Friday, February 15, 2019

Literary Friday: The Golden Tresses of the Dead {and} An Enchantment of Ravens



Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm sharing two books with you that I read recently:  The first book is the latest in the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series: The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley, and a wonderful YA fantasy,  An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson.




According to Goodreads:

Although it is autumn in the small English town of Bishop’s Lacey, the chapel is decked with exotic flowers. Yes, Flavia de Luce’s sister Ophelia is at last getting hitched, like a mule to a wagon. “A church is a wonderful place for a wedding,” muses Flavia, “surrounded as it is by the legions of the dead, whose listening bones bear silent witness to every promise made at the altar.” 

Flavia is not your normal twelve-year-old girl. An expert in the chemical nature of poisons, she has solved many mysteries, sharpening her considerable detection skills to the point where she had little choice but to turn professional. So Flavia and dependable Dogger, estate gardener and sounding board extraordinaire, set up shop at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, eager to serve—not so simple an endeavor with her odious little moon-faced cousin, Undine, constantly underfoot. But Flavia and Dogger persevere. Little does she know that their first case will be extremely close to home, beginning with an unwelcome discovery in Ophelia’s wedding cake: a human finger.


My Review:

I'm an avid Flavia de Luce reader and fan: I've read all ten installments of the series including the one short story (eBook only) "The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse."  I have enjoyed the series immensely, but unfortunately I was disappointed in this latest installment for several reasons.

The first reason for my disappointment is Flavia herself.  She's now twelve, on the cusp of puberty (which seemed evident by her mood swings), and definitely NOT HERSELF!  I understand that if the series continues (which I hope it does) Flavia will enter her teens and eventually grow-up.  However, Mr. Bradley needs to think about how he portrays her because girls do not necessarily lose their God-given talents, confidence, and abilities as they become pubescent.  Flavia definitely seems to second-guess herself which is so out of character for her.  Dogger's character, as lovely as he is, dominates this first official mystery of the "Arthur Dogger and Associates" Detective Firm.  He catches all the clues, and Flavia seems flummoxed by them all.  I'm not buying it.

The second reason for my disappointment is the mystery is never really solved.  I like mysteries to have all loose ends tied-up like a pretty bow on a well-wrapped birthday present.  This one has way too many loose ends for my liking.  I would like to see answers in the next book because I'm not ready to give-up on this series.  Yet.

The third reason for my disappointment is the lack of explanation for how Buckshaw financially can remain in Flavia's hands.  She is the heir to the estate, and she also has an inherited role as a spy for His Majesty's secret spy organization, and it was my understanding that she was to be in training for that role.  I also dislike Feely's being married and sent away, and Daffy was MIA for most of this story.  I miss the sisters' interactions.  

I'm giving this one three out of five stars because it does have a few interesting scenes in Flavia's chemistry lab, and I do love the series as a whole. The elements of the mystery are interesting (yet icky), and  I also enjoyed the history lesson of the Brookwood Cemetery funeral trains.




According to Goodreads:

A skilled painter must stand up to the ancient power of the faerie courts—even as she falls in love with a faerie prince—in this gorgeous debut novel.

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.


My Review:

I chose this book because YA fantasy author Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles) recommended it in an interview.  I've read a couple of her series with my daughters when they were teens, and I do love how she writes, so I took a chance with this book.  She said in her interview that this book has one of the best Faerie Queens she's ever read, and she's right!  It's fantastic, one of the best YA books I've read in a very long time.

Of course I loved that the heroine Isobel is an artist.  She's so good at reading people: it's almost as if she can peer into her subject's' souls and capture them in oil paint.  Isobel is part of a world that serves fairies via craft because it's fatal for fairies to create anything.  I do appreciate the world that Margaret Rogerson has created in An Enchantment of Ravens.  The meaning of the title is brilliant on a couple of levels, and it illustrates how perceptive and witty Isobel is.

The plot is fast-paced, and it was difficult for me to put it down at night.  I love how Isobel and Rook's love story develops: it's well-written and creative.  A few of the villains are so creepy and scary, but they were not nightmare-inducing; and there are more than a few surprising twists in the plot.  I also love how a character is not at all what he or she seems....such a surprise!  

I highly recommend this book for older teens and above.  I checked this book out from my local library, but I'm purchasing a copy to give to one of my daughters.  I'm even thinking about buying a second copy for our library at home.


How many of y'all are reading Their Eyes Were Watching God?  It's this month's book club selection, and we'll discuss it next Friday, February 22nd.


Go to the library this weekend and check it out!  You have plenty of time to read it before next Friday!



Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill



Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What to Bake for Valentine's Day Breakfast



Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and I have the perfect thing for you to bake for breakfast:  SCONES!

I have been playing with scone recipes forever.  I've tried recipes with sour cream, heavy whipping cream, milk, buttermilk, eggs, no eggs...I think I've tried them all!  But I've finally figured out an easy recipe for scones that combines elements from several recipes I've tried.

Now the one thing that can totally ruin a batch of scones is over handling the dough.  Resist the urge to handle it!  Seriously, I barely touch mine!  ;P

Here in America, we tend to bake our scones in triangles.  We roll the dough into a round and score them or cut them into triangles and bake.  The English make theirs round, and I've found that they seem to be not as dry if they're round.

I love the way my recipe makes the scones rise higher than most recipes.  I learned the trick of using 4t of baking powder from the Fifteen Spatulas Blog.   You can see their English Style Scones Recipe HERE.  Our recipes are very similar, but I keep my butter cold, use heavy whipping cream, and I use caster sugar rather than regular sugar.  I've found that these little tweaks make a difference in the final product.  They are light and moist compared to most scones!



I should've taken a better photo from the side so you can see how they rise...but they almost triple in height.


Easy Scones

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour 
4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 cup caster sugar
6 T unsalted butter (keep in fridge until ready to use)
1/3 cup whole milk (I use A2 milk)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 large egg (use the largest egg you can find.  I used a jumbo sized egg.)


Procedures:

1.   Preheat over to 425 F.

2.   Combine all dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined.

3.   Take out butter and measure 6 tablespoons.  Dice butter and add to dry mix.  Pulse several times until you don't see any butter chunks.

4.   Combine the milk, cream, and egg.  Beat until smooth.  Reserve 2 T for egg wash.  Add wet mixture to food processor slowly while it's on low.  Once the dough looks solid, remove onto a floured work surface.

5.   Knead the dough with floured hands only a couple of times.  Lightly pat into a circle 1" high.  Using a round biscuit cutter, cut out four or five scones and place on a cookie sheet with a Silpat mat.  Make as many scones as you can with the scraps, but handle the dough as little as possible. (This recipe only makes about 6 or 7 scones with my biscuit cutter).

6.   Brush the egg wash on top of the scones.

7.   Bake for 13 - 16 minutes (check after 12 just in case) until they are golden brown on top.

Enjoy with butter, jam, honey, or lemon curd. Devonshire cream and whipped cream are delicious toppings, too.



This time I had a pat of butter and a tablespoon of strawberry jam on my scone.


I'm making a fresh batch for breakfast tomorrow morning.  

Do you cook anything special for breakfast on Valentine's Day?


Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill




Monday, February 11, 2019

Redecorating Shanley Belle's Room



Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  Today I want to share with you a recent project: Redecorating Shanley Belle's bedroom.

For those of you who don't know Shanley Belle, she's our daughter who's a perpetual student.  She's a doc student at LSU, so she isn't home very often.  However, we've been unhappy with her room, and we also wanted to build sturdy bookshelves along her dormer wall.  One of the main reasons we wanted the bookshelves located there is because it's one of the few long walls in our house.  There simply was no other place to put them!

I want to apologize about the poor quality of the photos.  I've given up being able to take decent photos in her room....there just isn't enough natural light!


Here are a few before photos:


Shanley's room was ballet slipper pink.  It truly darkened the darkest room in our home.
Another thing I must share:  Pink is one of THE HARDEST colors to paint over.
We kept her bedding and nightstand, but replaced her bed.




This is the only window in the room, and it's in a funky dormer.  The ceiling also slopes in the room.


Here are the during and after photos:



 We painted the walls and ceiling Polar Bear White by Behr.  





We turned her bed a quarter turn counterclockwise and centered it on the wall you face as you walk into the room.  
The room is dark and claustrophobic because of the one dormer window and the sloped ceiling viewed above.





We kept her bedding and added a new throw pillow from Anthropologie.
Seriously, this might be my new favorite white.  I normally don't even paint with Behr paint!




I love that the lamp has a shiny finial made from the same glass as the lamp! 




We purchased a shiny lamp from Pier1 to lighten-up the dark corner.




I love this pillow.  It has a few sequins scattered about, but they didn't photograph well. 




Looking from the dormer area toward the bathroom and closet.







The art is by Vanessa from A Fanciful Twist, and it's the aunts' house from Practical Magic.







The bookshelves were installed along one of the dormer walls.  It is opposite the wall the bed is on.
Mr. Sketchy Reader built them for me.  I love how the oak stained shelves turned out.




We installed three MacKenzie-Childs Courtly Check Edison light fixtures.
I never thought I'd organize books according to color, but I read a strong defense for it and it won me over.  You might not always remember the author, and you might sometimes forget the author's name, but rarely do you forget what the cover looks like.  This makes sense to me, especially since I'm so visual!  






This is a small bookcase that stores cozy mysteries.  It's a distressed piece, and the circle on top is a circle in the pine wood.  The canisters hold tea.
The artwork is appropriate because Shanley is a book thief.  She "borrows" books from me all the time!
The artwork is from Etsy shop Vintage Expression 702.




We placed a kettle and everything needed for making tea on the chest of drawers.  We have a Nespresso in the library next door to this room.  Shanley prefers tea, so we put the tea stuff in here.




We also collect card catalog art from one of my favorite Etsy shops, Winged World.




On the bottom shelf I placed this basket for library books.  This way I can avoid paying fines especially on new books.  Now I have no excuse!  



The rest of our fiction books are in the library.  Cookbooks are in the kitchen, art books are in the art studio, and home decor books are in the family room.  I think it's important to have books in the rooms where you'll actually  use them.

I literally sorted every book in our home (and dusted them, too)!  We sold a few, but we donated a lot of them to our local libraries, and I recycled the ARC's I no longer wanted.  It was quite a chore!  

Thanks for stopping by.  I kept waiting for better lighting, but I thought I'd go ahead and share even though the photos are horrible.  Now it's time to move on to another project!

What's your favorite, go-to white interior paint?  Please let me know in the comments section below!

Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill