explanation for the weirdness, but will that be where the story goes? You have to keep reading to find out.

Yet again the characterization is excellent. Jake and Piper have an emotional/romantic history with Amy that makes them dig deeper into what happened to her. Jake was Amy's “friend with benefits” for a time and Amy was Piper’s first crush. Amy herself went from a manipulative troubled teen to a married mom with kids. Then there is Rose, deadbeat mom with a mysterious past. Where has she been? Why is she back in London? What happened between her and Sylvia all those decades ago?

Once I started listening to The Night Sister, I couldn’t turn it off. I needed to know what was going on at the Tower Motel. It’s more than a horror story. It’s about abandoned friendships and sisterly jealousies that shape the characters’ futures. I didn’t like it as much as I did The Winter People, I could see where things were going, but it was still entertaining. I do not know how McMahon’s books haven’t been made into movies yet. They’d give anything based on Stephen King a run for the money.

Sidenote: Loved the references to Guns n Roses and Love’s Baby Soft in the 1980s flashbacks. It took me right back.

About the Audio: Cassandra Campbell, prolific audiobook narrator, reads The Night Sister just as she did McMahon’s last book The Winter People. She is awesome as always. I can see why she does so many of these.

Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Pinteresting: Baking With Lavender

Baking with Lavender

Ever since I started gardening, I’ve grown lavender. It’s easy to grow, beautiful to look at, and smells like heaven. It’s one of my favorite herbs. However, up until recently, I never thought to bake with it. I have no idea what variety I have- possibly English lavender- but according the the internet some varieties are better for baking and eating than others.

Lavender in the Sun

Drying Lavender

My lavender shrub is huge this year, and as pretty as it is, it’s a shame to let the flowers go to waste. I collected a bunch of stems for drying. I always use the same method: cut the stems quite long, gather a bunch by the stems, tie a long piece of kitchen twine tightly around the stems, fasten a paper bag over the florets, hang the bunch by the twine in a cool dry place (I use a closet). In about a week, the florets should be dry enough to remove from the stems and store. Repeat this process. It takes a lot of drying to get a good amount for storage.

Lavender Collage

The Recipes

There are a number of lavender recipes on Pinterest. Often lavender is paired with lemon, or Earl Grey tea. For good reason, they’re delicious combinations!

I picked a couple of recipes to try: Lavender London Fog Latte and Lavender Lemon Squares.
The Lavender London Fog Latte from Gimme Some Oven is pretty easy. I made the tea with the Earl Grey tea I bought from DAVIDs TEA. It’s a loose tea so adding a 1/2 tsp of lavender isn’t an inconvenience. Then, adding vanilla, a little bit of raw sugar, and frothed steam milk gave me this result.
 lavender london fog latte

The Lavender Lemon Squares were a bit more complicated. The recipe I found on Pinterest called for 8 eggs. I do not own chickens, so that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I adapted this Lemon Bars recipe from BHG. Here’s my version.

Lavender Lemon Squares
Crust
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp grated lemon peel
3/4 very cold butter 

Set oven to 350 F. Line a 9X13 pan with parchment paper.
In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and lemon peel. Cube cold butter. Add butter to processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes or until lightly golden.
Meanwhile…

Filling
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp of dried lavender
1 tsp of grated lemon peel
3/4 cup of lemon juice, about 2 large lemons
1/4 cup of blend cream
4 large eggs 
In food processor, pulse the lavender flowers until very finely chopped. Add sugar and blend well. Add flour and lemon peel. Blend. Move sugar mixture to a large bowl. Add lemon juice and cream. Lightly beat eggs, add to sugar mixture and stir well.
Pour the liquid over baked crust. Bake for 20 minutes (at least) or until filling sets. Let cool. Cut into squares.
The results were lovely! The lavender flavour is subtle and not overpowering. They’re great with a hot cup of Chai tea.

Other recipes I plan on trying in the future (too many sweets this week!) are:

Lavender Honey Cupcakes
Lemon Lavender Loaf

I hope you give baking with this herb a try. Lavender is more than a pretty face!

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Computer Woes

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Hello!!! I’m on the blog. Woot! I’ve had a week of computer troubles. I had to refresh my computer (twice) and then download all my programs again (twice). The first time was a hard drive space issue. The second, well, let me say that bad things happen when you forget to turn on your virus protection. Bad things.

bad-computer

But, I’m back! Up and fully functioning once again. During this down time, I finished a couple of books: a short story collection from Nalo Hopkinson Falling In Love With Hominids, and The Night Sister (audiobook) by Jennifer McMahon. I have mixed feelings about both and will put my thoughts together in the next weeks. I also started an anthology of old timey British mysteries starring Sherlock Holmes and others.

In non-book news, I’m caught up with Penny Dreadful (what a crazy show), Wayward Pines (ditto), and enjoyed the latest instalment of Sharknado (Oh Hell No!). In one of these, a woman gave birth in a shark as it fell from space to Earth. You work it out.

I’ve been doing a lot of indoor activities because the weather is awful. Seriously, no sun, rain, cold. It is the worst. I would just like to have warm feet. If you are somewhere hot, send me some of that and I’ll send this weather to you.

Hopefully I will have something more interesting to blog about next time.

The Black Tulip by Birthday Boy Alexandre Dumas

black tulip dumas

Yesterday was Alexandre Dumas’ birthday and I was going to post this review of The Black Tulip then, but I had computer troubles. So, I bring this to you today instead. I originally posted this review on Project Gutenberg Project.

What do you like in a fast paced historical romance? Political intrigue? False imprisonment?Tulip breeding? Err…sure.

The Black Tulip has all the hallmarks of an Alexandre Dumas novel. We have a hero who has been falsely accused of treason and imprisoned for life. However, instead of plotting a complicated revenge to visit upon his unknown enemy, he grows a very expensive flower.

It all starts in the Netherlands with a harrowing scene where brothers Cornelius and Johan DeWitt are torn apart (literally) by an angry mob for consorting with the French in 1672. Of course there is a very important correspondence between the King of France and Cornelius that could destroy the life of whoever happens to have it in their possession. That hapless innocent is Cornelius’s godson, tulip grower Dr Cornelius van Baerle.

The second Cornelius has nothing going on in his life except growing tulips and he is good at it. He is so good at it, in fact, his neighbour and tulip fancier, Isaac seethes in jealousy. Isaac spies on Cornelius 24/7 and when he sees him receive a package from his godfather, he rats on Cornelius to the authorities.

Cornelius is so wrapped up in breeding a perfect black tulip, the first of its kind and worth 100000 florins, that he has no idea he is in danger. He’s forgotten all about the package his godfather asked him to keep. Cornelius is tried, convicted as a co-conspirator, and thrown into prison.

But it’s not all bad news, Cornelius has two things to live for: the love of the beautiful Rosa, daughter of the jailer Gyrphus, and the three tulip bulbs he smuggled into the prison.  Together, Cornelius and Rosa grow the tulips, and their love (aw), while outside forces threaten to separate them.

You would think a novel about tulips would be as boring as all get-out, but nope. There were moments when, even though I knew there’d be a happy ending, my heart was thudding in anxiety. I wanted to shout at Cornelius and Rosa to PAY MORE ATTENTION! Stuff is going down! The whole time Cornelius and Rosa have the key to his freedom, but he’s too preoccupied by his flowers and she doesn’t have the ability.

Character development isn’t Dumas’s strong suit. The good guys are so Good and the bad guys just evil. Gryphus is ridiculously backward; Isaac is obsessed. Rosa is an angel because she is blonde, wide eyed, and pretty, though a bit coquettish because she’s A Girl! She’s instinctively good, even though her only role model is Gryphus.

Cornelius is a Tulip Geek. He collects them, grows them, breeds them. He’s not a swashbuckler like Monte Cristo, the Musketeers, or Georges. In modern romance speak, he’s a Beta hero. I don’t think he even left his house before his arrest. It was all tulips, all the time. Rosa complains that he loves his flowers more than her. I’d have to agree with her. He never really grows in that regard. He loves Rosa, but maybe not as much as his bulbs.

There is another character behind the scenes pulling the strings on a whim: William of Orange. He has the power, if he cared, to stop the events that were put in motion. I don’t know anything about the real man, but the character he plays here is one who only steps in when he feels like it. Maybe Dumas is trying to show that our lives are at the mercy of the more powerful. Or maybe he just likes torturing his readers.

rupaul

Since most of the action happens in the prison, Cornelius doesn’t have much opportunity to commit physical acts of heroism. His heroism lies in his intelligence. He must use his skill to grow the tulip in secret. He teaches Rosa what she needs to know and gives her a chance to pull herself out of poverty and ignorance. It’s Rosa who saves the day. Rosa does what needs to be done and acts bravely at the end of the novel. She’s got moxie!

If you can’t tell, I LOVED The Black Tulip. It’s an old fashioned romance. (The phrase “heaving bosom” is actually in the book.) There is intrigue and drama. And that ending! Oh, it’s a killer! At times, it’s over the top, but fun. At a little over 200 pages, it’s a doable alternative to The Count of Monte Cristo.

HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, ALEXANDRE!!!



Weekend Cooking: What To Do With All Those Strawberries

Strawberries

It’s strawberry season in my neck of the woods. The U-Picks are busy places right now. Moms with kids, older couples, families were all lined up with their containers ready to get picking. I was there too with mine. In just over an hour, I had four big containers full. Like every other year, I picked more than planned!

So what did I do with all those strawberries? First, I made freezer jam. A lot of it! I used Club House Freezer Jam Gel Powder. Three packages makes about 16 cups of jam. It’s easy to make- no cooking required. All you need is jars and freezer space. I have enough jam for the year now. I’ll have that summer taste all winter.

Freezer jam

One of my favorite recipes for the strawberry season is Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Tart. It’s another easy recipe. There’s a baked crust, then a layer of cream cheese filling, topped with cut strawberries. I don’t usually brush the berries with red currant jelly like the recipe says. It doesn’t make a big difference.

strawberry tart

Something new I tried this year is a Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp from Two Peas and Their Pods. I had some rhubarb from the farmers’ market visit a couple of weeks ago that I froze. It came in handy. This crisp is so good! I’m adding it to my list of strawberry seasonal goodies.

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB crisp

All that and I still had enough for strawberry shortcakes and froze some for smoothies. I hull them, lay them out on a cookie sheet to freeze, then move them to a freezer bag. They’ll keep for about a year.

Check out the other participants of Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads!

Domino Falls: Your Zombie Apocalypse Continues

domino falls

Domino Falls is the second book in a series. SECOND BOOK. I say this because I was 100 pages in before I realized this was a sequel. At that point, I wasn’t going back to read Devil’s Wake. In the end, it didn’t matter. Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes did a good job of adding details from the previous novel so that I wasn’t confused. In fact, I thought it was clever that the book started during the action, after the zombie apocalypse known as Freak Day occurred. That would have been clever, but …yeah. Boo, me.

In Domino Falls, the teen survivors travelling on a school bus reach their destination: Domino Falls. The town is well protected from the Freaks, humans who were infected by a mysterious virus and now bite and attack the uninfected. The outbreak began when people ingested a hallucinogenic mushroom, but is spread when the infected bite another person.

Domino Falls has guards, guns, food, and supplies. It also has a fence. The town, once occupied by farmers, gained importance when a Hollywood movie star made it his home base. Wales is a L Ron Hubbard like character who has his own religion, followers, and the money to publish books and make movies about his ideas. He is charming, but there is something a little off in the way he treats the young people.

At first the kids are anxious to ingratiate themselves with the residents of Domino Falls, both the townies and the “threadies” (the followers of Wales). Life outside the fences is harrowing, with danger in the form of Freaks and pirates around every corner. Soon though they start to wonder if they will can ever escape alive.

Maybe I missed a few things here and there, but I liked this world Barnes and Due created. What happens when the smoke clears after a global disaster? What will civilization look like? How will the survivors work together? I’ve read plenty of zombie novels: the protagonist sees mom bite dad, and has to kill dad. It’s standard. The stuff that comes later is the interesting bit.

The story dragged somewhat at times. There was a plot point early on that was a big issue, but then never amounted to anything later. I didn’t know what the point was. Once the kids figure out that something nefarious was going on, the pacing picked up.

As for the characters, I liked sweet Kendra and her boyfriend/protector Terry, their friends Sonia and Piranha, the former soldier Ursilina, and the cousins Dean and Darius. Oh and their little dog, Hipshot. Some of the characters have more important roles in the story than others, but I had a good sense of who they were and what it was that made them tick.

The ending was surprising to me and left me wanting to know what will happen next. The authors hint at another book in the series, though it isn’t listed on Goodreads.

This series is a good YA addition to your zombie apocalypse collection. I liked it a lot.

The Daemon Lover: Man? Devil? Or Imaginary Friend?

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I started listening to the short stories of Shirley Jackson for Shirley Jackson Reading Week. The first story, The Intoxicated, I don’t have much to say about: teenagers be morbid! The Daemon Lover though. What is going on there?

In The Daemon Lover, the protagonist is preparing for her wedding day, choosing just what to wear- nothing “too young” because she’s a granny of 34 years old. She waits and waits and waits, but he never arrives. She decides to go hunting for him using the vague clues he’s left about himself. She believes his name is James Harris, though no one she asks has heard of him. Her search becomes more and more desperate, ending in her stalking an empty apartment for weeks after.

I have a lot of questions. Did she sleep with this guy and that’s why she’s anxious to marry him? Or is she afraid of becoming a spinster? Is James Harris even real?

Right from the beginning, I knew this guy wasn’t going to show up. I used to date a guy who wouldn’t show up when he said he would and this made me livid. It’s so disrespectful. (If I was me now, I would dump his ass so fast!) So, I can’t imagine the emotions of someone waiting for a guy to show up on her wedding day and he never shows. If he even exists, that is.

Is James Harris real? The Daemon Lover shares a name with a Scottish ballad, also known as James Harris. In this tale, a woman is tempted away from her family by her former lover, who turns out to be the devil. So, did the lover in Jackson’s story use this alias as a joke? Is he a heartless cad? Maybe he really was the devil. Or it could be that the lady has concocted this fantasy of being swept off her feet by a stranger to add some spice to her life.

In Shirley Jackson’s time, a spinster of 34 was an object of ridicule or pity. No one takes the lady seriously during her search. She’s laughed at or told whatever they think she wants to hear to be rid of her. It bothered me how callously the people treat her. Of course, I don’t know what kind of picture she made. Did she have the look of a madwoman about her?

cat lady
Excuse me, have you seen James Harris?

To someone living now, her reaction seems a bit much. I would have given up after visiting his friends' apartment. At that time maybe people expected a woman to freak out like this, what with women having hysteria and Wondering Womb and whatnot. A woman needs a man to keep her senses intact by ironing his clothes and making sandwiches. What did Shirley Jackson think about single women, really? This isn’t her only single lady: Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House, and Aunt Fanny from The Sundial comes to mind. They both have some issues and neither is a free wheeling bachelorette.  

bachelorette
You tell em, Bachelorette Lady!

The Daemon Lover says a lot about unmarried women in 1948. You got to get married before you dry up or lose your mind! She also seems quite naive for a 34 year old. I had a hard time seeing someone of that age falling for this scam. Maybe it was wishful thinking on her part. What was she going to do if she found him?

It’s interesting that you can come up with any conclusion that you like for The Daemon Lover. If you’ve read it, what did you think?