Autumnal Reading

I thought I share some books with you that I will be reading over the autumn. Now, I am a reader all year round, no matter the season, but there is something about reading in autumn that is just so wonderful. You go out for a walk and return, in my case light the fire, and then settle down with a good book. Extra points for wind and rain howling outside while you are snuggled up inside.

Treacherous Is the Night

(Verity Kent #2) by Anna Lee Huber

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I read the first one in the series last year (and I am also making my way through Anna Lee Huber’s other series set in 19th century Scotland) and I am just about to pick this one up. Set just after the 1st world war, the first book saw Verity suffering from the loss of her husband and so many others in the war, she gets invited to a mysterious party on an island and events unfold from there. Now, I cannot get into the plot of the second one at all as it would be super spoiler heavy…

I expect from this a perfect escapist type mystery novel, that I can read when I am tired from a full day of translating or writing. Sometimes, you just want some glamour and mystery and this one will do nicely, I have read enough Anna Lee Huber to know that I like her.

Thanks to netgalley for the arc

The Corset

by Laura Purcell
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Super excited about this one. I read Silent Companions last year and I loved it. It spooked me and I don’t normally read spooky stuff. There was that night when I read it, when my husband had to go to bed early so I was not alone reading it. This promises to be another spooky read. Maybe I read this by daylight though.

A Discovery of Witches

(All Souls Trilogy #1) by Deborah Harkness

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I am probably the only person in the world, who has not read this. I tried once, but I don’t think I was in the mood back then, so willing to give this another shot. I just have to read books with witches in autumn. It’s the law.

The Magick of Master Lilly

by Tobsha Learner
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Another books I am super excited about, set in 1641 and it says that it deals with role of magic in the English Civil War. I have a slight obsession with that era at the moment, so I am looking forward to that, it does not come out until October, but thankfully, I have an arc via netgalley, so I don’t have to wait, I can just go ahead and read it.

Rosemary, Oh, Rosemary

The incomparable Juliette de Bairacli Levy said in the documentary about her life (Juliette of the Herbs, if you have never watched please do) that in every garden she has created throughout her life, she always planted rosemary and southernwood in each of those gardens. She then goes on to joke about how people say that she heals everything with rosemary.

Rosemary is a great herb and there is no doubt about it, whether you put it in the pan with roast potatoes, chop it and put it on your focaccia with some olive oil before you bake it in the oven or if you add it to stews and soups: the rich flavour and the smell of the cooking in the kitchen will give you a sense of well-being.  Try it, if you never used it before.

Whenever I go in my little garden, I always brush along the rosemary plant and smell my fingers. It makes me happy.

In the herbal healing world, or the herbalist world (and I am no expert folks, I have just been a dabbler for years and now I am a serious beginner on a journey), rosemary is attributed to benefit humans in many ways:

  • boosts memory
  • detoxifies the body
  • improves mood
  • increases immunity
  • protects from bacterial infections
  • prevents premature aging
  • reduces inflammation
  • relieves pain
  • stimulates circulation
  • treats skin conditions

Rosemary is pretty much unkillable as a plant in a garden, mine lives in a huge pot. It likes being cut and will be healthier if you do take quite a bit from it.

An easy way to use rosemary and store it ready in the kitchen is to make an infused oil. Infused oils can form the basis for many applications, topical but also for food use. Beware though: not all herbs can be ingested. However, rosemary can.

Infused oils basics:

You need:

  • a double boiler (best way
  • oil (coconut oil, olive oil etc. etc. depending on what you want to use it for)

How I make it:

I put some water in the bottom of the double boiler, put the top bit on and this I add a decent handful of rosemary (stems and all) with the oil.

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Rosemary oil simmering away in the double boiler

I live it on a very, very low heat (you don’t want the oil to boil, nor do you want it to simmer or bubble, it just has to be hot) for about 30 minutes.

Then drain it through a sieve, make sure you squeeze every last bit out. Then I use the once infused oil and repeat the process with another batch of rosemary. Again 30 minutes. Again drain and then store in a suitable container (glass is best, plastic will take on the smell of anything you put in it).

I made some last weekend with coconut oil with a plan to make body butter and a balm out of it. My skin is super dry and now with winter coming, I need a barrier on it when I go for walks and hikes as the wind otherwise makes my skin split open. The balm will be great to keep my feet healthy during winter, they don’t like to be in socks and shoes and slippers all the time, so again the rosemary will help.

The body butter is a cream by the inimitable Rosemary Gladstar. image1 (9)

Waters

2/3 c cup distilled water (or rose water) (please don’t buy the distilled water used for car batteries, treat yourself, it goes on your skin)
1/3 cup aloe vera gel
1 or 2 drops essential oil of choice
Vitamins A and E as desired

Oils

3/4 cup apricot, almond, or grapeseed oil
1/3 cup coconut oil or cocoa butter (this is were I used my rosemary oil!)
1/4 teaspoon lanolin (you can leave this out, but it makes the cream more runny, I know some vegans use cocoa butter)
1/2 to 1 ounce grated beeswax (vegan alternative is candelilla wax)

1. Combine the waters in a glass measuring cup. Set aside.

2. In a double boiler over low heat, combine the oils. Heat them just enough to melt.

3. Pour the oils into a blender (I use a stick blender, mine is metal so very easy to clean) and let them cool to room temperature. The mixture should become thick, creamy, semisolid, and cream colored. This cooling process can be hastened in the refrigerator, but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t become too hard.

4. When the mixture has cooled, turn on the blender at its highest speed. In a slow, thin
drizzle, pour the water mixture into the center  vortex of the whirling oil mixture.

5. When most of the water mixture has been added to the oils, listen to the blender and watch the cream. When the blender coughs and chokes and the cream looks thick and white, like buttercream frosting, turn off the blender. You can slowly add more water, beating it in by hand with a spoon, but don’t overbeat! The cream will thicken as it sets.

6. Pour into cream or lotion jars. Store in a cool location.

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As for the balm: 

Put 8 parts of the rosemary oil and 1 part of wax into a double boiler (In my case that was 80g of oil and 8g of wax and let it melt. Once melted you can remove it from the heat and add an essential oil (I added some geranium because I love the scent, 4 drops was enough for the mixture. Pour into a jar, leave to set (don’t put the lid on while it cools down, the steam has to evaporate) and then put a lid on and label your jar.

ALWAYS LABEL YOUR JARS! No excuses.

 

A few things I wish for her

My daughter is starting secondary school tomorrow and as much as I tried to stay away from the panic making, the “this is hard” conversations happening amongst people I know, I am still nervous.

I guess being nervous is part of my nature and also part of being a parent, but I have been thinking a lot about the things I wish for her.

I wish that she remains crazy. I hope that the need to make new friends (she knows nobody at the new school) will not lead to her to try and mould herself to fit in with those that are louder and more extrovert than her.

I hope she finds her gang, her crew, the people that get her and take her just as she is. That is above all my most important wish for her.

I hope she takes part in the things school has to offer, both the lessons and the clubs and activities. Being an active part rather than an onlooker at all times is a way to be happier. There is plenty that is right up her street, but shyness is a harsh mistress at times, so I hope she joins in.

I hope she copes well with this transition. Change is hard at times and even if it leads eventually to wonderful things, while you are in the change bubble, it feels like being stuck on some treacle.

I will be here waiting for her return each day with a drink and a snack, ready to listen to what occurred. Ready to implement whatever is needed: Snuggles on the sofa, escapist TV watching (Hello Once Upon Time, we still got 5 seasons to go), a bath to relax or some baking to do something completely different.

As a parent, that’s all you really can do: Hope and be there.

Autumnal

The days may still get warm and are often in the low 20ies, but there is no doubt that autumn is here. Leaves are changing, the morning are crisps and on Saturday, we had such a wonderfully foggy morning, it was a delight.

Saturday, I also went on a course about the uses of herbs called “Natural Health Chest” hosted by Rowan Mconegal. I travelled to the wonderful Ledbury (another trip will be required there, I judge all towns by the presence of bookshops and on my brief walk along the High Street I spotted two).

I have always been interested in the uses of herbs and have used many herbal things in my life. I think growing up in Germany, these kind of things are just more present. So when you have sinus issue, you go and get Sinupret (basically a tablet made of Cowslip, yellow Gentian, black elder, sorrel and vervaine) and for coughs you reach to equally natural concoctions. Even your GP will tell you to get those before he prescribes you anything else.

Recently, I felt very much drawn to all things herbs after having discovered the absolutely altering effects of a tea called Deep Sleep which helped me overcome a particularly nasty bout of sleeplessness. I just wanted to learn more.

The course was lovely, full of conversation (which for me is the best way to learn and be inspired) and the little group (there was 5 of us, plus Rowan) was lovely. What it did is to give me some tools and above all permission to explore more.

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Happiness tea to chill me when work gets stressful

Yesterday, I signed up to a self-study course about herbs – this does not mean I will become a herbalist, this is all just for my personal use and exploration of a topic I am interested in. Not only is it useful, but also does it fill this void in me that I have in terms of missing learning, this will keep that itch of mine sufficiently soothed.

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Elderberries from the garden, full of Vitamin C and great in teas.

Yesterday, I made some tea mixes, dried my elderberries and rosehips from the garden in the dehydrator (see affiliate link below for the one I use), made rosemary oil to use in creams and for cooking (particularly nice in salad dressing) and I can honestly say, I have not felt as happy and content in a long time.

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Rosemary oil simmering away in the double boiler

 

 

The Lost Days of Summer

Apparently it’s Wednesday. My phone says so. Which means that unless there has been some international data breakdown, I assume this is right. It’s week 1 of the kid’s summer holiday and I already lost track of days. I am trying not to be disturbed by this but I admit to failing.

It is odd really, because at Christmas I do really enjoy the loosing track of days, when each day becomes just like the other filled with food and family and board games and reading by the fire. In the summer though, I have stuff to do. Deadlines to keep, so losing track of the days makes me anxious, because what if I forget to deliver that job or reply to that email? What then?

It’s great for the 11 year old, though. I remember summers as a kid, the days seemingly stretch out in front of you forever. Possibilities of what I could do every single day, I miss that boredom, miss hanging out at the lido, miss riding my bike everywhere, reading without interruption. And then at the end of the summer, I looked forward to going back to school (yes, I was that kid) and having a bit of a routine again, but while it lasted, I loved every minute of it.

Now, I am grateful that I work from home, I am grateful for it every single day. Yet, I admit that summers change my routine of “kid is at school, time to work”. It’s 6 am. I have already been at the computer for more than an hour doing some admin stuff for my work. Planning what I need to do today. I am quickly typing these thoughts down and then roughly at 6.15, I will start my work day. The work day is fractured with time spend with my kid, because a) goodness knows how much longer she wants to hang out with me b) I like spending time with her and c) I am easily distracted when she is around anyway.

I am often faced with people that tell me that this sort of working cannot be productive. Or that, because I work this way during school holidays, means that what I do is not real work. Years ago, that really bothered me. Now, I just smile. The amazing thing I have learnt is that these fractured days are mostly super productive in terms of work. The work load gets done. I am happy, too, because I get to do stuff with that human I have created. And then when I sit down, my brain just seems to slot into whatever job I am working on. And every year, I think: Look at this, you work well this way, why not incorporate it into your life when September comes, get up early, do some work, then after lunch when you are tired, you can snooze for 30 minutes. Yet, every single year, as soon as September comes, I return back to the way of working that society seems to find acceptable: Sit down at the computer and work for a solid 6-7 hour block. Push through that tiredness, forget about going for a walk, forget about taking care of yourself, that is for those hours outside of the work block.

I have plans to push through this conditioning this year and have put reminders in my google calendar that say: Remember summer, remember all the work got done and you still had fun.

And now, some coffee and work. It’s 6.10.

5 books for different readers on Mary, Queen of Scots

I have watched this trailer about 5 times today.

I am so excited about the upcoming movie about Mary Queen of Scots. She is one of the most wonderful characters in history, wild, vilified, dangerous, naive…. the opinions on her and her person differ wildly and her life and how it ended makes for the most thrilling stories.

I have chosen 5 different books that feature her – some where is she the main character, others where she is in the background. The books vary in their tone and style, too: From beach read to serious study.

Mary Stuart by Stefan Zweig

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This is a non-fiction account or exploration rather of Mary Stuart’s life. Zweig had read an account of her execution in the British Library but he could not really find any text that explored her whole life and so he began to write one himself. It was first published in 1935 and is a classic and wonderfully done. You cannot go much wrong with beginning here.

Best suited: You like your non-fiction literary and as if being told a story. This is part biography, part thriller. 

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

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Gregory has made it her career almost entirely around the exploration of the women surrounding the Plantagenets and Tudors and although not all of her books work for me, I did enjoy this one. I find her take on Mary interesting and she actually focusses on the years of Mary’s house arrest in England before her execution.

Best suited: Perfect beach read. Will keep you gripped without taxing you too much. 

Fatal Majesty: A Novel of Mary, Queen of Scots by Reay Tannahill

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Tannahill was the historical saga Queen of the 80ies and 90ies and is now sadly quite forgotten, her books are a bit slow but wonderfully researched and this is in my opinion one of her best. She really focuses on all the players around Mary, the intrigue, the politics, the spies, the betrayals.

Best suited: If you don’t mind a slower pace in a historical fiction novel. 

Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

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The Lymond Chronicles feature Francis Crawford of Lymond and his exploits when Mary is just a baby up to when she is a child. The books are all about the political intrigue surrounding the problematic status in which Mary of Guise finds herself after the death of her husband, the Scottish King and the lengths she has to go to protect the throne for her daughter, Mary. These books are literary historical fiction at its best in my personal opinion. Mary is mostly a background figure there, but the books are wonderful to understanding the greater historical context of Europe at that time.

Best suited: If you like your historical fiction with a lot of brain and quick humour. 

In My End is My Beginning: A Life of Mary Queen of Scots by James A. MacKay

Another non-fiction history book about Mary. This one more recent than the one by Zweig, published in 1999. MacKay looks at Mary within the context of tense Anglo-Scots relations due to the question of religion. An unlucky person, who for a while managed to reign with hardly no resources and actually was quite good at it. Most definitely one of the greatest characters in Scottish history.

Best suited: When you want bare facts!

Have you got any Mary books to add to my TBR?

Why do we read seasonal?

Molly Flatt wrote a piece for the Guardian many, many years ago (I found it: Do you have a seasonal reading pattern?) and it was the first time that I wondered whether the weather influenced my reading. Depending on my mood, when you catch me, my answer can be one of the following

  • No, never
  • Yes, I read sad books in winter and want happy books in summer
  • The reverse of the statement above
  • What seasons, I live in Britain.

Sarcasm aside, my TBR is stuffed full with books that I sort of keep aside for reading during hot summery weather and since that is normally in short supply, I only ever get to one or two of them before I head back to my dark Historical Fiction, the mysteries, the Fantasy tomes etc.

In comes summer 2018: I think it’s well over a month now that is has been sunny and wonderful and I find I started to pick up books that have summery themes, often of an oppressive nature or set in hot places or about people who come from cool climates and then find themselves in unspeakable heat. So, I select these off my bookshelves and place them on the bedside table (which is like being longlisted for a book award in my house, seriously, once you are on the bedside table, your chances are pretty high to reach the “read” status).

So a few things that I have promoted to my bedside table:

 

The Mosquito Coast

Adventure story set in the Honduran Jungle. It sounds dark, it sounds oppressive and has been lingering on my TBR for nearly two years. This might be the summer I am reading it. I feel in the mood for it, so it might just happen.

Illyrian Spring

A 1930s novel by a woman writer? Well, that has been my cup of tea for a while now. Set on the Dalmatian coast, which is one of my favourite places. Apparently, it was scandalous when it first came out. I don’t read gossip magazines, but I do like a good bit of literary scandal.

Mr Lynch’s Holiday

A Midlands bus driver visits his son in a Spanish expat colony and the drama ensues from there. I quite like these enclosed settings and I live in the Midlands, so Brummies on holiday: Sign me up! I always wanted to read something by Catherine O’Flynn anyway.

Villa America

I have already started this one and am by now nearly half way through and I am hooked, this is the second book I am reading set on the Riviera, historical fiction centering around the very real Murphys who basically turned the French Riviera into what it became: a pilgrimage for sun seekers from all over the world. They also apparently inspired one of Fitzgeralds book and I am a smitten kitten and absolutely adore every single minute of this so far.

Fatal Inheritance

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I actually requested this as an arc from the publisher, because I adored the premise and I really enjoyed it. A mysterious inheritance, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who then travels down to the South of France to claim it and gets swept up in the drama and glitz of the French Riviera. Danger and plenty of mystery ensues. Historical fiction, with a hint of Mary Stewart, a touch of Highsmith, perfect for reclining on a deckchair, sipping a cocktail and enjoying this summer. Will be published on the 28th of July.
So, in summary (or should I say: summery): I am a cliche and the weather does clearly dictate what I want to read, eat and drink.
Does the weather influence your reading?