At the Water’s Edge

9780385523233_p0_v1_s260x420Although the timeframe of Sara Gruen’s At The Water’s Edge spans World War II, her story combines the societal flavor of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with the Scottish mysticism of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander in an adventure that includes the pursuit of the Loch Ness monster.  The cruel realities of war combine with romance and some shocking reminders of the vulnerability of women and the power of suggestion.  With the same ease as her popular Water for Elephants, Gruen has created a story with convenient events resulting in a satisfying, if predictable, read, and, of course, a happy ending.

After disgracing themselves with raucous and drunken behavior at a Philadelphia society party, Maddie and her husband Ellis are disinherited by Ellis’s father, and book an ocean voyage to Scotland – in the middle of submarine warfare.  Ellis, with the help of his wealthy friend Hank, decide to prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster in an attempt to exonerate their reputations.  As the tale unfolds, each character’s vulnerabilities are revealed: Ellis’ s father’s fabrication of pictures taken years earlier, claiming his discovery of the monster; Ellis faking color-blindness to avoid going to war; Maddie not saving her mother from drowning.  Through gunfire and a sunken ship, they venture to the Scottish Highlands, where the tale takes on new characters and a little mystery – as well as a tall muscular red-headed Scotsman, who survived battle to become the laird of the castle.

Deserted by Ellis and Hank as they search for the Loch Ness monster, Maddie discovers her inner strength and some hidden talents, with the help of the cook and the housekeeper who befriend her.  Eventually, Maddie trades her vulnerability and dependence for courage and stamina and falls in love with Angus, the virile Scotsman.  The descriptions of the beauty of the Highlands and the mystery of the Loch only add to the drama.

The ending is a little too neatly resolved, but it does make for the happily-ever-after scenario – and Maddie does not have to travel back in time to get it.

Books to Travel By

Travel ChestAfter exhaustive searches of trip advisor and downloaded tips from Fodor, Frommer, and Rick Steves, I needed a little fiction to sustain me on my trip.  Since Scotland is on my itinerary, Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander series and a friend’s suggestion – Mary Stewart’s The Stormy Petrel – will be good starts.  I may bring my trainers and mimic The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry across Hadrian’s Wall and through the Cotswolds, and the new Maggie Hope mystery will be a great companion in London.

I hope to find a Peter May mystery in a bookstore, and maybe Sophie Hannah’s new resurrection of Agatha Christie’s Poirot in The Monogram Murders, but I have an old Jane Gardam paperback with me just in case.

And, of course, I have all the back issues of New Yorkers to catch up on…


The Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs

A quick scan of Charles Smith’s Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs seemed like a good topic for tax day – short and simple, with a big return.

Many of the twenty- six herbs in Smith’s book were familiar – parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.  One was a pleasant surprises: the anise hyssop, with beautiful purple flowers, brought back memories of a vacation in Crieff, Scotland.  I remember smelling the strong licorice odor when I walked into town each morning to buy scones at Campbell’s Bakery.  

Smith suggests using this herb “with healing properties” for a tea that appeals to my sweet tooth…

“it actually changes the chemical makeup of your saliva, making everything taste sweeter than normal.”

Smith includes recipes ranging from borage in a Bloody Mary to lemon cheesecake with calendula blossoms, and offers tips for storing and cultivating the herbs with simple directions and instructional pictures.

Great little reference to have on the shelf, and motivation to stir the pot.

Robert Burns Day

If today is your birthday, you are in good literary company.  January 25th has four major writers who celebrate birthdays today:


But only one gets a birthday supper every year…

  • Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet – who gave us
” My Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June…”

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice a ‘men
Gang aft agley”

“Oh wad power the giftie gie us
To see oursel’s as others see us!”

Auld Lang Syne

Haggis and a wee bit of whiskey
More Info on Robert Burns Day: