Christmas in Prague


 This is a re-posting of a blog from 2020 about Christmas in Prague, where my husband and I lived for a year.

     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 an 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!


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas


After spending Christmas last year in Utah with my son, his wife, and their brand-new baby girl, we were ready to do Christmas here.

The lead-up was a cookie exchange at our clubhouse.







These cookies are mine, made from a recipe of my mother’s. Chocolate drop cookies frosted, with cherries.

We finally found a spot for the huge wreath we always hung on our stone chimney in the living room of our old house: in the clubhouse, where it serves as a centerpiece! Just the right fit.






Soon after we had our luminary night, early because a lot or our residents leave for Christmas to vaction in warm places or to visit family. This is a charity event for the Ronald MacDonald House and almost everyone participates.






Welcome to our home!























This year I decorated our mantel – we’ve never had one before! – and placed the creche on our sideboard. Then the carolers took pride of place on top of the mediumboy (it’s called that because the top part, which would make it a highboy, was missing when my mom bought it.






I finally figured out a way to display our Christmas cards, using paper clips to clip them to our tobacco basket.







And finally the tree. After decades of real trees, we decided we couldn’t manage one any more – putting it up and taking it down and vacuuming needles. And remembering to water it. I do miss the smell of a real tree but this manufactured one is OK. It’s big enough to hold most of our ornaments, collected over the years, it doesn’t need watering, doesn’t shed, and is relatively easy to assemble. And it looks pretty real. It also comes with three types of lighting: clear (yellow) lights, colored lights without the clear ones, and colored lights with clear ones. We like all the colors!




























This is our favorite – all the colors.

I hope you enjoyed the tour! We send all the joys of the holiday season from our house to yours!


Book Review: Murder and Mischief by Carole Hedges (@riotgrandma72) #RBRT #Victorian mystery


The book was given to me by the author for a review by Rosie’s Book Review Team.

I’ve read and reviewed Murder and Mayhem, a previous book by this author, and liked it so much I jumped at the chance to review this one.

Ms. Hedges has cleverly entwined two stories in this, the tenth outing of her Victorian mystery series. The setting is London in 1868, and the city itself quickly becomes a main character because of the colorful, detailed descriptions the author creates for the reader.

In the plot, Detective Inspector Grieg of Scotland Yard is called to Hill House, the upper-class residence of Mr. Barrowclough, a very wealthy real estate developer. A ‘snowman’ has been found in his garden by his two sons. The ‘snowman’ is a man’s frozen body, covered thickly from a recent snowfall. Mr. Barrowclough denies knowledge of the man, although one of his old hats is part of the snowman’s clothing. Grieg is convinced the dead man is linked to Barrowclough’s business, which entails buying land near where the London underground railway is planned to plow through, putting up cheap houses, and selling them at a high price because of location. But he has to probe into Barrowclough’s history to get to the truth. The second story is pure Dickens – two children, Flitch and Liza, escape from the workhouse where they were forced to go with their mother after their father left them for work in America. The mother died there, and Flitch is determined to make a life for himself and his sister in London. They are trailed there by their father who returns to claim them and also by the managers of the workhouse, once the father offers a reward for finding them. Also on their trail is a female detective the father hires.

The reader is faced, along with the main characters, with some challenging questions? Can Flitch and Liza survive in London when they arrive with only the clothes on their backs? Who will ultimately find them – their father, the detective, the greedy workhouse managers? Why is Barrowclough receiving parcels containing dead birds, which frighten him? How are they linked to the dead man?

I loved this book. Ms. Hedges writes in the present tense and breaks the wall by talking directly to the reader at various times, usually to presage a jump from one plot to the other. Some readers may not like this technique but I found it pulled me directly into the action and setting. Her background descriptions of the rich and the poor sides of London are exceptional: public houses, the docks, the Chinese enclave, fashionable stores, mansions, apartments, and hovels. And all without excessive detail. The poverty, dirt, noise, and smoke are very real. She also makes clear the role of women at the time, the consequences of poverty, the rapacious nature of real estate developers, and a host of other societal problems, but by inference and not preaching. Even the minor characters are well-drawn with the nuances of life in London for the various strata of society.

The plots take the reader hither and yon and the resolution of each is unexpected and satisfying.

A resounding five stars for this book. If you like Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, this is for you.

There are nine other books in this series, each of which is related by the characters but is a stand-alone in terms of reading. I highly recommend reading all of them!

About the author:

Carol Hedges is the successful UK writer of 11 books for teenagers/Young Adults. Her novel Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. She is currently writing a series of Victorian Crime Fiction novels, set in 1860s London and published under her own imprint: Little G Books: Diamonds & Dust,  Honour & Obey, Death & Dominion and now Murder & Mayhem.

In the past, she taught at secondary school. Currently retired, she tutors A and GCSE English. She lives in Hertfordshire, England, and is married with a grown-up daughter.

You can find her on twitter: @carolJhedges

and Facebook:

Her blog is:

Murder and Mischief can be found on Amazon:

A Walk Around the Block


I have so many fellow bloggers who post about their walks in their beautiful environs (England, Ireland, Scotland, Spain) that I am almost embarrassed to tell you that mine are largely in church parking lots and on sidewalks. We do have a trail in our vicinity (the American Tobacco Trail) but getting to it is a problem, and I hate having to drive to get someplace to walk.

Most of you know I am a swimmer. I am in a pool as soon as the water gets to 68 or 69oF (that’s roughly 20oC) and don’t leave until I’m forced out when the pools close in the fall. After that, the choices are the gym (a 20-minute drive) or walking. Now I have nothing against walking. It is fine exercise. But with two replaced knees, arthritic feet, and polio-weakened legs, it becomes a tour d’ my force to get out there. Having a Fitbit helps because I can challenge myself with how many steps I take.

So, I thought I would show bore treat you to some of the things I do see on my walk that catch my interest.

The first is a pattern I spotted in the sod of an area in our development. Sod turns brown in the fall – at least ours does, and also soaks up water so walking on it is like sinking into a wet sponge – but in this part, it browned in an interesting pattern. Not sure what caused it.

The second is the leaf patterns that are left on the sidewalk after a heavy rain and a day or so of drying out. The leaves seem determined to leave their mark, even when they’ve left their trees.

Other sights that I do enjoy:

A favorite old tree stands in the field near us. It is gnarled and needs trimming (when the HOA thinks they can afford it) and an arborist sold me he thinks it’s a walnut. It stands on what was once a farm, which was sold for the building of this community.

Another is the mailbox left from the farm that sat alone in the middle of the field. Occasionally I found flyers in it. It was uprooted when the developers labeled some worn-down grass in the field as ‘nature paths.”

There is a barn, semi-collapsed in the woods along the road that led to the farm, and the creek that runs through the eastern part of the property.

It’s called Crooked Creek and there was, when we first moved here, a lovely old arched stone bridge over it. This allowed walkers to take the road through the woods and visit a small pond. The developers did not like the fact that off-road vehicles accessed the aforementioned field and tore it up, so they tore the bridge down. Brilliant, expedient thinking.

So that’s my tour. If we ever get any snow, I’ll take more pictures. Or maybe on the Tobacco Trail. I’m hoping to get an electric bike for Christmas!

Book Review: Foxe and the Black Beast: An Ashmole Foxe Georgian Mystery by William Savage (@penandpension) #RBRT # Georgian mystery


This review is for Rosie’s Book Review Team. The book was purchased by the reviewer.

Foxe and the Black Beast is the tenth in the Ashmole Foxe series, and I’ve read every one of them and reviewed most because I find the central character, Ashmole Foxe, so compelling. I’ve enjoyed the way he has evolved from a dandified, hedonistic, man-about-town to a settled, newly married man with a beautiful and very intelligent wife. In this latest adventure, the Dean of Norwich calls on Foxe, a rare bookseller and now recognized as the premier investigator in the city, to find the killer of a member of the clergy. The man, Reverend Bing, who insists on being called Prebendary Bing (a type of canon who has a role in the administration of a cathedral), is found dead at the base of the front steps, his head bashed in.

Bing is a thoroughly unlikeable character – greedy, ignorant, pretentious, disagreeable, penurious, and immune to the needs of the people who are in his spiritual care. The book begins with two chapters devoted to the parishes from which Bing collects tithes that contribute to his income, whether the parishioners can afford it or not. The first is a very poor one, consisting largely of fishermen, and the second, a richer one which he also ignores. He has risen to his position of Prebendary and overseer of two parishes largely through toadying to the Church’s higher-ups. He imagines himself on the way to becoming a bishop, if he marries well and prevails upon the right people.

I especially enjoyed the first chapter, which described in flowing and evocative prose the northern coast of Norfolk, where the poorer parish is found. The author is at his absolute best in his wonderful descriptions of the countryside and also the city of Norwich.  The following chapters describing Bing and the questions surrounding him had me hooked perhaps more than any other book in the series.

Foxe is frustrated with this case, which poses so an endless list of questions. Bing was dressed up and went out for the night, but where had he gone and why did he return so late? Why did he frequently venture out dressed as a bishop, when he is really nothing more than a common reverend? And where is his ebony walking cane with the silver knob, which he is never without?

The street children of Norwich are eyes and ears for Foxe and he uses them to help answer some of these questions, but not before hearing that they call him the Black Beast because he is always dressed in black and he frightens and threatens them.

Many of the characters in the previous books return: Foxe’s wife, the clever and much younger Lucy, who helps him when he hits a dead end in his investigations; the Cunning Woman, Mistress Tabby, an herbalist and the source of much information from the street, who took care of a street boy beaten to death by Bing; Mrs. Crombie, an entrepreneurial widow who runs his bookshop very profitably; and Alderman Halloran, Lucy’s uncle and the city’s former mayor, with whom Foxe spends time discussing his investigations and also for whom he purchases rare books.

Foxe find there are a number of possible murderers with the means and motive to kill Bing, and he follows them in a logical sequence, ending at many dead ends. Some readers might find Foxe’s methods of investigation a bit plodding, but these are Georgian times and life moves at the different pace. The pace is actually enjoyable because it allows the reader to think about the mystery and Foxe’s next steps.

I deduced the killer before the end of the book, but as one who writes mysteries, this is normal. I suspect everyone else will be left hanging until the end. The killer’s identity is unlikely, to say the least.

What more can be said? Mr. Savage’s plots are complex and believable, his settings beautifully described and historically precise, and his characters three-dimensional and compelling. I am a devourer of his mysteries and when I finished this one, it was like finishing a slice of chocolate cake. When will I get the next serving?

Foxe and the Black Beast is one of the best, if not the best, in this series and I highly recommend it.

About the author:

William Savage grew up in Hereford, on the border with Wales and took his degree at Cambridge. After a working life largely spent teaching and coaching managers and leaders in Britain, Europe and the USA, he retired to Norfolk, where he volunteers at a National Trust property and started to write fiction as a way of keeping his mind active in retirement. He had read and enjoyed hundreds of detective stories and mystery novels and another of his loves was history, so it seemed natural to put the two together and try his hand at producing an historical mystery. To date, he has focused on two series of murder-mystery books, both set in Norfolk between 1760 and around 1800; a period of turmoil in Britain, with constant wars, the revolutions in America and France and finally the titanic, 22-year struggle with France and Napoleon.

Norfolk is not only an inherently interesting county, it happens to be where the author lives, which makes the necessary research far easier. The Georgian period seemed natural choice for him as well, since he lives in a small Georgian town, close by several other towns that still bear the imprint of the eighteenth century on many of their streets and grander buildings. It also had the attraction of being a period he had never studied intensively, and so far he has not regretted his choice. The period has far exceeded his expectations in richness of incidents, rapidity of change and plentiful opportunities for anyone with a macabre interest in writing about crimes of every kind. He cannot see himself running out of plot material any time soon!

You can find Foxe and the Black Beast on Amazon:

You can also find William Savage

On Twitter: @penandpension

And on Facebook:

The Real First Thanksgiving


With my recent posts, I’ve tried to create an accurate historical lead-up to the first Thanksgiving. This is a piece I posted in 2014 and again in 2017. It seems appropriate for tomorrow!

Much has been written about the first Thanksgiving which took place at Plimoth Colony. Here is some information that is probably closer to the truth.

First Thanksgiving I                 The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899)

The voyage from Plymouth, England, had taken 65 days. Once the decision to settle on the shores of the harbor of what is now Plymouth, MA, the Pilgrims faced a daunting future:they had no houses, no stored goods, no knowledge of the country they faced, nor any knowledge of its inhabitants besides wild stories of cannibals. And the season was winter, harsh and cruel. A common house that had been built to house some of the Pilgrims burned on January 14, 1621, and those who had lived there had to return to the Mayflower for shelter.

Pilgrims going to church                  Pilgrims going to church (1867) by George Henry Boughton, New York Public Library

Sickness swept through both the colonists and the crew of the Mayflower. It is knot know what this sickness was, although it is thought it was pneumonia and scurvy. At one point, only seven of the entire population were well enough to care for the remaining 150, fetching wood for fires, making food, bathing and dressing the sick. When the sickness was over, only 12 of 26 men with families, 4 of the 12 single men and boys, and all but five of the women survived.

Despite their reduced numbers, they soon set about laying out First Street (Leyden Street) and setting the foundations for a fort at the top of the street. The colonist noticed Native Americans near their settlement in mid-February, and the two groups final met on Friday, March 16th.
Squanto and MassasoitThis is the famous encounter that involved Samoset, an Abenaki Sagamore from what is now Maine; he entered the developing village and said “Welcome, Englishmen.” Samoset had learned English from the English fishermen who crossed the North Atlantic each year to fish for cod, some of whom remained on small islands off the coast of Maine. He told the Pilgrims of a great plague which had killed the Patuxet people who had previously lived on that spot: indeed, the Pilgrims had found cleared farmland when they disembarked.

The local Native Americans, the Wampanoag tribal confederation, were very distrustful of the English because some had been kidnapped and sold into slavery by Thomas Hunt, an English captain who had visited the area a few years before.

Samoset returned with another Native American, Squanto, on March 22nd; Squanto was one of the men taken by Hunt, had been sold as a slave in Spain, escaped to London and returned to American as a guide. He became the colony’s interpreter and worked on their behalf in their interactions with the Wampanoags. As a result, the regional sachem of the Wampanoags, Massasoit, visited the Pilgrims. There was an exchange of gifts, and a treaty was signed that lasted for over 50 years. Massasoit’s purpose in aligning with the Pilgrims was to provide protection for his tribe, which had been decimated by disease, from surrounding tribes.

It was his suggestion that the fields south of the brook be turned by hand and crops of wheat, barley, Indian corn and peas were planted in early April. Work continued on the houses, and the Mayflower finally left the colony to return to England on April 5th.

Learning to plant cornThe first Thanksgiving was not really a thanksgiving but instead a traditional English harvest celebration to which the colonists invited Massasoit and members of the Wampanoag. It is generally thought to have occurred in November of 1621, but might have been at the end of the summer.

First Thanksgiving II                                 The First Thanksgiving, Jenny Augusta Brownscombe 1914

I have eaten a traditional Pilgrim meal, and I can vouch for the fact that the food was very tasty and filling. There are no records of exact fare of this harvest meal, but Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow noted that the colony’s governor, William Bradford, sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for what was to be a three-day event. Wild turkeys were plentiful in the area and a common food source for both English settlers and Native Americans. But it is just as likely that ducks, geese and swans, which frequently graced Pilgrim tables, were also on the menu. Both the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims occasionally stuffed birds and fish, typically using herbs, onions or nuts to add extra flavor. Deer were also killed and roasted venison would have been on the menu.

Turkey for ThanksgivingStrangely, in a land where the shoreline and coastal rivers were teeming with salmon, cod, flounder, shad, haddock, and sea bass, the Pilgrims were not huge fish-eaters. From Edward Winslow, we also know the Pilgrims ate lobster, which were in such abundance they could be collected by the bushels from tidal pools. But familiarity soon bred contempt, and the Pilgrims came to regard them as food for the poor. They also collected and ate eels, mussels and clams but later, with the arrival of livestock, fed the mussels and clams to their pigs.

First Thanksgiving IV                                   A Re-enactment of the First Thanksgiving at Plimoth=Patuxet

The Pilgrims had brought no livestock with them. The first cattle — three cows and a bull — did not arrive in Massachusetts until 1623 so in 1621 they were without butter, cheese, milk, and cream.

There is no indication that cranberries were served at the feast, but they did occur in Wampanoag dished, adding tartness. Remember that it is unlikely there was any sugar in the Plimoth Colony, although honey might have been available. However, there were plentiful wild gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries.

Forget baked or mashed potatoes. Potatoes, sweet or white, would have been unknown at the time, but the Wamanoag ate a variety of other root vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, wild onions, Indian turnip and water lily.

What about pumpkin? Was it on the menu? Pumpkins and squash were native to New England, and while the American varieties were new to the Pilgrims, they were hardly exotic. However, the fledgling colony didn’t have the butter and wheat flour for making piecrust.

What they did have is corn, a colorful, hard corn that the Pilgrims referred to as Indian corn. It was a staple for the Wampanoag and quickly become a fixture in Pilgrim cooking pots. “Our Indian corn,” wrote Edward Winslow,” even the coarsest, maketh as pleasant a meat as rice.” In other words, the Pilgrim quickly learned to adapt traditional English dishes of porridge, pancakes and bread to flour made with the native corn.

Indian CornThe Pilgrims ate with spoons and knives but forks were unknown, so they also used their fingers a lot.

Of course no one knows exactly what it was like to be living in the Plimoth Colony in 1621, but I am lucky to have come as close as possible to the history and have let my imagination do the rest in my book, The Last Pilgrim..

May everyone, no matter their food preference, have a wonderful and warm Thanksgiving, and be mindful of all the blessings bestowed on us as Americans — blessings for which the Pilgrims gave so much and to which the Wampanoags contributed so much, ensuring their survival.

Book Review: Making Waves by Thorne Moore (@ThorneMoore)#RBRT #science fiction #thriller


I truly believe Thorne Moore could write a five-star book about a paper bag. She has challenged herself by writing in books of different genres and her readers (including myself) have found them all compelling. I did not read the first book in this series (Inside Out) but no matter, this book qualifies as a stand-alone. I chose it because I wanted to see how the author fared with science fiction, and she fares very well indeed.

The setting: Two hundred years into the future, human civilization has populated various moons and planets in what is collectively called the Outer Circle. Triton station, the Outer Circle headquarters of Ragnox, Inc., on the moon of Neptune, is as far as the intrepid can go unless exploring. Ragnox is the unassailable villainous corporation ruling over the territory with its psychopathic boss, Pascal. One of the activities he oversees, in addition to mining, uses so-called mutants, generations born in the Outer Circle of the solar system who have enhanced psychic abilities, as guinea pigs for horrendous scientific experimentation. The only challenges to Pascal’s ruthless pursuit of money and power are Pan, a rival, but less powerful, company, and a dissident news organization called Ocean Waves, which makes public the excesses and evils of Ragnox.

The author manages to create the setting with a minimalist approach to its description. She does not spend a lot of time on the scientific details – the atmosphere for O2-breathing creatures, space suits, gravity establishment etc – but lets the reader imagine it from various names (leviathans and the Ark, for example).

The Characters: There are a lot of characters in this book, and I wish the list of them with their roles was placed at the beginning of the book rather than at the end. I became somewhat lost trying to sort them all out until I discovered the list, a problem for an e-book reader.

Tod Fox, captain of the freighter Heloise, delivers six foolhardy volunteers to Triton for seven years of servitude in return for a monetary windfall at the end of their service. Most volunteers don’t survive, so it’s a win-win for Ragnox. These volunteers get to know each other well during the long voyage out and form the nucleus of a family with Tod at its head. Among them is Yasmin Gwynn, who is delivered to Triton but then taken away. She becomes the head of Ocean Waves and a pain in the side of Pascal, who lives to find and eliminate her. The others are Smith, a communications wizard who becomes a member of Pascal’s star chamber and a threat to Pascal when he escapes; Clytemnestra, who rises through the ranks to run the Triton brothel; Merrit Burnand, who works as a medical assistant and sees all of the horror of Triton laboratories and forced labor; and Peter Seldon and Abigail Dieterman, engineers. All survive their servitude to become involved in the effort to bring Ragnox to its knees.

The characters are all really well-developed, so the reader has no difficulty sorting them out. Their emotions are very real and the reader can easily form a strong connection with each of them. The dialogue is crisp and even occasionally humorous.

The plot: The book jumps from main character to main character (another reason for knowing who they are at the beginning, along with their supporting personae) and brings each one forward at a time. The plot is full of twists and turns, so the reader needs to pay attention. It’s complicated so I won’t give more away, but know that it is a classical tale of good vs evil, of greed and lust for power, and the human desire for justice. And there’s even a super weapon, which makes the book a nail-biter towards the end.

Thorne Moore is an exceptional writer.  With this book, she delivers, as usual, a real sense of place – even without a lot of detail – and her characters are compelling.

Her plot is complicated and clever and keeps the reader engrossed in the story.

Highly recommended, and I am looking forward to the third book in the series and will go back to read the first!

About the author:

Thorne Moore grew up in Luton, near London, but has lived in Pembrokeshire in West Wales for the last 35 years. Her father was a Labor councilor and her mother once got the sack for calling her boss a male chauvinist pig, so she developed strong views about the way the world works. Her headmaster advised her to study law, but that implied a career in law, and the only career she wanted was as a writer. So she studied history instead, and nine years later, after a spell working in a library, she returned to Wales to run a restaurant with her sister. She did finally get her law degree, but these days, she writes. When she’s not writing, she makes miniature furniture, through her craft business, Pear Tree Miniatures.

Thorne Moore is a member of the Crime Writers Association and Crime Cymru, and, with fellow author Judith Barrow, organizes the Narbert Book Fair.

She writes psychological crime, or domestic noir, with a historical twist, focusing on the cause and consequences of crimes rather than on the details of the crimes themselves along with historical and family dramas.

You can find Thorne Moore

On twitter: @ThorneMoore


On Facebook:

Or on her blog, Thorny Matters:

In Flander’s Field


In recognition of Veteran’s Day, I am reposting this from previous years.

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.

Book review: The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw (@PennyHaw) #rbrt #historical fiction #first British female veterinary surgeon


This is the heartwarming and remarkable story of Aleen Isabel Cust, England’s first female veterinary surgeon, and a book I thoroughly enjoyed. The author explains that while the main character is real and many of the events in her life are recorded, this is not a biography. But what she’s created is completely believable.

Aleen Cust’s first memories are of her life in Ireland with her aristocratic family. She loves their animals, especially the horses, and delights in racing and hunting on horseback with her brothers. She is also unusually educated for the time because she gets to share her brother’s tutor. But she also knows that many of the opportunities given to her brothers she can’t share because she is a girl. Nevertheless, when she first meets a veterinary surgeon, she is struck with the idea that this is what she wants to be.

When her father dies, the family has to leave Ireland for England because he had been an overseer of land owned by someone else. Leaving their beloved horses and dogs behind, Aleen vows to return once she achieves her dream.  When she tells her mother of her plans for her future, and the family, especially her mother, is appalled by the idea and emphatically forbids it, citing the shame it would bring on them.

When she meets and is drawn into a family that is friends with her own, she finds their daughter shares the same passion for her own life and career. This young woman is allowed to go hunting and will train as a nurse, and Aleen’s dream is reignited. But the only thing her overbearing mother will allow her to do is train as a nurse, which she soon finds is stultifying and stifling. Working in the city instead of the country and the patriarchal relationship between physicians and nurses make her resentful. She quits.

After some years, the heavens align (I can’t reveal how!) and she finds a way to attend the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, which sets her on the path to her dream but which alienates her from her family forever. The trials of school and her training thereafter make a wonderful read, but what she does with the rest of her life is nothing short of amazing.

Using available research, the author has crafted a wondrous story of Aleen’s ambition, determination against all odds, and battle for equality that is won with courage, passion and friendship. The storytelling is riveting and filled with tension. The reader is left wondering How could she have done this?  when reading about Aleen’s daily challenges and obstacles and the years it took her to accomplish her goal.

Each of the characters comes alive and the reader becomes invested in their lives as well, and one can’t help feeling the same about the dogs and horses that run through Aleen’s life. The complexity of Aleen’s relations with various members of her family, especially her mother and older brother, is both frustrating and difficult to absorb, so different from the present day, and the reader can feel the conflict between Aleen’s loyalty and love for them and her absolute certainty that the family’s plans for her future are not something she can accept.

 The historical background of England and Ireland from the late 1800s through WWI is meticulously presented and I learned a great deal about the treatment of the horses that were central to the war. The author did considerable research on veterinary surgery of the time – I am very impressed.

In short, this is a terrific read about a woman in the trenches of the war against historical patriarchy and appallingly unequal societal norms. It is also colorful, personal, and filled with warmth and passion.

I reviewed the author’s previous book, The Wilderness Between Us, and gave it five stars. The same for The Invincible Miss Cust.

About the author:

Penny Haw is also the author of The Wilderness Between Us, winner of the WFWA 2022 Star Award in the general category; and a children’s book called Nicko, The Tale of a Vervet Monkey on an African Farm. She worked as a journalist and columnist for more than three decades, with bylines in many of South Africa’s leading newspapers and magazines before yielding to a lifelong yearning to create fiction.  Her stories feature remarkable women, illustrate her love for nature, and explore the interconnectedness of all living things. Writing is her profession and lifelong passion. She lives near Cape Town.


The author can be found

On twitter: @Penny Haw

And online at two sites:  and



Diana Peach is making a stop here in Chapel Hill on her whirlwind book tour of her latest book, The Necromancer’s Daughter. I decided to take her to the Carolina Coffee Shop, located in the heart of downtown, for breakfast, to give her a taste of this college town.

This coffee shop has the proud distinction of being the oldest continually running restaurant in North Carolina, serving Tar Heels for nearly a century.


After ordering their signature cornflake French toast for both of us along with coffee, I take the opportunity to find out more about her new book.

Noelle: Is there any basis for The Necromancer’s Daughter, which, by the way, I think is fabulous…no kidding!

Diana: The Necromancer’s Daughter is based on Chinese mythology and the story of Kwan-yin, which I shared in a post on my blog. For a while, I considered setting the story in a fantastical setting similar to China or Japan, employing relevant names, customs, clothing, foods, plants, and dragons. It’s a part of the world that fascinates me, and I thought it would be very cool for this story.

Noelle: So is that the book’s basis?

Diana: What I learned very early on is that the old saying “write what you know” applied. Or more accurately, “don’t write what you don’t know at all.” I realized that no amount of research was going to make me sound like I knew what I was talking about, so with the exception of some inconsequential details, I let it go. My fantasy world is simply the world in my head, and I know that one quite well.

Noelle: I do know about research, and it can be overwhelming at times…

Our French toast arrives, and after adding the usual maple syrup, I ask: Tell me about some of the quirks you’ve developed while writing. Do you have any?

Diana: I get up at 4:00 to start writing… every day. Most days, I stay in my flannel snowman pajamas and slippers for the duration. If for some reason I need to weed the garden or go to the post office, I just throw on a sweatshirt and head out.

Noelle: I don’t start at 4 AM, but I do my best writing in my robe and nightgown. What if you have to meet someone, like me, for a formal interaction?

Diana:  You’re right. Sometimes, I actually need to wear grown-up clothes, so I don’t embarrass my family.  If I dress before my coffee fix, while I’m still a zombie, I invariably end up wearing something inside out or backwards. I’ve left the house in this condition on a number of occasions, the little tag on my shirt flapping below my chin.

Noelle: So have you done research for any of your books?

Diana: Since you’re amazing at in-depth research, I thought I’d confess that I’m not. Lol. I research, of course, even for fantasy, but not to the depth required by historical fiction.
I can tell you how much a year-old pig weighs or how to treat an arrow wound or the sequence of human decomposition, but those are quick internet searches, not REAL research.

Noelle: How deeply do you get immersed in your writing?

Diana:  I can tell you, I get fully immersed in the world I’m creating and will mirror my characters’ expressions on my face as I write. My husband can tell exactly what type of scene I’m working on just by looking at me, and he frequently asks me if I’m okay.

Noelle:  How do you feel about your characters? Do they become part of you?

Diana:  I believe that when we create characters, we create real energetic entities who are capable of living beyond our pages and having an impact on the world. They’re the characters we fall in love with and learn from, the ones who change us. Once created, they can’t be uncreated. We set them free to live their lives independently of us, and we never forget them.  In a way, they’re just like “real” people we’ve interacted with but never met. We are all characters crafting our own stories, but if you haven’t met me, how do you know I’m real? And would it matter either way? Hmmm. There’s a premise for a book somewhere in there!

We finish our breakfast, drink two more cups of coffee, and chatter on before I let her go!

Here is my review of The Necromancer’s Daughter.

About the book

A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, breathes life into the wisp of the dead child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she, too, learns to heal death.

Denied a living heir, the widowed king spies from a distance. But he heeds the claims of the fiery Vicar of the Red Order—in the eyes of the Blessed One, Aster is an abomination, and to embrace the evil of resurrection will doom his rule.

As the king’s life nears its end, he defies the vicar’s warning and summons the necromancer’s daughter. For his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade. Armed with righteousness and iron-clad conviction, the Red Order’s brothers ride into the leas to cleanse the land of evil.

To save her father’s life, Aster travels beyond Verdane’s wall, where her pursuers must stop, into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a wilderness of dragons and barbarian tribes. She must cross this land to reach the Mountains of Blackrock, where her uncle Atrayal rules. There she hopes to persuade him to help place her on the throne of Verdane.

Unprepared for a world rife with danger and unchecked power, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—the son of the Vicar of the Red Order.

My comments:

This is probably the finest fantasy novel I have ever read, right up there with Lord of the Rings. Where do I begin? Perhaps with the world itself, which is completely imaginative and creative. The author’s ability to create such worlds I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of her other books, but with this one, she has excelled even herself.

Complimenting this skill is the author’s way with words. She writes so beautifully that I often stopped to reread a page, just to enjoy the descriptions.

“…a mellow sun slanted across the meadow, turning the white swale of asters gold. A cool sea wind strayed though the garden and rustled the cherry trees. It clattered on the shutter and stole its way inside, carrying subtle fragrances of brine, chrysanthemums and chimney smoke.”

The story itself is compelling. A tale of good vs evil, with unexpected twists, set in this magical world.

Her characters are vivid: Barus with his broken body and kind heart; Taemus Graeger, Vicar of the Red Order, once a grieving father seeking the necromancer’s help, now a vicious seeker of anyone practicing witchcraft; the white-haired Aster, the still born child of the king, brought to life by Barus and determined to learn how to do this herself; Joreh Gaeger, son of the Vicar and a soldier of the Red Order, who finds himself conflicted by the Order’s holy tenets and his sense of rightness that he should help Aster when she is captured; and Teko, a huge man of the forest brought back to life by Aster.  Each of these main characters display the faults and frailties, generosities and kindnesses, strengths and weaknesses, and conflictions of life that make us human…and so relatable, especially the love between father and daughter. .

Did I mention dragons! Oh, there are dragons! Used in battle by forces of Blackrock, they flew over Aster’s home and she fed one of them apples – one with shades of silver and black marbling its scales – and they establish a bond. The dragons have minds of their own, but certain people can communicate with them and Aster turns out to be one.

I could not put this book down – until my eyelids drooped – and inhaled the story like a gourmet meal. This is, I think, the best of the author’s books on so many levels, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Necromancer’s Daughter Links:

Amazon Global Link

Barnes & Noble:




About the author:

A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked.

In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography.

Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

The author can be found

On twitter: @Dwallacepeach

On her blog:

On her website: