MUSINGLY By Karen D'Or

Writing Portfolio, Travel Stories & Other Diversions

The Muddy Mississippi: My Journey to New Orleans

 

karenhathappyGrowing up in a spacious home amidst the woodsy hillsides of Marin County, I had no true understanding of this corner of our country. Sure, I was aware of heated politics and civil unrest that were occurring in ‘The South’ because our family watched the images marches and riots on Walter Cronkite’s evening broadcasts.

As the daughter of a staunch Republican attorney, I nevertheless developed a liberal outlook that embraced pacifism, feminism and equal rights; yet, social justice issues were somewhat hypothetical from my Bay Area baby hippie perspective. However, with my expansive worldview and better than average vocabulary, I was the darling of my high school philosophy and social studies teachers: erudite Jewish educators who loved to quote Eric Fromm and Rollo May. In 1972, these wonderful high school teachers at the new alternative school, Nexus, encouraged me to think big, to write poetry, to take hikes in Point Reyes, to attend a liberal arts college, and even to see the glorious cathedrals in France. But they never even suggested I visit New Orleans.

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Forty-three years later, I buy a residence not far from the Mississippi: the home is in the southernmost part of Uptown New Orleans very near a wide curve of the River’s crescent – and so the nickname Crescent City. From our front porch, if you just wander across the Rouse’s Market parking lot, hop over a few railroad tracks, cross Clarence Henry Parkway, mosey through a cluster of container yards, you’ll find a bunch of behemoth cranes loading up the freighter ships that travel to the Gulf.

 

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Christmas Cookie Martini

Consumed by Carrie: New Orleans’ Holiday Traditions

 

Roosevelt Hotel Holiday Lights

Roosevelt Hotel Holiday Lights

As you might expect, Christmas is New Orleans has special traditions; it’s not so different from other parts of the country — but it definitely has a unique flavor! There are pralines and pecans pouring out of every corner, beautiful light displays in City Park, complete with a Cajun Santa Claus with alligators pulling his sleigh. There are Christmas Eve bonfires that reach high into the sky, lighting up the banks of the Mississippi and caroling on the streetcars and into Jackson Square. 

My favorite thing to do is to go see the beautiful decorations at the elegant Roosevelt Hotel. While at the Roosevelt, I stop by the famous Sazerac Bar for a festive holiday cocktail – one of my past highlights is the festive Christmas Cookie Martini. 

Christmas Cookie Martini

But lets get to one of the best parts of Christmas in New Orleans, the FOOD!

One of the earliest signs (and oldest traditions) that the holiday season is right around the corner is the Reveillon Menu. Reveillon is French and means awakening. This title was given to the meal that was typically served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It was meant to give nourishment and energy for the next mass early on Christmas morning.  You will see Reveillon menus at a lot of the best restaurants in town; Restaurant August, Bayona, Commander’s Palace, Domenica, and dozens more.

The menus are usually made up of three courses and are served throughout November and December. First courses usually include something with oysters, turtle soup or gumbo.  Commander’s palace is featuring a chargrilled oyster stew, and Antoine’s menu has Alligator Bisque. I noticed that a popular choice for the second course is dishes using small birds such as quail or squab. There is of course always a fish option, and also pork or veal. Braised meats are prevalent, pork shanks at Domenica, short ribs at Café Adelaide, and veal osso bucco at Brennan’s. Some restaurants go the celebratory route, pulling out all of the stops with caviar, foie gras, lamb, and special cocktails. I have to say that I’m partial to the time-honored traditional menus that stay true to New Orleans cuisine.

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My Top Seven Writing Distractions

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I’ve neglected my musingly writing for months, and the reasons at first seem infuriatingly bland — the mechanics of my suburban life. So, this fall, I am making a public commitment to write more regularly — beginning with this cafeteria-style confessional of my top seven writing distractions*:

1) Thinking about food. I spend a lot of time ruminating about food (and drink). ­I particularly get focused on these two favorite hobbies just as I am about embark for — or am returning from —­­ New Orleans. Whole red fish drizzled in fresh herbs from Peche, fried oysters at Clancy’s, fresh oysters at Casamento’s, pretty much anything at Restaurant August. I continue to obsess about the New Orleans’ dining scene, and plan my restaurant runs months in advance. Closer to home, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting Bay Area dining spots. Suggestions, anyone?

 2) Online shopping. Admit it: the ubiquitous Amazon ‘prime’ shopping is a great distraction for folks who work from home on a computer and like to pretend they are getting a good deal. I can find nearly instant gratification on prime, congratulate myself for saving money, and avoid traffic and fuel costs, all with just a few button clicks. Did I really need double-sided indoor carpet tape delivered in two days?

3) Family. Acute family problems derailed my writing earlier this year (see the Pins and Needles post) but I have only myself to blame. I continue to overthink family issues, get too emotionally involved, and become diverted away from more important matters such as my own creativity. I have an odd itch for an unattainable “normalcy” —and my family will never be normal. Thankfully, my family is an eccentric troupe that could inspire my writing, including: sassy urban teachers, aspiring artists, musicians, someone who has been mistaken for Martha Stewart, a couple of famous British authors, and a former Reagan appointee. My people are characters.

4) Pilates. I recently re-discovered my love for this rather rigorous form of body toning; Pilates is a particularly rewarding exercise for those of us who spend many hours hunched in front of a computer keyboard. This healthy distraction helped to inspire my summer blog post: Five Reasons Why I Love Being Curvy. 

ATT Park, San Francisco, California

ATT Park, San Francisco, California

5) Baseball. Although we are heading into December, it seems only yesterday that the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. Since it is the third time in six years, it should be par for the course around here; nevertheless, during Orange October, I was constantly interrupting my writing flow by jumping up to turn on the TV, or tuning into the pre-game warm-up show on the radio, or ordering the essential World Series pizza. Those magical men from the City by the Bay did it again this year, and I have no regrets for their joyous (and sometimes hunky) distractions.

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Five Reasons Why I Love Being Curvy


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1. I now realize that my body’s curves express a balanced life.  It is not only about appreciating certain anatomical curves —the standard ones the outside world tells me are acceptable— it is about embracing each and every curve and how they co-exist, come and go. The ebb and flow of my curves helps me power through a 35-miles bike ride or stick with poses during a tough Pilates class.  Nice to realize this at nearly 58 years old.

2. My curves help me to not buy into weird food games. I love food as both nourishment and recreation. By embracing my curves I gravitate toward real food, not junk. Nor do I under eat or deprive myself to try to squeeze into a shape that is not mine. Cooking real food is a joy in my life, as is eating, drinking and appreciating culinary delights from creative chefs. To reap the most profit, the big food companies own the major diet “programs” and products. I’ve been there but I won’t go back – the Big Food diet companies won’t get one more dime from me.

3. My curves show that I am proud of the fullness of a healthy body and I don’t buy into rampant body dissatisfaction. A friend just asked me: “What would it be like if we all loved our bodies completely?” She celebrates her “curvalicious” body and is setting a remarkable example for her two teen sons as she proudly rocks comfy clothing while dancing joyfully in her backyard.

Alternatively, I have another friend who suffers from eating and body issues. She spends her valuable summer time consulting with five plastic surgeons, and is about to undergo major procedures. I am convinced she has body dysmorphia, a mental illness symptomized by perpetual negative thoughts about appearance, and obsessions with minor or imagined flaws. She is a beautiful woman; I fear that plastic surgery will likely never make her truly happy about herself.

4. My man loves my curves and has never criticized my shape. Unlike past men in my life, he only uses the word “thick” or “doughy” if he is talking about pizza. Yum.

5. My curves harken back to my hearty heredity. I am proud of my Eastern European ancestry. My grandmother cooked a fantastic peasant dish: rolled cabbage stuffed with pork, and tomatoes and rice. As a little girl, Grandma Sylvia’s curves comforted and  welcomed me while I smelled the spicy aromas that she magically created from the most simple of staples.

So, do as my curvy daughter is doing right now: stop purchasing women’s magazines with their silly diet tips and makeovers. Show some skin on the beach this summer and wear your bikini proudly.

Curves rule!

acupuncture

Pins and Needles

acupunctureI cannot recall a new year starting off this bleak. Outside the weather is often sunny, and unseasonably warm, but inside my emotional climate is wretchedly stormy and fogged in — even as February has come and gone, marred by hurtful words and sudden distancing.

I have been quietly frantic for weeks, unable to get beyond sleep deprivation and anguish. Some kind of indistinct, pristine, and static image of my marriage (now starting year number 18) has dissipated into the storm. I feel lost, and my overactive brain is congested and confused.

In the midst of great personal pain, I discover acupuncture, and although it has not yet cured my sleeplessness, dry eyes and parched skin, the regular treatments are moving something around.

The discovery of a local community acupuncture clinic is helping me to get out of my head, somehow anchoring my saddened self back down into solid muscles. I can run to this clinic to feel again the warm flow of lifeblood, and an appreciation of my body’s solidity and strength.

The tiny needles are pumping my blood, churning some chi, and sometimes leaving invisible pinprick bruises that I later examine in the mirror.

Although the acupuncture is helping me to heal, I see these tiny dots as vestiges of my love’s harsh and scornful glances— looks that have lately punctured my spirit and turned me into a needy, dejected shell of my true self. At home, we are both pushing the limits of closeness and distance and I am surfing some very frightening waves of anger and love, fearing the worst in the middle of the night.

Seeking relief, I find our local community acupuncture clinic and make an appointment for the next day.

The clinic sits in a flat-roofed commercial building near the shopping mall adjacent to one of those dungeon-dragony retail outfits whose windows blocked by stacks of dusty boxes covered with rather bloodthirsty and jarring Gothic images.

Once I enter the acupuncture clinic, it appears the antithesis of its Goth neighbor — a place people come to relax and heal. It is noticeably warm inside, the music is soft and new-agey and—behind a bamboo screen— ten large plush reclining chairs face each other in a circle. According to the map in the bathroom, there are hundreds of community acupuncture clinics across the country. It is a modest clean spot with a sliding scale payment system; it seems to work because instead of high-rent, fancy private offices, the practice takes place in the common room.

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herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Eating Off Your Plate

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Food loving friends and family contributed to my delicious and libationary 2013. Here are some of the highlights of a plentiful year:

Sharing Food.The joy of sharing food together reflects on the quality of the friendship. My daughter, Robyn, jokes that our family has a tendency to eat off of each other’s plates, uninvited. Perhaps that is odd, but the gracious and intentional sharing of food can deepen most relationships. I wrote about sharing a leisurely meal with a dear friend earlier this year in the Redd Meet post.

Sharing my love of New Orleans. The April 2013 trip (it was dear friend Liz’ first time in NOLA) was described in my previous post: Restaurant and Bar Reviews 2013. So much laugher, great music and delectable experiences during her inaugural visit. My second trip (Thanksgiving 2013) had a number of food and drink highlights, many of which I reported on chow.com NOLA board, one of my favorite online places with some of the best overall discussions about food anywhere. Chowhound NOLA is so entertaining and convivial that not one, but two, of my chow correspondents astutely “ambushed” me on the November trip.

Sharing success. My daughter’s dear friend, Carrie also has her own fun and informative blog Consumedbycarrie.com. She also makes an awesome chocolate chess pie!

Sharing skills. I went to our local Sur La Tableto get some new skills. “Wives with Knives” is an enactment-style TV show on ID, but mayhem was not my purpose in taking the basic knifing class. I am seeking additional confidence as a cook because, frankly, I think it will make be a fitter foodie. Although I was not very coordinated in the class, I have been more adventurous in the kitchen and have committed zero crimes with my new Kyocera ceramic chef’s knife.

Sharing hobbies. In 2013, my husband and I we realized we had made a great trade: I become a true baseball fan – hanging in there for an abysmal season – and my husband had opened his mind and stomach to fine food. Here are our a few of our new favorite spots around ATT Park in San Francisco.

Marlowe: http://marlowesf.com/  Wonderful post-game comfort food

Zare Fly Trap: Mediterranean cuisine with modern Persian influence. Delightful pre-game, had a great meal with Mimi this summer. http://www.zareflytrap.com/about_us.html 606 Folsom Street

83 Proof: A wonderful neighborhood bar http://www.83proof.com/ 83 First Street between Mission and Market.

With 2014 adventures in the planning stage, I hope to read the great food writers, get creative in my recipes –- and make sure to grab a few bites off of everyone’s plate!

 

The Good Mommies Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Daughters by Nonnie Jules

The Good Mommy On Everything Kids!

Hi Karen, and thanks so much for having me over today at Musingly.  It’s simply beautiful here!  I’d also like to thank all of your guests for stopping by to join us.

Let me get the small stuff out of the way first.  My name is Nonnie Jules and I am the lucky mom to two of the sweetest, kindest, loveable daughters in the whole world.  I am married to one wonderfully supportive DH, and grandmother to many 4 legged creatures.  We live in Louisiana, not the big, fun part that Karen’s always tweeting about, but one of the little not so busy parts (Shreveport).  It’s very peaceful and quiet here, which is why I love it so much.

I began writing at a very young age although I became a published author just this year, May 7, 2013.  After having  penned that book, along with all of the wonderful people that I’ve met via social media, I have often sat back and wondered “Why didn’t I start writing to publish sooner?”  We may never know the real answer to that question, but I will offer this bit, I’m sure Amazon had a lot to do with many of us long-time-writers finally getting published.

 My first book was appropriately entitled “THE GOOD MOMMIES’ GUIDE TO RAISING (ALMOST) PERFECT DAUGHTERS”, 100 Tips On Raising Daughters Everyone Can’t Help But Love!  I had such fun writing this guide and I did it in only 17 days.  Most have asked “how” I could write a book in only 17 days, and some have even asked “How could you write such a GOOD book in only 17 days?” (that’s the question I like to point out most).  Well, I wrote about what I knew.  I didn’t have to do much research at all, because I had lived that guide, I had taught that guide and from those teachings came two (almost) perfect daughters.

The Good Mommies Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Daughters by Nonnie Jules

The Good Mommies Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Daughters by Nonnie Jules 

In the book trailer to “THE GOOD MOMMIES’ GUIDE… I say, “I looked around the world and what I saw, I knew I didn’t want my daughters to become.” I had seen such poor examples of parenting in girls before I had children, that I actually prayed GOD would bless me with daughters.  And he did.  I took that blessing very seriously and vowed that I would make my job as MOMMY the most important position that I had ever held my entire life.  Nothing was more important to me than raising children that everyone would notice, admire and would stand in awe of after having been in their presence for only a few short minutes.  So many times children are noticed because of the bad things they do and the poor choices they make, my two stand out for:  being kind, respectful, mannerable, loving and as one dad put it a little while ago at my teenagers birthday party, he said  “I just love her because she makes everyone around her want to be better!”  Proud Mommy?  Yes, that would be me. I gladly exclaim daily “Yes, those two are mine!”

Bullying, online and off has reached epidemic proportions.  I mean, our children are literally dying because of it.  It’s time that we stop talking about it, and really “be about it”.  Get up and actually DO SOMETHING!  A lot of folks say “My children are grown, that doesn’t apply to me”, or “I don’t have any kids, so why should I get involved?”  These attitudes make me fume.  Really they do.  Because these very people are close-minded if they think this is not their problem simply because their kids are grown OR because they have none.  Look at it another way members of the two categories I just mentioned:  What if one day your GROWN children produce children?  You become a grandparent and your beautiful, sweet grandchild is being harassed and bullied and hit at school.  Then would it be your problem?  And OK, you there, yes you, the child-less Parent, what if one day you DO become a parent or you have nieces and nephews that you love more than life itself, and they’re being bullied.  Then would it be your problem?  The goal should be to stop this epidemic from growing right now!  Why wait?  If you stand up and do your part right now, when you become a grandparent or a new parent or auntie/uncle to kids you love as your own, then the problem is gone.  Your kids are safe.  The kids of the world have been taught better, raised better, LOVED BETTER and there is no need for anyone to bully.    We must act now!  THIS PROBLEM BELONGS TO US ALL, NOT JUST ONE. Continued…

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Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

No Moldy Pillows: A Night in San Francisco

My husband and I were looking forward to our San Francisco date night – an early  celebration of my birthday — for a couple of weeks. Focused around my obsession with 1760, a new hot dining spot Polk Street, we wangled a 7:45 dinner reservation, nabbed an inexpensive Union Street hotel, and even scouted out a couple of street fairs featuring a plethora of local SF bands.

 As middle-agers with obligations, there are logistics in getting away from home – even for one night. Accordingly…

..the dog went to the kennel,

I packed an overnight bag,

made an egg-white omelet, and then….

…my dear Bob wobbled down the stairs in the throes of a very sore throat.

After he finished sipping a large mug of hot coffee and attempted to clear stubborn sinuses under a warm shower, he bravely decided to go forward with the Saturday night plans.

After a quick stop at the beauty store (where I got them to glue some fuzzy eyelashes on correctly) we headed straight for the Mission District, a thriving neighborhood that bustled intriguingly on a bright October afternoon. On Valencia Street we stumbled upon Bar Tartine. The bistro had been on my list of “to-dos” for a while, but I assumed we’d just grab a quick taco at the street fair. However, I was hungry, and Bar Tartine’s menu looked friendly and fun. The thoughtful hostess got us in quickly at the tail end of their Saturday brunch — and we were not disappointed.

Over drinks Bob recalls that, during the 1980s, he had success finding cheap apartments in the Mission. This luck scoring great living spaces was one of his prime attractions to San Francisco, and was in stark contract to his experience in Chicago, where, in spite of being a native, he couldn’t quite get launched.

And here we were, in a fancy lunch spot ordering a beet Mimosa and a Prickly Pear punch cocktail.

Well, Bob ordered the latter. My husband is one of the only people I know who picks a cocktail off a menu even when he does not recognize any of the multi-syllable ingredients. He sees the word “punch” and thinks a sweet pear-flavored party drink.  Not so with this prickly pear concoction. As I am quickly drinking my bright, pink, refreshing Mimosa, he grimaces after one gulp of his pale orange brew:

“Tastes like a moldy pillow that’s been in a basement for six months.”

The Bar at Bar Tartine San Francisco

The Bar at Bar Tartine
San Francisco

Because of his cold, and his vivid description, I did not try The Moldy Pillow cocktail—however, as I glanced over Bob’s shoulder, towards the bar, I saw a waitress toss the very same drink down the bar sink.

Nevertheless, Bar Tartine was wonderfully delicious in a welcoming spot in the heart of the Mission.  We split the Everything Sandwich, a hearty two-hander on freshly baked and toasted bread filled with lox, fancy cream cheese (quark), crisp lettuce, capers, fresh tomato and herbs.

Our tiny hotel was on Union Street not far from Van Ness Avenue, a great location for a low-key Russian Hill evening. Free parking in San Francisco is like manna from heaven, and $170 per night price tag is below average. So, although the hotel décor was shabby, and our wall heater inoperable, we rather liked the Pacific Heights Inn for its comfy bed, great location, and generous parking policy. Once in a safe spot in the Inn’s parking lot, our car stayed put until our ride home the next day!

Putting our feet up for a short respite, Bob quietly watches the World Series game while I read my novel about a pirate queen who kidnaps a gourmet chef.  Soon its time to walk the half-mile to 1760 Polk street, passing busy bars filled with baseball fans and Halloween revelers.

1760 has perfect modern ambiance with low-level lighting, plenty of brushed steel and well placed glass and mirrors. The restaurant is busy with a charming intimacy that comes from smooth operations and confident staff. The timing of the entire evening was impeccable, and our lovely Isabella had no trace of the San Francisco over cool wait attitude. She cared as did her fellow servers and bus-people.

1760 subscribes to the small (shared) plate model, and Isabella was quite clear explaining which were the larger and which were the smaller, appetizer-like plates on the menu. After ordering two great cocktails (Bob sanely ordered a mango/rum drink and I had chose the wonderful bourbon-based buck), we opted for two small plates, two large plates and one dessert. Soon an amuse bouche of celery topped with a pungent bleu cheese arrived and was quickly gobbled up.

Our favorite dish was next: Dungeness crab “siracha.” This artful salad of very fresh crab, tiny dots of siracha around the plate, with nuances of celery and yuzu fruit is a perfect starter, so perfect we nearly re-ordered prior to dessert.  Next out (timing was perfect) was Crispy Octopus and Squash Ravioli and both were excellent.

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

 I had my second bourbon Buck.

Knowing we wanted to finish this lovely evening off with the right sweet, we went back to the menu for warm pears and goat cheese friseé salad alongside a Milk Chocolate Ganache plated with hickory ice cream, bourbon caramel, and marshmallow. We certainly had enough food but 1760’s sweet finale was a complimentary Brown Butter Sponge Cake, apple-bourbon gelato and cheesecake mousse birthday dessert.

Our evening finished up at The Royal Oak bar for a nightcap. The Addams Family Values movie was playing on the big screen TV, and all around the young locals were dressed up as pirates and Wookies. Even the Pope was there.

Bob & A Pope

Bob & A Pope

 Glad the festivities culminated a few days prior to my birthday: with an ill husband, a rushed work project going sour, and the age of 57 hard for me to grasp, the rest of my birthday week has felt quite like a Moldy Pillow.

 

 

Tourism indicators up in New Orleans and Sonoma County

 

New Orleans Home in Mardi Gras Colors

New Orleans Home in Mardi Gras Colors

As an informal ambassador for both New Orleans and Sonoma County, I’m happy to pass along positive tourism news for both sweet spots.

According to Don Ames at Gulf Coast radio station WWL, Fall convention business is booming in New Orleans:

“We’re 60 percent up, compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. For the next three month, … just in CVB-booked conventions, about 130,000 people coming from all over the world for major medical conventions and this is going to bring about 153 million dollars into the City of New Orleans,” says Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Kelly Schulz.

(Although not a convention attendee, I am happy to report that I’m a generous hospitality industry consumer during my regular visits to the Crescent City.)

For more on New Orleans’ healthy tourism business, check out http://bit.ly/GJFKx1

In news closer to my home, Sonoma County tourism is also hopping. Writing in the North Bay Business Journal, Eric Gneckow reports that Horizon Air — the sole commercial carrier at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County airport, has hit a significant milestone with the number of flight operations returning to levels not seen since before the financial downturn.For more, click here http://bit.ly/GPAHLO

Sonoma County vineyards

Red and White

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In California’s wine country, the grape harvest starts well before fall — the fruit ripens fast during the sweltering midsummer days when our vineyards seem like magnets for the summer sun, trapping the heat between the hills and valleys that define our terroir. Those heat wave days can quickly turn into sudden thundershowers, threatening the crops with mildew and ruination.It is turncoat weather. If grapes aren’t harvested in time a precious vintage may be lost.

As long summer days come to a close, and the erratic harvest weather sends me home earlier on Saturdays, I open a bottle of local Pinot Noir and settle in to watch BBC’s The White Queen, the poorly-reviewed ten episode production based on Philippa Gregory’s three books: The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.

Each Saturday night I turn on satellite TV to watch the small screen rendition the War of the Roses (WOTR). It is an time that historian Allison Weir calls anunfolding pageant of treason and conflict.” I’m vigilantly watching the show because this year, surprisingly, the fictional tales of the historic conflict between the (red) Lancastrians and the (white) Yorkist roses/houses are my favorite bedtime reading: escapist, romantic, devious, epic, and always volatile.

Sure, I’ve grabbed Ms. Gregory’s popular WOTR novels, but even before The White Queen TV show landed in the U.S, I’d found other fiction authors who have tackled the pivotal century with careful plot development, thoughtful character interpretations, and insights into the mercurial relationships within, and between, the two houses. Since Sheli reads loves good historical fiction, I’m delighted the saucy Welsh blogger invited me to guest post this week so I can share my thoughts on a few key re-tellings of this era.

The Tudor Rose

Tudor Rose: the Story of the Queen Who United a Kingdom and Birthed a Dynasty

Margaret Campbell Barnes wrote Tudor Rose: the Story of the Queen Who United a Kingdom and Birthed a Dynasty sixty years ago. Tudor Rose brightly weaves the history of Elizabeth of York, the White Queen’s eldest daughter, and the most recent common ancestor of all English monarchs. Elizabeth shines through as a naturally cheerful girl who develops into a wise and warm queen. The book moves quickly, is carefully researched, and is well worth reading. However, towards the end Barnes tosses in a few strange fictional twists that seem both implausible and rushed. 

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