02 January 2020

Best Books of 2019

Image found here
You know what’s almost as much fun as reading all the books?  Counting down the best books of the year. According to my handy stats at Goodreads, I read 68 books comprising over 21,000 pages. I tried to read with intention for much of my reading this year, making sure that I was getting more non-fiction, YA, and genre into my literary diet. Some stats:

It’s getting trickier to break authors down into binary genders, so let’s just say that of the 68 books, thirteen of them were written by men. 19%

Nonfiction: 22%
Genre (romance, SFF, thriller): 30%
Diversity: 25% (I thought this would be higher)
YA or middle grade: 19%

Best Novels of 2019


Best Nonfiction of 2019

Best Books for Young Readers of 2019

Biggest [Nice] Surprises of 2019

Who could have predicted that a zombie apocalypse narrated by a crow and a pair of lesbian necromancers would be among my favorite books of the year? I should clearly read more genre fiction with this kind of pay off!

And of course I read lots of books in 2019 that won’t be published until 2020.  Here are some titles to consider pre-ordering from your local library or indie bookstore:

What about you, gentle reader?  What did you love in 2019? What did I miss that you would recommend?

25 December 2019

I Wish You Peace and Light in These Dark Times

Stonehenge in the Midwinter Snow
Image source: http://www.disclose.tv

NB: This is a slightly modified post from years past that I wanted to reuse for Christmas.

It's a little out of character for me to write a blog post that is about neither books nor travel.  It’s also a little out of character to share many of my personal details in such a public space, but I’ve been largely away from the blogosphere for a while now and I’ve had many supportive inquiries from readers.  2019 has largely been a very good year for me, significantly better than 2018 was, but its closing also brought bad news on the health front for many family members and friends and their loved ones, including pets.

There's a Christmas song lingering in my mind right now that I have been listening to more or less on a loop for  the last couple of days.  I love sacred Christmas carols though I'm not Christian, or at least I’m not a Christian if by “Christian,” you mean somebody who believes that Jesus Christ is the  literal offspring of God. Agnostic, I suppose, is the proper term for me.  Perhaps a cultural Episcopalian is a little more specific. But if by “Christian,” you mean somebody who thinks that fellow named Jesus Christ was a revolutionary ahead of his time, especially his ideas regarding the treatment of the disenfranchised, then maybe the term fits.

Whatever inclination toward the sacred I possess always feels deeply disheartened by the relentless commercialism of a secular Christmas; thus, my recent mental soundtrack of Loreena McKennitt's performance of Good King Wenceslas.

As far as I know, it is the only Christmas carol that remains as relevant today as it ever did.   Regardless of any divine context,  a couple of millennia ago, give or take, this guy Jesus did some pretty revolutionary stuff.  I'm prepared to accept that at face value, if not his divinity.  But what does the celebration of his birth mean for the world today, all those angels and mangers  and glorias in excelsis deo*? For my money, it's the et in terra pax ominibus** that is so important, so relevant today, yet so sorely lacking in our current times where grace and graciousness are endangered species.  

With the changing of just two little words so the song is non gender-specific or non-religious specific, Good King Wenceslas is what speaks to me tonight and all year 'round: give of yourself, give of your time, share what you have, even especially if it takes you out of your comfort zone.  It's pretty simple.  Here are the lyrics, with my slight modifications in place.  Maybe they will speak to you, too.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
Where the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling--
Yonder peasant, who is he? 
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence,
By St. Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine, 
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bring them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together.
Heedless of the wind's lament
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night grows darker now
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page.
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shall find the winter's rage
Freeze the blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, all good folk, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing:
You who now shall bless the poor
Shall yourself find blessing.

It's not just the song, for me, but also the arrangement that is so important.  I love the melding of a traditional western carol with Celtic and Middle Eastern musical elements and the instruments you don't normally hear outside a medieval/Renaissance festival. The Middle Eastern aspect actually places the song in a historical context like never before, and it’s an important signpost in these dark times when many Americans think Islamophobia is the way to go.

I hope, wherever you are, that you find peace in your heart during these darkest days of the year. 

* Glory to God in the highest
**And on earth, peace to all people

20 November 2019

Anguilla, or There and Back Again: Part V

Blooming ixora on Turtles Nest grounds
Wednesday arrives and I’m inevitably sad. It’s my last full day on the island, and thanks in part to Delta’s scheduling gaffe, there are still too many of my favorite Anguilla things that I haven’t done and I’m actually a little bit stressed at the thought of fitting them all in. Good thing I spent my time last night making a list.

The first thing I do after making a few pictures of Turtles Nest flora (looking vibrant after the light rain in the night) is hightail it to Village Bake House, which has been closed for the last two mornings and which I’ve been eagerly waiting to try. Located in the new-old Geraud’s location in South Hill, it has ample parking and outdoor seating for those patrons who wish to partake of the delectable pastries on site.

I selected a blueberry pastry and an apple tart, along with an iced latte. That’s when I learned that the Village Bakehouse has a fairly high credit card minimum (US $25, I think?). I didn’t want to dip into my cash because I was a little concerned about having enough for boat fare, departure tax, and a tip for housekeeping the next day, and ATMs are sometimes a little finicky on the island. So I proposed to the woman since I planned to come the next day for breakfast that I go ahead and pay for tomorrow, too, and then we’d be square.  Anguilla being Anguilla, she happily agreed to my proposal but the whole time I was struggling to place her face.

In the meantime, I took my pastries and coffee outside to the shaded patio to enjoy while trying to remember where I knew her. The deliciously flaky and buttery pastry crust must have jogged my memory just enough, because BINGO! It was Susanne from the former Bonjour Cafe in Sandy Ground.

At one point she came out to see if I needed anything else, and as she turned to go, she asked if she knew me in almost the same breath as I asked her if her name was Susanne. It seems that she’d been going through her own mental Rolodex to place me, too. We both laughed and then she lingered for a few minutes while we checked in to see how the ensuing years had treated us since we last crossed paths.

After breakfast, I headed back to Turtles Nest to enjoy the beach for a little while. Mostly I was simply biding my time until the morning was sufficiently advanced to head up to Ocean Echo to spend a few hours in the company of Andrea. No trip to Anguilla would be complete with a nice, leisurely visit with Andrea!

I squealed a little bit when I walked up and saw her behind the bar. Luckily I was the first guest at Ocean Echo that day, so we could have a proper catch up. She asked me where I wanted to sit, and when I replied, “In the breeziest spot,” she sat me at the corner of the bar.

I know that lots of folks love The Rumzie, Ocean Echo’s signature drink, but it’s a little sweet for my personal preference, so Andrea created this beverage for me.  Passionfruit, raspberry vodka, lots of fresh lime juice, and a touch of sparkling water.  Delicious!

A good hour passed while sipping my drink, chatting with Andrea, and reading my book while she was tending to various tasks. My adult beverage went down with tolerable ease, but I needed to pace myself. In the interest of avoiding plastic bottles, I opted for a Ting instead of a bottled water. Eventually, though, I grew hungry enough to place my lunch order for a fish burger.

The fish burger was deliciously seasoned and despite missing the French fries, I was glad I made the sensible choice and requested the green salad as my side. Meanwhile, a lovely American couple who own a home in Anguilla had arrived and she recognized me from this blog and from the TripAdvisor forum, so we had lots of things to chat about.

Looking west toward Four Seasons
Originally I had packed a beach bag with the intention of setting up shop on Ocean Echo’s comfy beach chairs, but that part of Meads was feeling a tad warm, so after making a few photographs on the beach, I was happy to head back to the bar for the rest of my visit. Andrea made me a margarita to help slake my thirst while finishing up my book. 

Looking east toward Straw Hat

Turtles Nest seen from Ocean Echo
Alas, I still have miles to go before I sleep, so sometime in the late afternoon I regretfully bid adieu to  Andrea so that I can keep my other commitments for the day. First up: a bit of shopping at Devonish gallery. I almost always come home from my Anguilla trips with one of his carvings/sculptures because they’re the ultimate affordable piece of art and this time I needed a little somethin-somethin’ for my colleague who was doing some of my work for me whilst on vacation. 

From Devonish, I headed east so that I could get in a visit with Pamela from Sea Spray. Here I picked up a t-shirt for my beau and made friends with her new feline companion, who is a real sweetheart. Sea Spray always has a nice array of casual jewelry and island-themed Christmas ornaments suitable for people even in my tax bracket.

Typically I would have ordered Pamela’s famous rum punch, but since my plans for the evening also included a sundowner in Sandy Ground, I opted for a smoothie instead.

I always enjoy catching up with Pam and hearing her news.  She was still getting readied for the upcoming season when I stopped in, and of course we spent some time talking about our cats, dogs, and AARF. Before long, though, I had to hie myself down the hill to Sandy Ground so that I could catch the sunset from a new vantage point. 

I arrived at Sand Bar just in time to settle in at my table and order a drink. There was one other couple seated there when I arrived, and they were of a friendly bent, so they invited me over to chat. They’d been to Anguilla a few times before and were also active on one of the travel forums. We discussed our favorite restaurants and they asked me the pros & cons of renting a villa vs staying in one of the resorts. 

Ahhh, so refreshing
Soon enough, though, it was time for me to think about heading home to clean up for my last dinner on the island.  Last dinner on the island generally can mean only one thing for me: Straw Hat.

My 7:00pm reservation put me the first to arrive in their dining room that night.  I think it was the very first dinner there where I wasn’t seated in Armel’s section, and I was very sorry in retrospect not to have requested that.  Still, the young man taking care of me was capable and friendly.

As difficult as it is to believe, I hadn’t had crayfish yet on this visit, so I made amends.  Skipping the appetizer because I’d just had one of Pam’s excellent smoothies just three hours ago seemed like a wise decision, and even so, I left half of a crayfish behind on my platter.

In the meantime, Doris, Peter, and Armel all took a moment to come over and chat, which made me very happy, indeed.  I ordered a second glass of wine while contemplating the rain and my choices for dessert.  I’d had my heart set on the warm coconut tart with rum raisin ice cream but it wasn’t on offer that night, so I had to consider my other options very carefully. In the end, I opted for the layer cake served with (if my memory is accurate) a homemade ginger ice cream and a rich caramel sauce.

While perhaps not strictly as satisfying as the coconut tart would have been, it was delicious and a very fitting end to my last evening meal. I was, in fact, sad when leaving and if there were tears in my eyes, then so be it.

Next up: a farewell tour of the west end and trip report wrap-up.