The Great British Bump Off

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This past weekend, some members of the Triangle Sisters in Crime took part in a murder mystery game via Zoom called the Great British Bump Off. A take off on a play by the same name which premiered at the Hexagon in Reading, England last September, it was, like the play, a take-off on the Great English Baking Show. I am addicted to this show, which features two judges and a dozen bakers in a tent, where a group of amateur bakers compete against each other in a series of rounds, attempting to impress a group of judges with their baking skills.

 

The scene of the Great British Bump Off has to be the tent in a field in Welford Park, the existing house a private residence built on the site of a monastery in Newbury and belonging to the same family for 400 years.

                         Baking is done in a tent in a field adjacent to the house.

Description: Tension is high inside the big white tent because it’s time for this year’s bakers to face judgment and elimination. But wait! Stop those timers! Our esteemed judge, Shaw G. Bottom, has just been discovered dead in the judge’s tent. The bread round just turned into the dead round.

Populating the tent are a number of colorful characters, among them:

  • Victoria Sponge – a baker from the Isle of Wight. Dressed in white with a slim red belt, Victoria is confident about her classic appeal.

  • Mac O’Roon – a baker from Belfast. In his orange shirt, green trousers and with his golf bag to hand, Mac is a golfer who’s ready to play the long game.

  • Sasha Torte – a baker from Cumbria. This handwriting expert is dressed in dark brown with a frothy white scarf. She always has a piece of chocolate nearby!

  • Brandy Snap – a baker from Gloucestershire. In her jodhpurs and hacking jacket, Brandy knows how to hunt and how to win.

  • Spice-Twice Bryce – a baker from Edinburgh. With his calculator, pen and paper always close to hand, this mathematician knows whose number is up.

  • Whitey Bloomer – a baker from Devon. Dressed in his gardening clothes and wellies, Whitey knows the old ways are best.

I played Whitey Bloomer, part Luddite, part wolf (he is infatuated with Victoria Sponge). The game consists of three rounds of short presentations by each player, the first to introduce themselves and the other two to add information to their bios. In between, the bakers are asked questions by their fellow bakers, the questions designed to elicit facts to help the players figure out ‘who done it.’  The whole thing is moderated by a Chief Investigator.

I took copious notes, then winnowed down what I learned to motive, means and opportunity. We had a large number of players, so there was a lot of information, much of it not useful. In the end we are asked to name the murderer. I had two people at the top of my list, and the second of these was the murderer because I had missed a clue. Drat!

Since we were doing this by Zoom, most of us chose to dress as our characters from the neck up. The best I could do is a worn denim shirt and an old fisherman’s cap.

I would say it was great fun. It might have been better to have fewer characters to speed it up – it took over three hours – and to let non-characters sit in and guess the murderer, allowing unscripted questions at the end.

You can download this game for a modest price From Red Herring Games and it will accommodate from two to twenty players.

A Czech Christmas in Prague

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    When Hubs and I were working in a lab in California, he got an invitation from NSF to spend a year in what was then Czechoslovakia. He accepted and I got to go along with him. What a culture shock! The country was at that point ruled by the Communist party and the capitol city was dull and gray, although we found pockets of beauty during our all-day walks every weekend. We became idiot savants when it came to knowing the tram system and the direction of each numbered tram. When I had learned enough Czech to    converse, I even gave directions to out-of-towners!

 

     We spent Christmas in Prague and were introduced to its customs by the Czech couple, Vladimir and Milada Reznick, who shared their apartment with us. The first tradition we encountered was a visit from Svaty Mikuláš. Svaty Mikuláš (Czech for Saint Nicholas) descends from heaven on a golden cord held by angels, as he returns to earth for his gift-giving rounds each year. In the European advent calendar, St. Nicholas pays a visit to children during the first week of December, bearing gifts of sweets to the well behaved. He is traditionally accompanied by a devil (Čert) and angel (Anděl ). Some friends of mine arranged for me to be visited, and luckily St. Nick gave me a present. The devil is sometimes portrayed as Krampas in a scary costume, usually in the public square along with St. Nick and the angel.

     Vladimir and Milada purchased a Christmas tree – it appeared one evening – and it was lit with real candles! We lived in fear that it would catch fire. but Milada assured us it rarely happened. Right. Good that I couldn’t read the Prague newspaper!

    The traditional Christmas Eve meal is carp soup. The Czechs love polévka, or soup, and Milada was a wonderful soup maker – especially gulašova polévka (gulash soup) and dršťková polévka (tripe soup). Every family would buy a huge carp from enormous tanks found on the streets around the city. They were filled with icy water (it was December after all) and huge carp slowly swimming around in them. The men who sold the fish were in their shirt sleeves with the sleeves rolled up and their forearms were blue from fishing in the tanks and pulling out a fish for you!

Once purchased, the carp was taken home and placed in water in the bathtub and kept until Christmas Eve. (Caveat: Never let your children name the carp) At that point, it would be dispatched, some of the meat saved for the next day, and the rest made into carp soup. Which is, by the way, delicious.

   The traditional Christmas dinner was carp (kapr) schnitzel, made with the fresh carp fillets, along with potato salad. This might seem strange – potato salad at Christmas – but I swear the Czechs make the absolutely best potato salad in the world. And of course the fish was yummy and delightfully fresh (no wonder there).

   And the sweets. Each Czech is born with a sweet tooth. There is a Christmas bread called Vánočka, which gets its name from the Czech word for Christmas, Vánoce. It’s a braided cake made with raisins and almonds. There are also cookies, lots and lots of cookies, Vánoční cukroví / Christmas cookies. We ended our Christmas meal with a variety of those, along with fruit dumplings that Milada made to perfection. These are usually made with plums (if available) and sprinkled with sugar and poppy seeds.

         In the Czech tradition, I wish you  Veselé Vánoce a Šťastný Nový Rok 

                             Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wenceslas Square in Prague at Christmas time. Named for good King Wenceslas!

Book review: Sentinel by Carl Rackman #rbrt #suspense sci-fi thriller

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I will confess I am a fan of Carl Rackman’s books but somehow missed the first book in this series, Voyager.  Nevertheless, I plowed ahead and discovered that the author covered enough of the high points from Voyager that I could hit the ground running. Sentinal did not disappoint me.

Four years have passed since Voyager One sent back chilling photos of a spaceship from deep in interstellar space. However, with terrorism, pandemics and political turmoil consuming the news, the story faded to the back page and the public has accepted it as a hoax. All but the Triumvirate, a global and powerful conspiracy that has inserted itself into the highest levels of various governments. They have created a wall of subterfuge so they themselves can welcome the Visitors, the occupants of the spaceship, who are coming with sinister plans.

Countering the Triumvirate are the strong characters typical of Rackman’s writing: Matt Ramprakash, former airline pilot and now an officer of the British intelligence agency MI5; his wife, Callie Woolf, who once headed the Voyager One mission and who believes that the spaceship is not a hoax; former FBI agent Brad Barnes who now leads Sentinel, a private intelligence and counter-terrorism operation founded to counter the Triumvirate; and Alex Ephraim, a superhuman soldier, thought to be genetically engineered, and a former Triumvirate assassin who has switched sides to join Sentinel.

The story opens a little slowly, which is where I think it could have been improved, but then starts to pick up speed until by the end, the reader is reading and flipping pages as fast as possible. The action scenes are meticulously plotted and easy to visualize and employ incredible technology. From a diversionary airplane hijacking to action on the icy cold and barren reaches of Antarctica, this suspense thriller pulls you in and then delivers a solid punch with a science fiction twist, leading directly to a third book in this series. Which I await.

This is a cracking good read.

About the author

Carl Rackman is a former airline pilot with interests in seafaring and mysteries and lives in Surrey, UK. Since he spent his working life travelling the world, he has developed a keen interest in other people and cultures. And he’s drawn on his many experiences for his writing.

He primarily writes suspense thrillers with a grounded science-fiction theme. He tries to create immersive worlds for the reader to explore, and characters who are more than just vehicles for the story. He also comes a naval military background and have held a lifelong interest in military history and seafaring – all his books usually contain some of these elements. His reading is multi-genre – historical, sci-fi, fantasy and techno – but psychological thrillers are prime.  He started writing in 2016 and is picking up steam!

You can reach him

on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/rackmanbooks/

and at https://carlrackman.com

Sentinel is available on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Sentinel-Voyager-Book-Carl-Rackman-ebook/dp/B08JCMBW2B/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=Carl+rackman&qid=1605795269&s=books&sr=1-3

 

Book review: Liars and Thieves by D. Wallace Peach (@Dwallacepeach) #goblins, elves and changelings

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D. Wallace Peach is, as far as I’m concerned, the master of world creation. In Liars and Thieves, she blends goblins, elves, and changelings against a vivid backdrop that transports you with its gorgeous descriptions.

In the world of Liars and Thieves, there is the Veil, a shimmering wall behind which a malevolent presence, Kalann Il Draak, dwells. He cannot penetrate the wall but unravels its material for seeds of chaos to slip through. And chaos is beginning to spread, beginning with the inexplicable disappearance of members of all three races. Three individuals find themselves placed squarely in the path of the oncoming storm: Elanalue Windthorn (Alue), an elf and a soldier who can’t seem to stop herself from acting without thinking; Talin Raska, a changeling who lives with Alue in the form of her pet martin, but who is actually is a talented liar, thief, and spy for the Changeling Queen; and Naj’ar, a half-breed goblin and a loner, with a talent he cannot control. These characters are so well-limned that the reader finds themself in their heads.

Goblins consider themselves to be superior. They have brilliant minds when it comes to engineering skills. Furthermore, they mine crystals which are the main source of power for the rest of the Borderlands, selling them in a rationing system to the Elves and Changelings. Elves need them to power their world, including weapons, while changelings need their power to be able to morph. The elves are arrogant, competitive, and dismissive of treaties and laws in their pursuit of ways to steal the crystals.  Changelings are just plain devious. It’s no wonder these three characters are enemies for a good part of the story, but fate, calamity, and the powers governing each of these races forces them together to determine just what is happening and why.

If you like elves or goblins or changelings – or just a darned good yarn, this is the book for you.

About the author from Amazon):

Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

The author can be found

On twitter: @Dwallacepeach

On her blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

On her website: dwallacepeachbooks.com

Liars and Thieves can be found on Amazon:

 

In Flander’s Field

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In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

This poem was written by John McCrae. I learned it in school as a child and remember it every Veteran’s Day. My sincere gratitude to all our veterans, living and dead, for the sacrifices they made so we could enjoy freedom.

We’re on a shakedown cruise and the ship is sinking

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Well, we did it! We are moved in, amidst boxes, chaos, spotty (1-2 hours a day) internet, and phones with one bar. Communication is difficult. It took a week for the towel racks to arrive and be installed (they came with the house), and this morning our new washer wouldn’t start. I think the electrician explained what was going on with the trip switch, but I’m still fuzzy.

Garfield was ecstatic to be out of the vet’s boarding cage and spent the first night exploring the new house and walking all over me in bed, head butting for attention, purring in my ear, and licking any exposed skin. Thankfully, he’s calmed down a lot and seems to be at home – sitting on his cat tree by my office sliding glass door, looking around. We got the bird feeder up in the hopes of attracting some birds to amuse him.

Finding things is a continual task. “Do you know where x,y z is, honey?” “No, but I thought I might have seen it in a box in the hall…or was it the garage?”

FedEx now has THREE claims from us for things they said they delivered but didn’t. Problem with the address, they said. It’s a new development, we replied. Get with the program. They never located the packages so someone somewhere has some nice new stuff.

All of the appliances are new, so call me a Luddite. I want my old ones back. THOSE I knew how to use. These have minds of their own, plus more buttons and switches to push than the International Space Station.

Let me tell you about our back yard. Planted with squares of sod, with brown lines in between, the whole thing was flooded two weeks ago in a heavy rain. Before we had moved in. The water was up over our ankles and the sod was floating away. Apparently whoever is in charge of drainage for the community didn’t take that course in landscaping school. All of the water from our uphill neighbors plus the streets came barreling down into our yard due to blocked drains and no other barriers or water run-off pipes, seeking the one drain that was open – a honking big monstrosity in our backyard, not indicated on our survey plat. The sod, what was left of it, died. They replaced the sod and deepened the swale leading to our very own drain, and the construction manager said they’d made changes so it wouldn’t happen again. It’s supposed to rain this week. We have our dinghy all ready to go.

With help from my daughter and her husband, the move was less horrific than we had imagined. They packed and kept a lot of stuff for us, and the movers didn’t break anything – well, one bed, but it’s fixed. We are eternally grateful for all the hard work they put in for us, while working and taking care of our none-month-old grandson. They call themselves the midnight elves.

Our new place does not feel like home – maybe when we have some pictures up? It’s still like living in a hotel. But after 35 or so years in one house, with all its memories, this is a jolt. It was a move we had to make, though – the care of our big house with the pool and four acres was too much and too expensive. I’m just not used to being anywhere else yet.

Pictures next time. Wait, where is my phone?

Setting Sail

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I haven’t posted for a while, a period during which we have been packing and purging our house. I will be away for a while more, as we move next week. Our problem now is that our new house is not ready, so we can’t close on it. It seems that state laws say you cannot move into a house with no appliances (there is a refrigerator there, but no cook top or stove). Which could mean a long time in a hotel.  And a long time for our poor cat to be boarded. Please send a few prayers up that this is resolved for us!

Moving has given me packing brain, along with some underlying melancholia that I am leaving a house in which I raised my kids, spent my entire career, and grew old. There have been some small moments of tears, but I need to move on. Life is a series of changes, and some people, myself included, don’t handle change well.

I’ll be back in November with some posts from my book, The Last Pilgrim. November saw the end of the Mayflower’s journey, but not the end of the many obstacles the Pilgrims faced.

Wish me luck as I embark on my own voyage!

Book Review: Out of the London Mist by Lyssa Medana (@LMedana) #RBRT #Steampunk #Victorian London

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I believe Out of the London Mist may be the first steampunk novel I’ve read. The book was purchased for review by Rosie’s Book Review Team.

The story opens with the visit of John Farnley to the East End of London to the shop of a metal worker who has frequently made parts for Farnley’s aether-powered plane. The shop was the last place John’s brother, Sir Nicholas Farnley, visited before being killed in a nearby street. This area of London was one which Sir Nicholas would never visit, and John is determined to trace his last steps and find his murderer.

John is faced with now being a nobleman, Sir John Farnley, and all that entails, plus having to sort out family business and holdings, which entail the mining of aether crystals, a source of power in Victorian England. He must also comfort his sister-in-law, who was a decorative wife to his brother but proves to be a competent household manager of the little-used London home.

A dense London fog is blanketing London, and it becomes a character unto itself, well drawn by the author. She also creates the world of the East End slums, a deadly place where life is cheap and people walking alone are preyed upon.

John discovers that his brother was helping the father of the metal worker, a rabbi involved in creating something monstrous which now lurks in the mist-shrouded corners of the East End. People are dying from being beaten with inhuman force, and John suspects his brother was one of the victims. Aiding him in his investigation is the resourceful Miss Sylvia Armley, brave and fearless. John has an intimate understanding of the aether lines that flow above London and of the advantages and disadvantages of using aether crystals as a power source, and he is helped to understand why his brother was collaborating with the rabbi by the erudite advice of Professor Entwistle, a close friend of the rabbi.

Together with Miss Armley, John finds travels though the darkest part of London to determine exactly what his brother was doing and to stop the aether-powered monster that killed him. The ending was not at all what I expected, and I can see another book to follow this one.

The author does an excellent job limning her characters and creating a steampunk world. I enjoyed the detail and the dialogue moved crisply along. The most compelling aspect was the way in which she created the foggy world, at once opaque and frightening. The mystery compels you to read on. For my first adventure into steampunk, this book is a winner.

The author tells a good story, and I am going to download some of her other books.

 About the author:

Lyssa Medana is a wife and mother Yorkshire, UK. She loves telling stories and feels privileged to be able to share them. She is fascinated by the odd, the quirky and the unusual and enjoys dipping in to old folklore and English social history, which she shamelessly uses for her writing. Her hobbies include knitting, reading and heckling history documentaries.

Lyssa is the author of a number of other books, among them The Forgotten Village, Digging Up the Past, Tales from the White Hart, and Dinner at Dark.

You can find her on

Twitter: @LMedana

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LMedana/

And on her blog: https://alwaysanotherchapter.co.uk/

Out of the London Mist can be found on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089DHTDDG/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i0

 

Book Review: Drake – Tudor Corsair by Tony Riches (@Tony Riches) #RBRT # historical fiction #Elizabethan era

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Avast, all you fans of Tony Riches! The author has gone to sea, introducing us to Sir Francis Drake. Having confined himself to land with the Tudor series and other wonderful stories of men and women peopling the Tudor era, the author has found his sea legs.

I am, probably like many, cognizant of the name Francis Drake but know little about him except for a vague colorful impression. Born in Devonshire, England, Drake was the son of a tenant farmer on the estate of the earl of Bedford, but was brought up in Plymouth by his relatives, the Hawkins family. The Hawkins worked as merchants and privateers (pirates) and introduced Drake to sailing. The book opens with Drake’s first posting as crew on the Tiger, a slave ship in the flotilla of Hawkins ships. Drake’s thirst for adventure is satisfied as the flotilla is sails to seek fortune and trade goods in the Caribbean after visiting Africa for a cargo of slaves. Riches handles this distasteful aspect of Drake’s life in a straightforward fashion with tact.

He follows Drake through his early voyages and his rise through the ranks to become captain of his own ship. Skirting death and capture by the Spanish during these voyages, he learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life to return to England more than once with a large amount of Spanish treasure, an accomplishment that earned him a substantial reputation along with a fortune.

Queen Elizabeth is intrigued by Drake and secretly encourages his piracy. In 1577, she commissions Drake to lead an expedition around South America through the Straits of  Magellan. Sailing the Golden Hind, he becomes the first to complete circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition, returning with enough Spanish treasure to force the Spanish to assemble an armada to attack England.

 

Writing in first person, the author explores Drake’s motives, audacity, personal disappointments, successes and failures with an objective eye. Riches is terse in detail – something I’ve noticed sets him apart from many of the female writers of the Tudor era – but gives us enough of Drake’s world to put us en scene. As a sailor, I especially liked being at sea with him, feeling the deck roll beneath my feet, the force of a good wind, and the swelling and snapping of the sails.

It was a surprise to discover that Drake was not the swashbuckling, flamboyant figure I thought he was, but a practical man, certainly drawn into Elizabethan court intrigue but not really of it. Riches creates a real person, one whose main pleasure in life is being the captain of a ship, with a purpose for his voyage.

If there is one criticism I would make, it is my frustration with not knowing what the different types of ships mentioned, or on which Drake sailed, look like. A chart or some line drawings at the beginning would have been lovely, along with a map of the Caribbean and the places Drake explored.

Notwithstanding that, I think Tony Riches’ first sea voyage is a successful one that will please not on his usual readers but also anyone drawn to sea adventures.

About the author:

Tony Riches was born in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, and spent part of his childhood in Kenya. He gained a BA degree in Psychology and an MBA from Cardiff University and worked as a Management Consultant, followed by senior roles in the Welsh NHS and Local Government.

After writing several successful non-fiction books, Tony decided to turn to novel writing. His real interest is in the history of the fifteenth century, and now his focus is on writing historical fiction about the lives of key figures of the period. His novels Warwick, The Man Behind the Wars of the Roses and The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham have both become Amazon best sellers.

Today Tony has returned to Pembrokeshire, an area full of inspiration for his writing, where he lives with his wife. In his spare time he enjoys sailing and sea kayaking.

Visit Tony online at

http://www.tonyriches.co.uk,

You can find Drake – Tudor Corsair on Amazon at:

A Lovely Review of the Last Pilgrim by Sally Cronin

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Our much-loved Sally Cronin has posted a wonderful review of my latest book, The Last Pilgrim, on her web site:

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2020/09/10/smorgasbord-book-reviews-historical-the-last-pilgrim-by-noelle-granger/comment-page-1/#comment-360457

I am so honored that she liked it! That book was a labor of love.

 

If you plan to read, are reading, are or have read my book, I’d be so grateful if you’d post a review on Amazon and Goodreads!