Monday, June 30, 2008

The Spiritualist by Megan Chance

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Megan Chance delves into the world of mediums into her newest novel, The Spiritualist. When Evelyn, the daughter of an investigator weds Peter Atherton, she marries up into posh 19th century New York’s “upper ten” - the top families of the city. Her struggles to fit society’s expectations of a successful lawyer's wife are made more difficult by her husband’s reluctance to treat their marriage as anything more than a comfortable arrangement; in fact, his proposal is phrased as “doing him a favor.” Despite the strain, Evelyn attempts to embrace Peter’s world, including his arrogant family and his apparent interest in spiritualism. She attends a spirit circle led by Michel Jourdain and quickly judges him a charlatan bent on duping her husband and the society widow, Dorothy Bennett. But Evelyn is forced into a deeper understanding of Michel’s world when Peter is later found murdered and she stands accused of the act. Peter’s family and friends ruthlessly turn against her, all except for Mrs. Bennett and Peter’s law partner Benjamin Rampling. He boldly steps in to help clear Evelyn’s name. But almost everyone in Evelyn’s acquaintance is hiding secrets from the past that hold the key to her future. She must rely on help from unexpected sources to avoid the hangman’s noose.

The Spiritualist is an engaging story, with memorable characters; each fleshed out in full to give the reader a great perspective. Michel Jourdain is striking yet reveals unexpected facets of his personality. Peter Atherton is tragic and tortured, yet he shows a surprising inner strength. Evelyn, who struggles so hard to become what she is not, learns that her destiny is in her own hands. Ms. Chance effortlessly portrays New York society at its worst and best of the period and makes it easy for the reader to dive into that world. There’s a temptation to race to the ending of the story but the journey with the characters holds the reader’s interest. With unexpected twists and a startling conclusion, Ms. Chance has written a beautiful novel. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


One of my favourite things is hot peppers in oil. I add this to a nice plate of pasta. My mother and my aunts always made it and gave me a jar or two for my pantry. They don't have a recipe, so I was always afraid to try it because it is preserving and there is always a risk.

I subscribe to an About newsletter on Italian food. Earlier today, I received their most recent edition and there was the instructions for making sott'olio. I immediately ran to the Safeway and purchased a handful of hot red peppers, small mason jars, vinegar, and olive oil.

So tomorrow I'll tackle this project. The peppers my family uses are the small long red ones, so I'll be cutting them into small pieces and then preserving them in oil.

Can't wait!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mirella's Bean and Beef Casserole

We've had so much rain here in western Canada lately that we have hardly had a chance to barbecue. So today, I made my all-time screaming family favourite casserole. Thought I would share it with you all since it's easy to make. Fair warning, I remember my mom making a similar casserole when I was a kid, but I never had the recipe. So all the ingredients are from my own invention or enhancement from watching her all those years ago. But you can never go wrong if you vary the ingredients.

3 cans Heinz beans in tomato sauce
2 lbs ground beef
1 can Campbell's tomato soup
1/2 cup Ketchup or your favourite barbecue sauce (I like Cattleboys)
1 onion
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup soya sauce

Carmelize the onion and garlic. Add the ground beef and brown well. Add the remaining ingredients. Pour into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Vengeance is Mine by Brandy Purdy

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In 16th century England, when Henry VIII reigns as king, Lady Jane (nee Rochford) Boleyn falls madly in love with her new husband, George Boleyn. But Jane becomes obsessively convinced that George carries a torch for another woman – his sister Anne Boleyn, second wife of the king. Anne Boleyn becomes the object of her scorn.

As the pressure builds for Anne to provide a male heir for the king, Jane’s frustration with her marriage and her hatred for her sister-in-law builds into treachery and betrayal by providing evidence that Anne and George indulged in an incestuous relationship. This is just the excuse the king needs to get out of his marriage to Anne and enter into a new marriage with the lovely Jane Seymour.

After sending her Anne, George, and three other male supporters of the queen to the gallows, Jane’s life spirals into a lonely, shunned existance which ultimately leads to her demise.

Once again, Brandy Purdy has written an excellent, fictional account of the life of this little known woman. Ms. Purdy’s dramatic style and flair for storytelling made this book a highly enjoyable read. She has an uncanny ability to highlight both the the faults and the good qualities of her characters. Where history is vague, Purdy entertains by filling in the blanks with intriguing plots, shocking behaviour, and unusual elements.

Historical fiction can be challenging at times. Information and resources can be vague or even contradictory at times. Some details are left to the author’s sole interpretation. Brandy Purdy filled in these blanks and enhanced her version of history with her own creative detail and imagination in order to spin a vivid, colorful tale of the horrors of the Tudor court. For those who long to read a story well-told and who are open minded enough to permit the introduction of colorful, rich, and vibrant fictionalized details, this is fiction at its best. A great book to snuggle up to which will keep you turning pages long into the night. Having read both of Brandy Purdy’s books, I am truly a fan, not only because of her lyrical prose and strong writing, but for the intriguing tales she weaves above and beyond similar novels of the genre.