What’s Sera Reading? 📚 The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach

As a big fan of the movie “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” I knew I’d like Moggach’s humour. This new book embraces getting older as an adventure rather than a burden.

Pru goes off to a friend’s funeral. Usual old hymns, words of praise and a eulogy. However, it doesn’t sound like the friend Pru knew… It isn’t. She’s gone to the wrong service. Everyone was very welcoming, it was, oddly, a good laugh and more excitement than she’s had for ages. Now she has the dress, why not go to a few more. people aren’t likely to make a scene at a funeral are they? and no one seems to challenge her. its good company.

Poor Pru has been left by her husband of many years and at the grand age of 70 is completely adrift in an unsettling world. Told solely from Pru’s perspective, it’s easy to feel sympathy for her, particularly as another betrayal follows on shortly after from an equally unexpected quarter. I though I knew where this story would head but it turns out to be something completely different to what I was expecting. Pru talks about missing not so much him, but the life they once had. With funny honest little relationship quirks, like spooning in bed and how to set the tv up, or change a fuse that we can relate to with ease. Moggach brilliantly highlights how “women of a certain age” are perceived against the reality, and I found myself cheering Pru on in her endeavours. It might seem like a crazy carry on from one relationship error to the next, but there is always more going on in this narrative. We [the reader] want her to be happy but can relate to the sorrow wading and imperfect memories of times gone by. Her relationship with her children and the way Greg [the ex-husband] wants to “find himself” brutally show the reader Pru’s true frailer to see the truth. She likes the rose tinted view and isn’t going to change.

Wonderfully fun with unexpectedly dark undertones It just goes to show that it is sometimes good to take a chance on a book outside your norm.

What’s Sera Reading? The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian

The book is part of a mystery series I did not know when I picked it up off our shelf in Stourport Library. Fortunately, The Accidental Alchemist is book 1.

Set in Portland, Oregon, the protagonist Zoe Faust has had a long life already but has headed to the USA from France for a new beginning. She sees a house that looks perfect, if not broken, for what she wants. Once purchased, Zoe sends for all her things. A stowaway from Paris is a shocking discovery. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing gargoyle who is turning back to stone. He needs Zoe’s help and for her to use alchemy she had long given up on. The story follows how Zoe and Dorian unlock the secrets of a centuries-old text left by his old master. This is complicated by a new young friend and a crime committed on her front porch.  Zoe realizes that the fastest way to regain her anonymity is to clear her name.

My Daughter and I have been reading this together. We are so happy with the lighthearted supernatural mystery. There is plenty for all in this story, not to mention some fine recipes for vegetarian cuisine. (as seen above, we gave it a go)  but at times, Pandian has juggled many layers of the plot, which can mess negatively with the pace of storytelling. An eccentric and endearing cast of characters that solve murder mysteries with roots in the supernatural and in Portland’s fascinating history. Great Stuff!

Roasted Butternut Squash with Lemon Tahini Sauce.

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 large white onion (or substitute a smaller yellow onion; white onions are milder)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp dried sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: ¼ cup raw pepitas, a.k.a shelled pumpkin seeds
  • Optional: paprika, for garnish

Tahini Sauce

  • ½ cup tahini
  • 3 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ tsp granulated garlic (for a chunkier sauce, substitute 2 minced garlic cloves)
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • Optional: cayenne to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 425. Peel the butternut squash and cut it into ½-inch cubes, discarding the seeds. Peel the onion and chop roughly. Toss squash and onion with olive oil, then spread out on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle spices on top. Bake for approximately 40 to 50 minutes, stirring once after 20 minutes.
  • While the squash mixture is baking, prepare the sauce. Whisk all the sauce ingredients together, then taste to adjust for salt and spice levels.
  • Toast ¼ cup raw pepitas in a dry skillet on medium heat for a few minutes until they pop.
  • To serve: Transfer squash mixture to a serving bowl, drizzle with tahini sauce, toss pepitas on top, and sprinkle with a dash of paprika.

What was Sera’s Christmas Read? The Holy Island by LJ Ross

As an MR James fan, I usually pick up a good ghost story around Christmas, but this year a Stourport Library patron challenged me to try a murder mystery with an unholy twist. [ Thank you, Mrs Talska]

Holy Island doesn’t waste a second as instantly we are witness to the murder of Louise. But whodunit? Well, Detective Chief Inspector Ryan was on enforced leave; he was taking in the calm and isolation of The Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Now he is thrust into action again just a few days before Christmas. DCI Ryan is summoned to the scene as Louise’s body is found in the nearby priory.  Hints of the supernatural, occult and macabre are a good part of this narrative. Northeast cost, a backdrop to this novel, is perfect for the atmosphere as cheese on toast.

When former local girl Dr Anna Taylor arrives on the island as a police consultant, she has to deal with old memories and is driven to confront her complicated past. She and Ryan struggle to work together to hunt a killer who hides in plain sight. A twisting tale of pagan ritual and small-town politics muddy the waters of their investigation, and not surprisingly, a romance develops quickly. The stakes are high when we get to a dramatic ending with a damsel in distress and her hero battling to save her – worthy of a Hollywood film. However, it’s only the beginning.

That’s right, we have 19 more adventures to come!

WHAT IS A TIDAL ISLAND?

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is linked to the mainland by a long causeway. The tide sweeps in from the North Sea twice daily and covers the road. Tide times and heights can be accurately predicted from the phases of the Moon. Severe weather can produce offsets, particularly with strong winds from the North and Northeast. The causeway crossing times are forecasted as ‘safe’ crossing times. Nevertheless, travellers should remain vigilant if crossing near the extremities, as you don’t want to go missing too.

More reviews of LJ Ross’s DCI Ryan are on their way…

What is Sera Reading? The Magician By Colm Toibin

The Magician is Toibin’s 12th novel, so we are in good literary hands in this book. It’s also not the first time Toibin explores a person struggling with identity and sexual perversions. The Magician is an intimate portrait of The life of Thomas Mann, his magnificent wife, Katia, and the times in which they lived. Including the First World War, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War and exile. We discover intimate issues and world issues simultaneously as we travel through Mann’s life. The title is a nod to this closeness, The Magician was a nickname bestowed on Mann by his children, and it conveys the distance he maintained even with those closest to him. I was fascinated by Mann’s relationship with his six children, who have unique characters and ideas of their own. Sadly it was also confirmed that the family suffered numerous incidents of suicide among Thomas’s siblings and their own children. The writing is a fluid blend between fact and fiction. This is a man and a family fiercely engaged by the world, profoundly flawed like most but unforgettable. An excellent read and a thoroughly researched piece.

Thomas Mann with his family on Hiddensee Island in 1924. [via Getty Images]

Who Is This Mann, fellow?

Thomas Mann was a German writer, novelist, philanthropist and essayist born in 1875 in Lubeck, Germany. He was the son of a senator and merchant, Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann and Júlia da Silva Bruhns. The cultured, conservative, and devoutly Protestant atmosphere of the Mann home became the subject of Buddenbrooks (1901), an epic of considerable complexity and clearly autobiographical elements.

Mann wrote many fictional novels, including ‘Royal Highness’ (1916) and ‘Early Sorrow’ (1929). ‘The Magic Mountain,’ considered Mann’s most critically acclaimed work, was published in 1924. It is said that it took him ten years to complete this novel. His novel, ‘Royal Highness,’ won him the Nobel Prize. This story was inspired by his happy marriage resulting in a story about form and life and their reunion. World War I changed Mann’s views about Monarchy and German supremacy. He left Germany in 1933 and finally settled in the U.S. in 1938 after having lived in France and Switzerland for some time. He worked at the University of Princeton for some time. More novels by Mann include ‘The Tales of Jacob’ published in 1933, and following it the next year was ‘The Young Joseph.’ These were stories based on biblical characters, with ‘Joseph in Egypt’ and ‘Joseph and his Brothers’ a part of the tetralogy. Inspired by Russian culture, he wrote essays on Leo Tolstoy and his perpetual realism.

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