Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Scottish edition

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

The older I get, the more I value being able to move, and to travel. I'd long had an overseas walking tour on my bucket list, with the Scottish Highlands at the top. This year I decided to make it happen.

In December I made the reservation with Country Walkers  for their Highlands and Isle of Skye tour, and I knew I needed to up my game when it came to walking. I was used to doing my daily 10K steps, and loved to walk around cities for pleasure when I'd be traveling, but I was nowhere ready for a walking tour. I spent the next six months investing in new hiking boots, a daypack, trekking poles, a hydration pack and some good socks. I also purchased a Florida State Parks pass.

The latter was an important motivator. I'm blessed to live in North Central Florida, a land of slightly rolling hills and numerous outdoor activity sites including state parks like San Felasco Hammock and Payne's Prairie. These areas provide plenty of opportunities to get out and walk in the woods (or on the prairie), a delightful Florida winter activity.

However, our rolling hills are no match for terrain like this, the view of Loch Lomond from atop Conic Hill (elevation 1,184 ft./361 m.). Yes, I climbed up here on a breathtakingly beautiful day, my first day trekking the Highlands.

We set out from Glasgow with the option of two walks, one around the loch and the woods of the Trossachs, the other up the hill. I lined up with the hill walkers. Since I hadn't come all this way just to sit on my butt I gamely climbed on, grateful I'd invested in good trekking poles. I have to say it was worth it for a scene like this. Afterward, when we'd discuss the merits of the easy vs. moderate walks I could tell myself, "You made it up Conic Hill, you have this."

The way the tour worked we would be transported to our trekking site while our luggage would be taken ahead to our next stop for the night. You can see from the map how we made a circuit around the Highlands and Skye, returning to Glasgow at the end.
Our group was made up of mostly more experienced hikers from more mountainous locales--Santa Fe, Denver, Australia--but I was pleased that I was never the last to straggle in. I had worried about that, especially when I casually asked a fellow traveler the first day what she'd done when she got to Glasgow and she said she'd taken a nine-mile hike around the city to relax.

But it was easier after that first day. Here's a shot of all of us at Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point of the Isle of Skye. In the background at the horizon you can make out the Outer Hebrides. I'm the short one in front with a blue jacket and a bare head. 

Of course, since it was Scotland, we also took time to sample a wee dram or two. I especially enjoyed the single malts collection at Cuillin Hills Hotel on Skye, and our tour of the Blair Athol distillery at Pitlochry.

But what I liked best was just being there, and seeing it on foot. The flowers, the lochs, Flora MacDonald's home and gravesite, the hills--all of it was breathtaking and truly one of the last best places on earth to visit in its natural state. No coach tour would have compared. Walking the land, even when we were stepping through sheep and their residue, made for a truly unique experience.

There were  so many other sights I could describe and pictures I could post, but the real takeaway from this trip was learning more about a part of the world I'd only read about in numerous novels or seen portrayed in films and television. It's a rugged, windswept country and I feel blessed that I could be a part of it, if only for a brief period.
Duntulm, Skye


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: Eat, Pray, Die

Eat, Pray, Die Eat, Pray, Die by Chelsea Field
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A humorous (well, except for the "you've been poisoned and you're gonna die" parts) mystery in the vein of the "Stephanie Plum" style popularized by Janet Evanovich.

Isobel is an Aussie with a new job and a huge debt, the kind of debt that involves loan sharks and people who break legs. The job is using her unique genetic code and skill set to be a taster for celebrities as risk of being poisoned. She's still on probation, and may not live long enough to have to worry about the bruiser sent to collect from her.

I very much enjoyed this first in a series novel, one that sets up interesting romantic possibilities (If Izzy survives), extols the joys of a long black (I too love the Aussie coffee culture) and promises a good summer beach read. I'm looking forward to reading book 2.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Happy #NationalPecanPieDay!

Julia took a moment to go over and watch the cane mill, where a placid ox hitched to a lever walked ’round and ’round the contraption. The cane mill was two vertical iron rollers set in a heavy wood frame, and Franklin Ivey and the other feeders slowly passed the towering red cane stalks between the grinding rollers as the ox worked the treadmill. As the juice was squeezed out of the stalks of cane, it ran into a trough attached to the mill frame, while the cane pulp fell from the other side.
The uncooked cane juice in the barrels was pale green, and as it cooked and was stirred it thickened and ripened to a deep amber, becoming the syrup prized for sweetening everything from coffee to pecan pie to biscuits.

--Smuggler's Bride 

I admit to some befuddlement over today being #NationalPecanPieDay, because every Southern gal knows pecans are a fall harvest. I keep my fresh, in the shell nuts in the freezer to use all year, but I make my pies for Thanksgiving and winter events.

However, I freely acknowledge than anytime is a good time for pecan pie and in the summer you can add some fresh churned ice cream to go along with your pie.

The other nice thing about pecan pie is it's easy to make (especially if you use a pre-made pie shell.) You can use either corn syrup or cane syrup for your sweetner, and in just about an hour you can have a hot pie fresh from the oven. Here's a classic recipe:


1 cup corn syrup or cane syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans
1 (9-inch) unbaked deep-dish pie crust

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie crust.

Bake on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on wire rack before serving.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Remembering Hamilton

Underfunded, understaffed, looked down on by the regular navy, despised by the merchants who paid the tariffs, the Revenue Marine was no one’s darling.
Well, except maybe Alexander Hamilton, he’d loved his revenue cutters that brought money into the Treasury, but look what happened to him, Rand thought. Irritate the wrong people and there you are, worm food.
--Smuggler's Bride

Today is the anniversary of the stupid duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, a tragedy resulting in the death of this Founding Father who did so much for our country.

I read Ron Chernow's biography many years ago and was captivated by the amazing man who accomplished great things in his brief lifetime. Hamilton's legacy helped me write Smuggler's Bride, my novel about the early Coast Guard, aka the Revenue Marine.

Alexander Hamilton was flawed, but his legacy lives on. I haven't seen the musical yet but I hope some day to be in the right place at the right time to get Hamilton tickets. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower

Wicked and the Wallflower Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This first installment in the Bareknuckle Bastards series shows wonderful possibilities regarding characters we were introduced to in The Day of the Duchess. There were fabulous bits of dialogue, a really interesting heroine and a very dangerous hero. In addition, I like revenge stories and the smuggling plot device was excellent. I love historical tidbits worked into a story without too much exposition.

This book is for romance fans who enjoy quality writing and intriguing heroines. I'm looking forward to the next story in the series, as all the introduced characters show great promise.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: The Chateau

The Chateau The Chateau by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tiffany Reisz is the best erotica writer you're going to read this year. That's a subjective opinion, but this is my review so I'm letting it stand.

We know Kingsley Edge from previous Original Sinners stories, but here we see him stripped bare, literally and figuratively, as he fulfills a request for his commander in the oh-so-secret French military agency using his special skill set. Kingsley is sent to find the commander's missing nephew, believed to be in a cult holed up in a mysterious chateau.

Madame runs the chateau with a firm hand and she takes a special interest in the young French lieutenant. He thought he knew what sadists could do to him (and how much he'd love it), but he's never met a mistress like Madame. Her level of cruelty is breathtakingly exact, and he will emerge a different person...if he makes it out alive.

While Reisz brings the heat in all of her books, she excels at characterization in erotic lit. This is what's missing from so many of the books today, characters who are more than cardboard figures doing their Tab A/Slot B routine over and over again. I recommend all of the Original Sinners series, and this book to anyone who wants to explore more of the background of the characters who make the series so popular.

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Review: A Touch of Flame

A Touch of Flame A Touch of Flame by Jo Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jo Goodman doesn't write fast, but she writes very well, and that makes me happy. Her books are worth the wait and she brings characters to life in a fashion that has the reader chuckling aloud at the snappy dialogue and quick-witted responses.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: The Unlikely Master Genius

The Unlikely Master Genius The Unlikely Master Genius by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sailing Master Able Six is a savant, a man with a beautiful mind and a lowly beginning. He's a true polymath, but a bastard raised in a Scottish workhouse doesn't have the connections needed in Regency England to allow him to fully use his gifts. However, some of his former captains know his worth and have encouraged Able to teach at St. Brendan the Navigator School, where poor boys like him have a chance to advance themselves by serving in the Royal Navy.

You're going to need your hankies. When Carla Kelly writes a book about boys being trained for battle during the Napoleonic Wars, you can't say you didn't know what to expect. However, it's a gentle love story about a man who could easily go insane from a mind that won't shut down and the woman who nurtures his soul. It's also about lost boys. As much as we Americans view the Royal Navy during the War of 1812 as a place of floggings and impressment, for some boys and men it was an opportunity to advance themselves, and to be fed on a regular basis.

Able and Meridee are introduced in the short story "The Christmas Angle", and this is the first of the St. Brendan novels. One of the joys of a Carla Kelly Regency is that it's about people who are not powerful or privileged. It's about everyday people being good, though Able's far from ordinary and Meridee's quite extraordinary for loving him and appreciating him.

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