Salt!

Mary Jo here to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about salt. <G>

Salt is so common it’s almost invisible.  It’s in every kitchen, Historically it has been vital for preserving food as well for seasoning.  Salt is a flavor-enhancer and makes many foods taste better, which is why processed food is so often very salty and these days a lot of people have to watch their salt intake for health reasons. Hence the ‘you can’t eat just one potato chip’ syndrome. (Picture by Ludwadlin Bosman, Unsplash.)

Salt is essential for humans because it’s an electrolyte that balances nerve and muscle functions.  It’s also one of the five basic taste sensations along with sweet, sour, bitter and umami. Natural food doesn’t usually contain enough salt for us so it’s a supplement we need to ingest.

There is evidence of human salt harvesting processes dating back to about 6000 BC.  How did early humans learn they needed salt? Clearly there is some kind of instinct because all kinds of animals crave salt and there are natural salt licks all over the world.

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What We’re Reading

Christina here with this month’s roundup of what the Wenches have been reading. We have lots of lovely recommendations this time and I hope there’s something for everyone. See what you think!

I’ll start with my ownI have loved all Kylie Scott’s books so far and THE LAST DAYS OF LILAH GOODLUCK was no exception! The heroine, Lilah, is a curvy librarian who happens to save the life of a witch when she pulls her out of the way of a crazy car driver. As a thank you, the witch gives her a set of predictions for her future, including the next winning Lotto numbers. Lilah doesn’t believe in magic, but as these predictions start to come true one by one, she begins to change her mind. The only problem is that the final prediction foretold that she was going to die in a week’s time … Naturally, she doesn’t want to believe that one, but does she have a choice? Following Lilah as she decides to live out her last days by doing everything that’s always been on her wish list is great fun. And then there is the charming sort-of-royal Alistair, who is supposedly her soulmate but seems to be way out of her league. The chemistry between them can’t be denied, however, and he was an absolutely fantastic hero. I loved this story and can’t wait for the next one!

It’s been a while since I got excited about a book about vampires and werewolves, but BRIDE by Ali Hazelwood had me hooked right from the first page. The sassy vampire heroine (or vampyre as it’s spelled in this story), who’s survived years of being nothing but a pawn in her father’s power-grabbing machinations, is wonderful. And when she is married off to an alpha werewolf (or just Were in this case) in order to cement an alliance between the two species, things get really interesting. She continually surprises her new husband and his pack, and along the way surprises herself with the way she reacts to certain things. And the love story that builds between these two is phenomenal. Really couldn’t put this down! (Warning: some fairly explicit sex scenes in this one)

Pat:  I am not entirely certain how to describe SKELTON’S GUIDE TO DOMESTIC POISONS by David Stafford. It reads like an old-fashioned mystery from the 1940’s. Since it’s set between the two World Wars, that means the author really has a sense of history because it was actually written in 2020. The protagonist is Arthur Skelton, a 36-year-old barrister based on the life of a real barrister of the period. Arthur has just won a major case with a bit of Perry Mason-like sensibility and has been more or less forced into taking on a high-profile murder case involving a beautiful young housewife. She and her children have been badly abused for years by her husband, who would have been buried without fanfare, except the man’s mother decides to make a murder case of it. We get a lively tour of rural areas near Birmingham, the people in them, including Arthur’s evangelist cousins who act as his local spies. The story is colorful, entertaining, witty, and a lovely puzzle — that doesn’t get solved. I thoroughly enjoyed Arthur and accept his pragmatic take on the results of all his hard work. But a true mystery lover who wants the whole answer and all the clues nailed down will no doubt fling the book across the room. Your call.

And for a totally different offering, there is the ROMANTIC COMEDY by Curtis Sittenfeld. I enjoyed this, despite myself. The protagonist is an almost-forty-year-old skit writer for a TV program resembling Saturday Night Live. She’s been divorced, won Emmys, and while she can be confident about her work, she’s hopeless at a personal life. Truly, irritatingly hopeless and one of those self-sabotaging heroines you want to smack and tell to grow up. But the author steeps us in her work (I now know more about the making of SNL than I ever want to know) and the people around her, and I kept reading. She meets a total hunk rockstar singer (of course), and they hit it off over several comedy sketches. When he attempts to make a personal connection, she cuts him off at the knees, and then Covid happens. But out of sheer boredom, they start emailing each other, and things happen as expected from there. The book is extremely intelligent and introspective, not a typical silly romcom, and the dialogue can be quite funny. They’re both adults and self-aware and I love the way their relationship grows.

Nicola:  This month I’ve been reading my way through the Adair Family series and the Highlands Series by Samantha Young. What’s better than one series of contemporary romantic suspense set in Scotland with incredibly dashing heroes? Yes, that’s right – two series! I actually started with the Highland series and was slightly confused by all the characters until I realised that I needed to go back to the beginning. So then I picked up HERE WITH ME, book 1 of the Adair Family, and got the story from the start. The set up is totally brilliant. A retired Hollywood actor returns home to the Scottish Highlands to take up his inheritance of a grand castle and turn it into an exclusive members’ club. Said actor, Lachlan, is hot. All the Adair brothers (and fortunately there are four of them and a sister) are insanely hot. So are their bodyguards and all their actor friends. I just revelled in the very strong emotional conflicts in each story, applauded the amazing heroines (who were the sort of people I wanted as my friends) and loved the sense of community that the author created around the castle and the village of Ardnoch. Plus, her descriptions of Northern Scotland through the seasons are fabulous. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the series which is out in May. One word of warning, the sex scenes are very explicit, as hot as the characters!

And as something totally different, I’m reading THE BANDIT QUEENS by Parini Shroff. Geeta’s life as a widow in her village in India is far preferable to that of a wife. It helps that people believe she murdered her husband and got away with it, as they give her respect for it even if she is an outsider. But then one of the other women in the village decides she also wants to be rid of her drunken, abusive husband and turns to Geeta for help – after all she’s supposed to be the expert! It’s a very funny book, with dark themes and humour mixed together, a real page-turner.

Andrea:  My reading this month has, as usual, encompassed very different genres. First up was an absolute gem of a non-fiction book about a place that is very near and dear to my heart — the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, an iconic institution that I have visited since I was a child and helped inspire my love of art and creativity. ALL THE BEAUTY IN THE WORLD by Patrick Bringley is part memoir, part musing on grief and loss, part reflections on the power of art to heal and inspire, and part a delightful inside look on what it’s like to be a guard in that august place! Bringley was a young assistant at The New Yorker magazine when his beloved brother, who was just several years older, died of cancer at age 26. Overwhelmed by grief, he felt he needed to step off his career path and think about Life. Art had always been a source of solace, so he applied to the Met for a job as a gallery guard … The book is a delight! It’s poignant, it’s funny and gives a wonderful inside look at the duties and the wonderful friendships that develop between those quiet, watchful people who few visitors ever stop to notice in the galleries.

I also read THE RUNNING GRAVE, the latest book in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mystery series. I’m a huge fan of the books, and this latest one was particularly gripping. I won’t go into a long explanation of the plot, as Galbraith always weaves an intricate web of twists and subplots — including the development of the complicated relationship between Strike and Robin Ellicott, who began the series as his temporary secretary. In this book, Robin has just become his partner in the detective agency, and they have taken on a new case concerning a cult and its charismatic leader. Robin is the natural choice to go undercover into the cult’s idyllic commune … And so the investigation begins, as she and Strike try to figure out whether the place is Good or Evil. Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) gives a chilling description of how cults work and I was totally caught up in the story. There’s also some interesting developments between Strike and Robin. If you like complex and twisty mysteries, I highly recommend this series.

Anne:  For a good part of this month I’ve been in a reading slump, but then — thankfully — I read a number of good books. The first was Beth O’Leary’s THE NO-SHOW, which Pat recommended last month. Like her, I won’t try to describe the plot, except that for the first part of the book I thought it was one kind of book and was breathlessly reading on to learn what happened, then then … it wasn’t the story I thought it was. I really loved it and have already recommended it to some friends.

The next one was Mhairi McFarlane’s — BETWEEN US. Roisin and her long time partner Joe, join a group of friends for a weekend away, it’s a triple celebration – a birthday, an engagement and the launch of Joe’s new crime drama on TV. But Roisin has been feeling increasingly distant from Joe and when they watch Joe’s new TV show, she realizes it’s time for a decision. This is women’s fiction, and there is a romance, but it’s billed as “hilarious romantic comedy” and “laugh out loud.” It’s not. It’s a good book and I enjoyed it, but it’s not a comedy.

Another wench recommendation I followed up on was a Christina recommendation for Ali Hazelwood. I started with a fantasy — BRIDE — which I really enjoyed, but book #2 isn’t out yet, so I moved on to her contemporary rom-com THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS which I really loved — romantic and funny. Set in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) academia which is Ali Hazelwood’s own background. The heroine is a slightly ditsy but very intelligent PHD student, aged 26, who for various reasons becomes the fake girlfriend of a brilliant, but very tough professor. It’s a slow build and I enjoyed every moment.

Lastly, I’ll add to Christina’s endorsement of Kylie Scott’s THE LAST DAYS OF LILAH GOODLUCK. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Susan:  This month I’ve been in the car a good bit, so listening to some audio is a great way to get through some books. One standout audio for me was THE LAST MRS SUMMERS by Rhys Bowen, narrated by Jasmine Blackborow. I’m gradually making my way through the excellent mystery series called Her Royal Spyness, and while some have captivated me more than others, this is one of the best, I think. Lady Georgiana, a cousin in the royal family, newly married to the very interesting Irishman Darcy O’Mara, and setting up her own household, continues to act as a sleuth when she once more stumbles into a situation where a murder has occurred. This time, Georgiana travels with her dear friend Belinda to Cornwall, where Belinda has inherited a rundown cottage that needs more work than expected. While there, the two ladies encounter Belinda’s friends from years ago, and are invited to stay at the mansion once owned by Belinda’s family – owned now by an old beau of Belinda’s, married to another old friend who seems unhappy in the marriage. Trouble occurs when the husband turns up dead – in Belinda’s bed, when she is adamant she knows nothing of the bloody murder. Georgiana is immediately in the thick of it, determined to help Belinda prove her innocence. Rhys Bowen says the story was inspired by Du Maurier’s Rebecca, and that atmosphere runs all through an outstanding mystery that is eerie, surprising, and not easy to puzzle through. The cast of characters includes a snooty housekeeper who may or may not have a motive, a mysterious carpenter who may or may not be a smuggler, the devastated widow who may or may not have wanted to escape her marriage – Georgie and Belinda face a real challenge in this entry in the series. Jasmine Blackborow delivers an excellent narration and improves book to book. I’m ready for the next in the series!

Mary Jo – with women’s fiction for my February reading. First up is Emilie Richard‘s A FAMILY OF STRANGERS. Richards writes wonderful compassionate stories of women, families, and relationships.  A Family of Strangers might be considered domestic suspense since there’s a mystery at the heart of the story.

Ryan Gracey was the unexpected baby of the family and she grew up in the shadow of her dazzling, much older sister Wendy, who was the golden girl with the perfect life and the perfect family. Ryan followed her own path into journalism and is now hosting a successful true crime podcast that delves into cold cases. So it’s a shock when a desperate Wendy calls and says that she had been near a murder and can’t come home for fear of being arrested though she’s innocent. Will Ryan move to their mutual home town and take care of her two young daughters until it’s safe for Wendy to come home? And can Ryan use her investigative skills to find the man who Wendy believes is the real murderer?

Shocked, Ryan agrees and moves across Florida to her home town, where her father is recovering from heart surgery. Ryan doesn’t know her nieces well and finds them to be rather unnervingly well behaved. She struggles to connect with them while holding off her parents’ inquiries about why Wendy hasn’t called them directly. As Ryan tries to find the missing man her sister wants, she begins to wonder how well she really knows Wendy. She also reconnects with a former love whose life was forever changed by a disastrous misjudgment on Ryan’s part. The story is full of twists and turns and kept me enthralled to the satisfying ending.  Also, there are dogs. <G>

My second book is Abbi Waxman‘s I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIER. Waxman is also the author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, which several Wenches enjoyed last year.  As a writer, Waxman is smart, funny, and always interesting. This is the story of mother and daughter Jessica and Emily Burnstein, told in alternating first person from each of them.

Jessica is a single mother and a very smart, very successful Los Angeles lawyer who is tired of the sexual discrimination at her top tier law firm and is more than ready to get away for a week on an East Coast bus tour of elite universities with her sixteen year old daughter Emily. Once they were very close, but now there’s a lot of tension. The tour kids all attend elite, expensive private schools and most of the parents and kids are obsessed with getting into name brand universities – although Emily isn’t even sure she wants to go to college and she’s keeping a secret about a scandal at her own school.

Interacting with each other and the others on the tour, as well as meeting people from Jessica’s past, is hilarious and thought provoking and catches a key moment when the chick is looking to leave the nest, and mother and daughter are both trying to figure out what comes next. Highly recommended.

So what have you been reading this month? Give us your recommendations please!

 

Inside a book

Anne here, and I’m following on from Andrea’s lovely post about ornamental bookplates and talking about what else you might find inside the covers of a book. I’m fascinated by all kinds of ways in which people make a mass-produced book, something personal. Sometimes it’s by making a new cover for a book — I did that once for the hardback version of one of my books because I disliked the cover the publisher gave me. And I know some people use cloth covers to disguise the fact they they’re reading a romance — in case some nasty person shames them for their reading taste.

It can be by simply writing your name in a book. It’s a sign of ownership — or at least a claim of ownership. As the youngest of four, most of the books I read were very clearly labeled as Not Mine — in other words my older sisters and brother had put their names inside the front covers.

I was amused to find this written in one of my old childhood books. I’m not sure whether you can make it out, by the first name to be written in it was that of my middle sister. Her name and even the address was later very firmly written over by my oldest sister, stating her ownership in no uncertain terms. And of course, who owns the book now? Yes, the baby sister, but shh, don’t tell.

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Ex Libris

Andrea here, musing today on a topic that combines two of my favorite things—art and books. I became fascinated  with bookplates as a child when my mother showed me a very old book that belonged to her father. Affixed on the inside page was rectangular piece of paper with an elaborate illustration and below it, the words “Aus der Bücherei von Ernst P. Münch,” which my mother translated from German into English: From the Library of Ernst P. Münch.

I loved the idea of a special “signature” style  (other than a simple scrawling of one’s name to proclaim ownership of a book. And I seem to recall that I promptly fetched colored paper and crayons and made some of my own. (Sadly, none of them seemed to have survived.)

In college, I discovered a magical place in the stacks of the main library called The Arts of the Book Collection, which was this amazing set of rooms filled with samples of  marbled paper, bookbinding examples, hand made books and all sorts of of ephemera, including a large collection of bookplates from over the centuries.

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Peregrinations

Susan here, researching a new medieval novel and looking through my bookshelves and files for research notes and books on falconry and hawking–I’m returning to those scribbled handwritten notes, books on falconry and some new books on the subject, putting together a plot spin. I love revisiting old research and adding new to it, wandering a bit to see where it goes–so I’ve been peregrinating through the falconry notes. The new book, part of my new Highland Secrets series, involves a white gyrfalcon, considered the most precious and valuable of birds in the Middle Ages, the privilege of kings to own and fly–but the Scottish hero finds a gyrfalcon, a royal bird, and decides not to return it, putting his very life at risk. The first book, The Scottish Bride, will be out in April. More about that soon! (photo – Ladyhawke, fabulous movie)

In renewing my research, I came across some photos taken several years ago when a friend and I flew hawks for a day, and when I visited a local falconer to meet his trained goshawk as part of my research. The photos brought back the feeling of what it’s like, even briefly, to fly hawks and be around birds of prey. The research filled out the story for The Hawk Laird (my newly revised edition of the original Laird of the Wind) and other medieval stories. Later the falconry research added detail and content to Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter and other  books.

Experiential research is a great way to add layers to the writing of a story–I’ve flown hawks, shot arrows (and caught them!), trained with swords and weapons, taken harp lessons and more. I love the chance to try for myself what I’m researching for characters and story, discovering details I might not learn otherwise. (Susan with a Harris’s Hawk)

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