Book review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise for this series is very interesting: it posits that Sherlock Holmes is actually a woman, Charlotte Holmes. In this first of a series, Charlotte deliberately loses her virginity in order to carve out a life as an independent woman. She is rescued from her attempt to earn her own living by a former actress, Mrs. John Watson, who befriends her and invests the seed money for Sherlock/Charlotte Holmes to open up a consulting detective business.
The initial mystery is a murder where Charlotte’s sister is the primary suspect. Charlotte is assisted in her investigation by a police officer and a childhood friend.
The author is wide-ranging in her books, writing everything from romances to fantasy. Her research into Victorian times and the role given to women is impeccable. The premise works–Charlotte may not be a self-described high functioning sociopath in the manner of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes in the BBC television series, but she is definitely not within the mainstream of women or men in Victorian society. The mystery is solidly, if not impressively, plotted, and the characters are well drawn.
I really enjoyed this twist on the Sherlock Holmes genre, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Book review: Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn

Bonfire Night (Lady Julia Grey, #5.7)Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last in the Lady Julia Grey series, and I have been putting off reading it because I don’t want the series to end. I gave the novella 4 stars but would probably more honestly give it somewhere between 3 and 3.5 stars if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the last story. The author wraps up most of the loose ends of the previous novella, but the story reads as if she wants the series to end as well. There isn’t much of a plot, and the characters aren’t as vibrant or witty or full of personality as they have been in previous books.
I very much wish that the series could continue in novel length (novellas being limited in their story-telling by their shorter length) as I think the main characters still have many stories to be told. That being said, if you have not read this series, I highly recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through (including all the novellas). The characters, the quality of the writing, and the mysteries are all beautifully rendered and should not be missed.

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Alinea: Dinner and a Show (but not necessarily in that order)

We did the ultimate foodie thing and flew to Chicago to have dinner at Alinea, the top-ranked restaurant in the country. (I know, I know, but have you noticed that we kind of like good food?) All I can say is that the ranking is well-deserved. Alinea specializes in molecular gastronomy but where some restaurants with that specialization think about dinner as a show (and the food as somewhat secondary), Alinea provides both a fabulous show and a delicious dinner.
We started out at the communal table with a dish of parsnip, Osetra caviar, lemon, and white pepper accompanied by a Kurt, Grand Cuvée, 164eme edition. Simple, elegant, and delicious.
Then, we were asked to go into the kitchen and were served a made-in-front-of-us pomegranate shaker accompanied by a black walnut & mace cake. The combination was delicious and also served the purpose of giving the staff time to turn the communal dining table into various separate tables.
We then returned to the dining room and were seated at our own table. We were given an Asian pear, roe, and shiso snow with a Romaine, avocado, and tosaka spear. The wine was a 2015 Hans Wirching Iphofer Julius-Echter Berg Silvaner GG (I should mention at this point that we had chosen the eclectic wine pairing option). Beautifully presented and the flavors blended beautifully as well.

Next up was a crab, coconut, and curry ranina accompanied by a spiced orange glow. Again, flavors that you wouldn’t think would go together (spiced orange and crab?) were delicious together.

Course #5 was an olive and artichoke black and a squid, black garlic, and chrysanthemum ink. The wine was a 2015 Hatzidakis cuvée no. 15 assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece. The dish was darkly flavored (for the lack of a better description) without being overly rich and delectable.

One of our favorite courses was the langoustine, bouillabaisse, and olive oil paper that was served with a 2013 Paul Perone Les Chalmaux Pullgny-Montrachet from Burgundy. The paper did indeed taste just like a bouillabaisse should. Clever and delicious.

A venison, juniper, and huckleberry smolder was next up. This was probably my least favorite course but that is more due to my not being a fan of venison than anything else. (And even in a fabulous meal, there needs to be a least favorite thing, right?)

Next up was “clam chowder” or, rather, a clam, potato, bacon cape accompanied by an Old Bay oyster cracker. The potato had been baked in butter for 14 hours, then hidden in the salt bowl pictured above, which had been heated during the previous courses, before being unearthed and mashed up for the chowder. The chowder was amazing!

chowder making

Accompanying the 2014 Hansell Pinot Noir from Sonoma Valley was a blueberry, black truffle, maitake glass, a matsutake, lemon, and thyme funghi, and a foie gras, shio kombu, and mushroom umami. Heavenly.

Next up was a squab, black forbidden rice, and binchotan coal served with a beet, mustard, and chili spiral and a tenderloin bean. The wine was a 2012 Chevalier des Andes from Mendoza, Argentina. (As a side note, when we asked how this wine aged, the lovely sommelier explained how it became more tannic and poured us a taste of the 2004. He was right—you would not have guessed that it was the same wine.)

And I was wrong. My least favorite course was the goat cheese and manuka air (I am not a goat cheese fan, which might be the understatement of the day). The accompanying pineapple, aloe, and shiso shot, however, was delicious.

The whimsical first dessert was a dark chocolate, birch, and marshmallow campfire and a green apple helium balloon (with the balloon string also made of edible green apple). I don’t know which was more fun—eating the balloon and string or listening to all of us talk in helium voices. The wine was a 2013 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Auslese Piesporter Goldtropfchen from Mosel, Germany.

And the final dessert show consisted of what Alinea calls the white chocolate, coconut, and silver paint. The videos don’t do the show justice but gives you a sense of the whimsy that is very much a part of the dining experience.

Beginning of dessert course at Alinea

Dessert course at Alinea

And by final dessert, we are not counting the sesame, brown butter, and gold nuggets that were presented to us to send us off into the night.

We staggered out of the restaurant complete with a sensory overload of taste, sight, and hearing. Dinner at Alinea definitely goes on the list as one of our most memorable meals ever!

Book review: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford

The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, #1)The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the premise of this first in a series of YA mysteries: Ada Byron (the daughter of Lord Byron) and Mary Godwin (the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft) form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency as young girls. Ada is better known as Ada Lovelace, sometimes referred to as the world’s first computer programmer and known as a brilliant mathematician, and Mary is better known as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The author takes slight liberties with the timeline, having the girls only 3 years apart in age as opposed to 18, but this allows the girls to be contemporaries and friends and allows the author to portray their very different personalities and temperaments.
Other historical personages that make appearances in this book are Charles Babbage, Charles Dickens and Percy Shelley.
In addition to the interesting premise, the mystery is interesting and engaging, and the book is well-written.
If I had to describe the book (and presumably the series), I would say it is similar to the Encyclopedia Brown series but geared towards girls.
The book is a quick read for adults but if you are interested in Ada and Mary and the lives they might have lived, this is the book for you!

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Book review: The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters

The Hermit of Eyton Forest (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #14)The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been slowly but faithfully making my way through this series, which is so wonderful. (I am going to be really sad when I’ve finished them all.) I’ve taken only to reviewing ones that are unusual or resonated with me beyond the normal “I love this series” feeling.
This book is one that stood out, not so much for the quality of the mystery but because it gives great insight into how the medieval world valued honor and loyalty. There isn’t much of the medieval world that I’d trade for what we have today (medical care and standard of living come instantly to mind), but I think we could do well to emulate their code of honor.
At any rate, the musings towards the end of the book of the main characters, Brother Cadfael and Hugh Beringar, about what constitutes loyalty and honor are a good reminder of the values we should all live our own lives by.

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Hawaii (without the kids)

Somehow, we always gravitate to Hawaii when deciding where to go on our annual without-the-kids vacation. As a reminder, the goal of this vacation is a yearly exercise as to remember who the other person across the breakfast table is as planning for the day that we become empty nesters. Our joint requirement is that it be somewhere warm. Jim’s requirement is that there be things to do and good restaurants to eat in.
This stay was our most mellow visit to date. Most of the week was completely unplanned (including dinners!). We went for long walks around Diamondhead, spent time at the pool, watched the sun set over Waikiki, and saw the fireworks that happen every Friday evening. We didn’t even do any house/condo-hunting!! (You, too, are free to join in the great family debate and choose to be either part of Team House or Team Condo.)
The only downside of the trip was that Marcus went down with the flu while we were there. We offered to come back early, but he was insistent that all he really needed was Advil and Sprite—both of which were in plentiful supply at our house.
This photo of us makes me look like an alien, which only confirms Jim’s theory…

In the meantime, enjoy the scenery of one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Christmas in Hawaii (oh, and a wedding too!)

Once again, both children’s school calendars cooperated, and we were able to get away the week before Christmas to Hawaii for just over a week. The daughter’s finals schedule ended the same day as the son’s school break started, and we all met up in San Francisco before flying out to Honolulu.
In addition, Jim’s brother and fiancee got married while we were there, and her children also flew out to join them for their happy day. It was a beautiful ceremony at a beautiful place, on the beach at Sherwood Forest, with waves crashing in the background. We wish them a long and happy life together!
In a case of miraculous timing, we also got to meet up and have lunch with close friends the day we were departing back home, and they were taking a cruise through the islands.
As has become typical for us, we ate our way through Honolulu. Highlights include Chef Mavro, The Pig & the Lady (for pho French dip), Yauatcha (for dim sum), and Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (for shave ice).

with “Uncle Clay”

It was cold there (for Hawaii), sometimes dipping down into the mid-60s(!). We did not complain.
There is something about Hawaii that rejuvenates our souls and makes us feel like we belong. It is also a place of transcendent beauty. Photos do not do it justice, but I still had to try.

Honolulu Christmas lights

at Orchids (in the Halekulani) for Christmas Eve brunch


Waikiki at sundown

Book review: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1)Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first experience with the author, and it was an enjoyable one. The book takes place in early 1900s England, which is a period of British history that I usually don’t dabble in (it’s a bit recent for me). However, this was a fun romp of a read. The narrator and main character, Lady Georgiana, is a minor royal and has the worst of both worlds–a family reputation to uphold without any money to do so. She’s spirited, irreverent, bright and with no marketable skills. The queen asks her to do some digging into the relationship between her son, Prince David, and a Mrs. Wallis Simpson. In the course of doing the queen’s bidding, there are multiple attempts to kill Georgie. A mystery ensues that is ably solved by Georgie (with the help of a few coincidences).
I’d call this a fun beach read, except that it’s frigidly cold outside. So call this a lighthearted read, perfect when curled up in your favorite chair in front of the fireplace with a piping hot mug of tea beside you. I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

As is typical for us, our snail mail holiday cards are late (well, definitely late for Christmas, possibly late for New Year’s, especially if your last name starts with the letter z).  🙂

For those who are not into delayed gratification, this is the electronic version of our holiday greetings.  Best wishes for 2018!

And our christmas letter 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

We sat 41 people for dinner for Thanksgiving this year. Well, technically, 37 adults (if you include one 16 year old velociraptor) and 4 kids under 10.

The menu was as follows:
Thai pumpkin soup with gougeres
Smoked turkey
Roasted turkey with confit legs
Stock-braised turkey legs
Deep fried turkey
Roasted pork shoulder
Roast duck
Roasted beets with chimichurri sauce
Skillet roasted Brussel sprouts with mustard and brown sugar
Chickpea, arugula, and picked carrot salad
Sweet potato and star fruit chaat
Mom’s stuffing (that’s Jim’s mom, obviously)
Mashed potatoes
Orange cranberry sauce
Hawaiian dinner rolls
Chocolate pumpkin cheesecake
Blackberry pie
Apple pie
Pumpkin spice cake

If there is a term for exhausted and stuffed at the end of a meal (stuffausted? exuffed?), that’s what we were. Thankfully, Jim’s nephew, Robert, came to help cook, and Robert’s girlfriend, Victoria, made the pumpkin spice cakes. (We had two of each dessert.)
And since Thanksgiving is all about thankfulness, I would like to say that we are extraordinarily thankful for our family and friends, who celebrate with us in good times and sustain us in bad times.
We hope your Thanksgiving was equally festive!

Thai pumpkin soup

traditional day-after-Thanksgiving sticky buns