By Mary Jo

Bridges are essential elements in transportation systems, but as a kid I took them for granted. My family couldn’t have driven to the nearest town if not for a modest bridge over the modest Genesee River, but there was no drama in that fact.

Over time I’ve come to appreciate bridges more because they are so essential to travel.  Rivers are pretty, but if you want to get to the other side, you need a boat or a bridge and bridges are much steadier and can take more traffic. There are bridges in Europe that are centuries old: the Stone Bridge over the Danube in Regensberg, Bavaria, was built in the 12th century and it was the city’s only bridge until the 20th century.

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What We Are Reading- June

It’s that time of the month again when we share what we’ve been reading lately! So grab a pencil and paper and be prepared to add to your already towering TBR piles. (Because, y’know, one can never have too many good books at hand!)

Christina: GIRL, GODDESS, QUEEN by Bea Fitzgerald – If you like Greek myths and tales of the gods of Olympus, this book is for you! It’s a YA fantasy re-imagining of the story of Hades and Persephone, and it kept me spellbound throughout. According to the original tale, Persephone, the sweet daughter of the goddess Demeter, was kidnapped by Hades, King of the Underworld, and tricked into wanting to remain in his realm, but in this retelling, the story is quite different. Here, Persephone is no longer portrayed as a meek little maiden, but a girl who knows her own mind and is a lot stronger than she (and everyone else) thinks. Her mother and father – Zeus, king of all the gods – are planning on marrying her off to the highest bidder, but Persephone wants no part of this. She’s always been terrified of marriage and the thought of being tied to some smug Olympian god she hasn’t even chosen herself is abhorrent to her. So desperate is she to escape this fate that she jumps into the Underworld and claims sanctuary/hospitality – xenia – from Hades. What she hadn’t expected – nor he for that matter – was the undeniable attraction between them, and the unlikely friendship that develops. Hades is rude, sexy and arrogant, but also kind, and he’s the only person who’s ever actually listened to what Persephone wants. When he proposes a marriage of convenience, how bad can it be? [This book won the RNA’s Fantasy Romantic Book of the Year last month – well deserved!]

NOT IN LOVE by Ali Hazelwood – This is another of Ms Hazelwood’s signature stories featuring a STEM heroine who works as a biotech engineer in the field of food science. She’s brilliant at what she does, but socially awkward with very few friends and no romantic relationships – ever. (I guessed she was autistic or on the spectrum somewhere but this is never actually spelled out in the book). When she meets the hero after a match-up on a dating app, there is instant chemistry and he gets her like no one else ever has. She finds herself breaking her own rules for him, while they both try to fight the attraction. They’ve been hurt in the past (in different ways) and are reluctant to trust, but they can’t seem to stay away from each other. Can they learn to love? Or is their baggage too much? I really enjoyed this story and found it fascinating, especially the way the hero allows and encourages the heroine to be exactly who she is without trying to change her. It’s very spicy and explicit – the author herself calls it erotic romance – but the underlying story is wonderful so I didn’t mind that. Highly recommended!

Finally I have to mention THE SUMMER SWAP by Sarah Morgan – Following on from Nicola’s endorsement last month, I want to add mine. As always Ms Morgan has written a fabulous story featuring three generations of women, all with their own problems and dilemmas. They have come to a turning point in their lives where they must choose how to go forward. Changing career path when you know what you’re currently doing is destroying you emotionally, moving forward after grief, and dealing with betrayal are some of the themes covered. I read this in one sitting and now want to read it again!

Pat: THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF TANNER AND LOUISE, by Colleen Oakley: I read this while traveling and couldn’t immediately jot down my review notes, so I’m relying on the book description. I just know I loved the book so much, I remembered to write this once I got home. The writing dragged me into the crazy story and didn’t let go, which is highly unusual for me. Basically, it’s the story of a college dropout and an eighty-four-year-old woman whose grown children believe she can no longer take care of herself. Her children really, really don’t know her. This grandma packs a lot of guts and ingenuity, and surprisingly, the depressed, video-playing nanny assigned to take care of her learns that there is more to life than staring at a TV.
Together—if they can outrun the mistakes of their past—they share the greatest adventure of their lives.

THE BANNED BOOKSHOP OF MAGGIE BANKS by Shauna Robinson: Obviously, bookshops are trending. Every other book I pick up includes one. They’re even better than small towns because we can put all the people in one building (oh wait, I’m doing that with the Gravesyde Priory series—with a manor library, oops). So the bookshop in this story is practically a museum for the small town of Bell River, founded on the writing of the famed author no one has ever heard of, Edward Bell. Needless to say, the shop is dying since it doesn’t sell any book written after the author’s death in 1968. Maggie, the book’s heroine is recruited to run the shop while the owner takes maternity leave. Maggie doesn’t read much. She loves talking to people and creating fun—the exact opposite of how the Bell Society’s operator sees his operation. Maggie is pretty much fireworks and confetti in a graveyard. There’s a romance, with a guy so strait-laced he can’t unbend. The plotline is straight up obvious. But the characters and events are so much fun, who cares? Predictability can be reassuring. So just step into Bell River and let Maggie lead the way…

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Mews Houses

Christina here. Wench Anne has recently been talking about the hidden gardens of London – green oases of calm in the midst of all the grand houses in the fashionable areas of town. But there were other hidden areas there too, much less impressive and kept out of sight of the rich people – the mews. Those of you who read Regency novels are probably very familiar with the term. Many of the big houses in London had a set of adjacent buildings containing stables, a carriage house and usually also accommodation for coachmen, grooms and their families on the levels above. These buildings were situated in a sort of small back alley behind the main house, mostly running parallel to the street at the front. Ironically, although they were built for servants and horses, these days they are very sought after.

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Ice Cream

Anne here, typing this with the heater going and wearing fingerless gloves. Yes, it’s winter downunder, but despite the temperature outside, today I’m talking about ice-cream. I’m sure all you in the northern hemisphere who are struggling with heat will appreciate it.

Summer or winter, ice-cream is a weakness of mine. I can easily turn down offers of all kinds of desserts and cakes, but not ice-cream. However, much as I love it, I hardly ever buy it, because I can’t resist it and if it sits in the fridge it calls to me and, strangely, vanishes. So these days I go out for ice-cream. In fact I patronize a certain Italian restaurant mainly because of their delicious house-made mango ice-cream.

In the regency, ice-cream was a real treat, well out of reach for most people, and those who could afford it often went out to eat it as well.  We’ve all read in Regencies, people eating ices at Gunters. It was a treat. But wealthy people also could have their cooks make ice-cream desserts, using a range of special equipment. There is a fabulous video here of English food historian Ivan Day, talking about historic desserts, and showing exactly how ice cream and ices were made in the past and shares and demonstrates a couple of recipes. (The images above and below are of ices made by Ivan Day and are used with permission.)

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Celebrating the Solstice!

Nicola here, talking about midsummer and using it as an excuse to post some gorgeous pictures! Yesterday marked the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day in the Southern.  The June solstice is considered to be the beginning of summer and it’s rather nice that finally the warm, sunny weather has arrived in the UK so it really does feel like summer here.

I’m reading in various places that the solstice today is the earliest since 1796. The dates of the solstice occur within a relatively small range (June 20th or 21st and December 21st or 22nd.) As 2024 is a leap year, the time of the solstice occurs a whole 18 hours earlier than it did last year. The last year a solstice was this early, 228 years ago, Napoleon and Josephine got married, Edward Jenner administered the first smallpox vaccine, George Washington issued his “Farewell Address” and “Auld Lang Syne” by Robert Burns was first published.

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