Archive | April 2016

Review: The Bluebonnet Betrayal, A Potting Shed Mystery by Marty Wingate. Random House Publishing Group – Alibi

The Bluebonnet Betrayal is an utterly charming read. This was my first encounter with garden expert Pru Parke, but I gather there are previous books in this Potting Shed series. An advance proof of this book was provided to me through NetGalley, for an honest review.

Pru Parke is recruited by the vice president of the Austin [Texas] Rock Garden Society (ARGS) to “save their bacon” at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show by serving as temporary representative for ARGS until the president, Twyla Woodhouse, can arrive to assume responsibility for the group’s garden display. Charmed by Twyla’s plan to transplant a bit of Texas to England via the lovely Texas bluebonnet, and thrilled to be even a small part of the Chelsea show, Pru rearranges her schedule and starts on her way, scheduled to meet Twyla at the show.

Twyla is a central figure in this story, although she makes only a cameo–but key–appearance, entering at the end of Chapter 6 and continuing through Chapter 7, before her untimely demise. Marty Wingate uses strategies for Pru and the reader to keep Twyla in mind. Heading each chapter are excerpts from the ARGS bylaws and newsletters (mostly writings of Twyla). More unsettling for Pru, she keeps hearing Twyla’s voice at key points in the story. Thus Twyla’s presence pervades the story, fueling the efforts of Pru, her spouse, and garden companions to realize the garden project and to uncover the truth behind Twyla’s death.

If the loss of Twyla were not sufficient motivation for Pru to persevere, it soon appears as though the very presence of the beloved bluebonnets in the display is also threatened. Faced with this double loss, Pru redoubles her efforts and strengthens her resolve.

Pru is an appealing character. Her love for the beauty of the flowers is contagious. Pru’s heartwarming relationship with her devoted spouse Christopher (AKA Kit) and the interplay with the dramatis personae of the garden project keep us as focused as the dedicated Pru on completing both tasks. I found myself rooting for both Pru and the bluebonnets.

Taking Stock 1

Now that I’ve made a few posts, I think it’s time to take a look at what has appeared so far. As previously stated, I am a complete novice at blogging–so this effort may seem more than a little clunky.

I started the blog as an adjunct to reviewing books for NetGalley, an activity that was put in motion by a message from the Margery Allingham estate offering free previews of a newly released box of the first three Albert Campion stories. I did review these and those reviews have been published on NetGalley and also on the Amazon site. But I realize I didn’t put them on my blog, so my next posting will be to include those reviews here

In addition to reviews, though, I decided to share some family stories about my parents and grandparents, in particular their experiences in the Ozarks of Missouri in the early 20th century. There is a two-part entry titled “Margaret’s Story” about one aspect of my mother, Margaret Hunter’s life. I am thinking now that my next family effort will be series titled “Mattie and Cecil”, relating the ten-year story of my grandparents from about 1939 to 1948.

So I guess this is a multi-use blog, part reviews and part family history. I may get the courage to address my efforts to become an author–but that’s a story for another day.

Review: “Murder Under the Covered Bridge (A Bucket List Mystery)” By Elizabeth Peron. Midnight Ink.

I missed the first book in this Bucket List series, but was given the opportunity to preview the second, “Murder Under the Covered Bridge”. This is a lively, multi-layered story chronicling activities of a group of 70-something women. We start with Francine and Charlotte and a racy Victorian-style photo session on the Roseville Bridge, which seems like fun all by itself. But the nicely naughty shoot is interrupted by a different kind of shooting–rifle shots–that has the sketchily clad models diving for cover. After the gunshots, there is a death and two sets of arson incidents, one of which, alas, brings down the Roseville Bridge. We savor Mary Ruth’s baking activities at the Covered Bridge Festival–including her chronically sold-out corn fritter donuts–and Joy shivering in her on-camera jacket as a TV correspondent. Ephemeral figures loom, even walk through the pages for a time, and then inexplicably disappear. The main story is an intriguing and–yes–mysterious one that ultimately leads to a surprising denouement. But it’s all great fun, and very entertaining. Who knew being 70 could be so adventurous?

 

Review: “On the Hillwilla Road” by Melanie Forde, Mountain Lake Press

This appealing story, set in southeastern West Virginia, is replete with vivid descriptive passages that help us feel the realities of life in a world Forde describes as deeply wooded, seriously mountainous and isolated. The central characters, former Bostonian Beatrice Desmond and her teen-age ward Clara Buckwalter–a somewhat unlikely pair brought together through a series of events–become increasingly aware that they are kindred spirits in a changeable world. Ms. Forde excels at providing characters that evoke strong responses from the reader, including Clara’s devious, self-absorbed mother Charyce, her self-righteous, perverse stepfather Rodney, and others considerably more palatable. The non-human creatures are endearing: Beatrice’s loyal, infinitely patient canine companion Ralph, the frisky young llama Bucky. (I really can’t recall the last time I read a book in which llamas were an integral part of the story). The drama is related from many views, creating a rich tapestry incorporating setting, events, and characters into the drama that unfolds. On the Hillwilla Road is a refreshing and thought-provoking book.

 

Family Thoughts: Margaret’s Story 2

Blog HunterSibs1920 Composite CROPAround 1922, Cecil Hunter made a decision with lasting consequences for his family. Hearing of an impressive-sounding land opportunity in southwest Missouri, Cecil sold his business, loaded his family into a covered wagon, and headed for his new acreage.  It was a disastrous move. When the family arrived, they found that the property Cecil purchased was on a hilltop covered with mesquite brambles with no buildings and miles from the nearest settlement. Margaret’s comfortable life soon changed forever. Her mother’s health was poor, and by 1920, Margaret found herself playing the “little mother” to her three younger siblings.

Blog Pasture2Crop copy 3There were some positive aspects to the move. The area around Buffalo Creek, adjoining the Hunter land, was indeed beautiful. My uncle Paul said the fishing was good on Buffalo Creek. My aunt Florence spoke of the fun she and Margaret had riding their pony. But given the multiple problems with their land, the family struggled mightily with poverty for the next several years. My mother would never talk about this time. The rocky land was nearly impossible to farm. There is no clear information on what the family lived in; my brother says he believes they lived in Army surplus tents, at least for a time. The oldest son, Tom, apparently got a job and helped support the family, while my mother looked after her three younger siblings.

Blog May School House copyMargaret and her siblings attended the one-room school at May, Missouri. Their intrepid teacher was Miss Alma, who came daily with her buggy and little pony, and in a one-horse sleigh in winter. My mother loved school and did well there. One of the few things she talked about of this time was her bitterness at being required to leave school in the eighth grade, near graduation time, to help with the harvest. So Margaret never got to graduate with her class.

Blog MargaretStuckeDec_1930 CROP By about age 16, Margaret had enough of farming and poverty. She went to live with her uncle Emiel Stump (Martha’s brother) and her aunt Viola in St. Louis. Margaret found a good job at a tailoring establishment. She loved living in St. Louis; she said her aunt and uncle taught her how to live like a lady in the big city. Emiel worked as a conductor on the St. Louis street car line. Margaret returned home to visit wearing fashionable clothes of her own creation, and a stylish hairdo (at right December 1930, with unidentified child).  In November 1930, Margaret married her long-time sweetheart, John Stucke. The Stuckes were rather more prosperous neighbors of Margaret’s family. William Stucke was the local Justice of the Peace. John and Margaret were married in the Stucke living room by William Stucke, on a fine Sunday afternoon, right after church.In 1934, John and Margaret had their first child, John Calvin Stucke, born in a log cabin on the Stucke property.But times were very hard for farmers in the 1930’s, and John Stucke became the first family member to decide to move away from the Ozarks.

FiveSibs1935 Blog By 1935, Margaret’s siblings had also had enough of hard times. They posed here in front of Tom’s Model T Ford. Note that Tom (middle, back row) is in shirt and tie, Margaret and Florence are wearing stylish dresses (created by Margaret, of course), but Paul and Bob were still in denim overalls. But the overalls soon were changed as the family made their way, one by one, westward: Tom to Idaho, and the others to California.John Stucke blazed the trail to California, sending for his wife and son in 1940 after he found a house and a job. In California, a second child, Merrilee, was born.

Blog FiveSibs1943 LowerResIn 1943, the five Hunter siblings gathered in California for a studio portrait, looking vastly different from their Missouri snapshot of 1935.Soon both Paul and Robert went into military service for World War II: Paul in the Army in the Pacific, Bob in the Army Air Corps in Britain.  Martha, still in poor health, left Missouri in 1938. In the World War II years, Cecil tended the farm on his own. For years, Mattie planned to return to Missouri. But at the urging of their children, the farm was sold and in 1947 Cecil and Mattie were reunited in a comfortable home in San Bruno, California.

In 1950, with the war years, farming, and poverty behind them, Margaret’s whole family met at their parents’ home for a happy Easter reunion–Cecil, Mattie, all five siblings with their spouses and three grandchildren.

All HuntersEaster1950 Blog In 1980, John and Margaret Stucke celebrated their 50th (Golden) wedding anniversary. John passed away in 1984, Margaret in 1993. They filled our lives with their love and devotion in many ways.

Although Margaret was devoted to her family and put them first all her life, she never lost her sense of fun, her lively intellect, and love of beauty. She was a talented seamstress and very creative. But she never forgot that first lost doll. In the 1980’s, I found an antique china head doll dating from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. The head was intact but the kidskin body was in sad condition; the seams had split and most of the sawdust filling had been lost, along with the clothes. I wanted to restore the doll. I asked Mother to make the doll an appropriate dress. I didn’t understand, at the time, why my mother showed such high interest in this sad little doll. But she went to work and created a beautiful ensemble for the doll. It turned out so well, and Mother loved the doll so much, that we decided to keep it. We named the doll “Susanna” after my paternal grandmother, Susanna Lauren Stucke. I didn’t realize until after Mother’s passing in 1993 that this doll greatly resembled Margaret’s lost childhood doll. I have it still, and now it is a treasured memorial to both my great grandmother and my mother.

Blog SusannaChinaHead