Amazon book reviewers for The Garden House

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Hello dear reader —

Once in a while I put out a request for book reviews. I’m always trying to increase my numbers, especially on Amazon and Goodreads, as it leads to greater discoverability.

If you have read The Garden House, I would deeply appreciate a review (and by that I mean a few words or even a simple star review).

If you have not read The Garden House but would like to and are willing to leave an honest review on Amazon, please contact me at linda@lindamahkovec.com and I will send you a free ebook through BookFunnel.

And to all of you who have left reviews, thank you ever so much. Your stamp of approval means the world to me!

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(all images from Pinterest)

 

Color, magnificent color – pink

Soft and ethereal, or bold and bright. The color pink is said to be a calming color, promoting happiness, well-being, and relaxation.

It delights when we come across it on doors and windows,

or even on exteriors.

A garden color staple,

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pink also provides lovely touches inside the home.

Pink is associated with beauty and delicacy, and qualities that are romantic and feminine.

Pink is also linked to hope and optimism

and even healing.

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May Day

May 1st –Maypoles,

floral wreaths and garlands,

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small vases of first flowers.

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Surprise bouquets.

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Bursts of color.

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“Spring — an experience in immortality.” – Henry D. Thoreau

 

 

Enchanted April

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a movie I’ve always loved, Enchanted April, based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. I remembered that I had bought the book a few years ago and decided to read it — and watch the movie again. Set shortly after WWI, the story is about two women who are unhappy with their dreary, loveless lives in rainy London.

After seeing an advertisement for “Wisteria and Sunshine,”

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they become filled with the dream of renting a villa in Italy for the month of April.

The impetuous Lotty convinces her friend Rose to make the dream a reality.

They find two other women, who are also dissatisfied with their lives, to join them in order to help lessen the cost, and set off for Italy.

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A  month of strolling through the terraced hillsides, enjoying the rocky shore, dining al fresco, and resting in the tranquility of the gardens enables their spirits to heal.

The result is a reawakening to life, love, beauty, and newfound friendship .

 

To “wisteria and sunshine,”

 and to healing the spirit.

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The Garden House – spring

The novel The Garden House is set in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the action occurring in Seattle. Other books in the fledgling series might be set on the Oregon coast, or perhaps the San Juan Islands, or even — if shop owner Paula gets her way — the flea markets of Paris.

I lived in Seattle for seven years and I visit my sister in Oregon once or twice a year. I’m always struck by the breathtaking beauty of the landscape.

One of the things I love most about the Pacific Northwest is that spring arrives so early in the year.

As I thrill at the inch-high green shoots of crocuses in my tiny garden patch, I imagine The Garden House’s main character, Miranda, already surrounded by spring’s beauty.

I see her out in her garden on a cool morning holding a steaming cup of tea, or on her hands and knees, turning the soil to plant a box of pansies or brushing aside a few dried leaves to uncover a cluster of grape hyacinths.

Or just sitting quietly on a garden bench, taking in the colors and scents of early spring.

 

January colors and the High Line’s “Four Arches”

Faded grasses, gray skies, a myriad shades of bare branches. The colors of January are, for the most part, soft and muted. Such colors lined the walkway of New York City’s High Line, an elevated park built on an old train line, on a recent early morning walk.

I was struck by how the earthy colors of the leaves and branches blended with the brick of different buildings.

Other times bursts of color stood out, as with the red berries against a bare wall,

the coppery branches set among the evergreens, and a few splashes of yellow.

An unexpected pleasure was coming across one of the “En Plein Air” art installations that enliven the Highline — “Four Arches” by artist Sam Falls.

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A simple walk through the four slender arches provides a subtle thrill, perhaps coming from the delicacy of plant life depicted on the arches. The colors of the painted leaves and flowers blended with the muted quiet of the day. Understated and elegant, the arches seem perfectly situated for the High Line.

The plaque next to the installation explains why the design so resonates with its surroundings. Falls created “four ceramic archways supported by the steel tracks from the High Line’s original railway, each of which is dedicated to a different season in the park. For one year, Falls collected plants from the High Line, embedded them in ceramic, and fossilized them with colorful pigments.” 

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The linearity of the gray steel rails and the painted plant life complement each other in an unexpected way. The artwork is a collection of oppositions: the rails are durable, rigidly straight, industrial and functional; the depictions of plant life are delicate, airy, colorful, organic in shape, and decorative. The nearly hundred-year-old rails contrast with the seasonal ephemeral plants. 

The installation is so slender and unobtrusive that you could easily miss its intricacies, especially when the High Line becomes crowded at midday, or if you are engaged in conversation or taking in the views of the city. From a distance “Four Arches” is one thing — an angular walkway set among the other angles of the surrounding buildings.

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Close up, it becomes a seasonal garden of gorgeous colors and shapes,

full of individual compositions which must have involved countless decisions for the artist: How to present such variety? How best to portray the delicate flowers, leaves, and grasses? Which plants should be placed at eye level, and which will work on the top horizontal beams? How to represent the seasons? Which colors work best together?

“Four Arches” is a welcome garden on a gray January morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Happy New Year

There are many ways to ring in the New Year.

Whether you enjoy the sparkle and festivities of parties and crowded celebrations

or a reflective evening home alone

or with loved ones,

I wish you the happiness of new beginnings and all the best in the coming year.

May 2020 bring you one step closer to your dreams, and may your life be filled with beauty and love.

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Happy New Year!

Ursula — the Christmastime series

The Christmastime series takes a turn beginning with Christmastime 1943, with the sub-plot set on Kate’s farm in Illinois. Kate, Charles’s sister, and her two teen-aged daughters, Ursula (17) and Jessica (15), run the farm while her four sons are away at war. With the workforce severely diminished, and the demand for food production greater than ever, Kate does what many farmers had to do – she uses German POWs to help with the farm work.

Her elder daughter Ursula is furious about it. Francis, the brother she was closest to, has recently been killed by the Nazi army and Ursula is filled with anguish and hatred of the German soldiers. She adamantly refuses to have anything to do with the POWs.

Below are a few excerpts from Christmastime 1943: A Love Story, along with images suggestive of scenes with Ursula during the seasons of 1943-1945. Ursula: beautiful, willful, dreamy, passionate. (All images are from my Pinterest board Ursula – the Christmastime series, 1943, 1944, 1945.)

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Our first introduction to Ursula comes from Lillian. She’s been working on a series of war posters with the theme of Women in the Workforce, and the next posters will be on women and farm work. Based on an earlier visit to Kate’s farm, Lillian sketches an image of a young girl on a tractor.

Lillian studied it and realized that she had largely based the girl on Jessica, the younger of Kate’s daughters – blonde, cheerful, wholesome. Lillian had first tried the sketch based on Ursula, but the look was all wrong.

Again, Lillian gazed out the window, tapping the pencil against her cheek. Both of Kate’s daughters were extremely pretty – but Ursula had that elusive quality of beauty. Though her features were striking, Lillian felt that her beauty had more to do with her expressions, her soft way of speaking, her behavior – she was both pensive and brisk – as if her mind pulled her in one direction, and her body in another. No, thought Lillian, Ursula was more difficult to imagine on a tractor than Jessica, even though Kate wrote that Ursula had really taken up the slack at the farm as one by one her brothers had left. It was easier to imagine Ursula as some kind of mythic heroine – Diana the huntress, perhaps, or a winged victory figure.

Lillian thought of Ursula as she was two years ago – setting out on one of her restless walks across the fields or along the country road, or tucked away poring over a book. Her heart was set on going to college, and that was the life that would best suit her. She was intelligent, curious, strong-willed. Kate had sent a photo in the summer, and Ursula was prettier than ever. Lillian began a sketch of such a girl – tall and slim, with wavy dark hair, and those exquisitely lovely eyes – deep blue, beneath eyebrows like angry wings, smooth and beautiful. An air of intensity surrounded her, as if a quiet fire burned within.

Another impression of Ursula comes from Ed, the old farmhand who has worked for the family for years. He has news for Kate regarding the arrival of the POWs, but on hearing Kate and Ursula arguing about it inside, he waits out on the porch, reminiscing about Ursula as a child.

Glancing back at the kitchen door, he thought how he loved them all – Kate and her sons and daughters. He was fond of each and every one of them, but he couldn’t help the soft spot he had for Ursula. Even as a curly-topped child, she had a way of winning people over with her wide-eyed wonder and her demand for answers – “But why? How? What would happen if…?”

He chuckled, remembering how she used to ride around with him on the tractor, how he helped her learn to ride a bike, how she and little Francy used to hold hands as they jumped from the hayloft. And how, after her father died, she had transferred much of the affection for her father onto him.

How quickly the years had passed. Now here she was, almost eighteen years old, and more headstrong than ever. Yet sweet as a summer day. A hard worker, and capable, yet he often caught her staring out at the sunsets, or wondering at the beauty of snowdrifts, or listening to a strain of music on the radio with a hand pressed to her chest. There was a poet inside her, he often thought – though he doubted it would have the chance to come out now. If only she could have gone on to school, like she wanted. Well, there’s still time, he thought. He gave another shake of his head at the memory of the little girl who used to romp around the farm. Ursula. Here she was, seventeen – a breathtaking beauty in overalls.

Now Jessica, he thought, giving a little nod. She had more chance for overall, everyday happiness. Was more practical, down to earth, did not set her expectations up there with the moon. And was dang pretty. But Ursula…

Ed rubbed his whiskers, and his tanned wrinkled face scrunched in worry. She had that kind of dark beauty that troubled the heart. He took off his hat, inspected the rim, and readjusted it on his head. Well, they’re still young. It’ll all work out, somehow – it always does.

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Ursula, after the argument with her mother about having German POWs on the farm.

Ursula plopped down in a chair in her overalls, arms crossed, an angry fire burning in her eyes. The only adornment she allowed herself these days – and in Kate’s eyes, evidence of her contrariness – were the amethyst drop earrings her family had given her after she was accepted into the women’s college downstate. She wore them every day as a reminder that she would go to college. Some day. And though Ursula wouldn’t admit it, she was just as hungry for a bit of beauty as was Jessica – perhaps even more so. In the middle of milking the cows, or feeding the chickens, or hauling firewood into the house, she would lightly touch the earrings – as a reminder of her dreams.

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Jessica later attempts to give another point of view regarding the POWs — but to no avail.

“I was all ready to hate them. I really was. But it’s hard to do when they look like our neighbors. When they look like us.”

Ursula could listen to no more. “Listen to you. They’re brutal Nazis! They’re killing our men. Doing horrible things to the Poles and Jews. You’ve read the papers, seen the newsreels. Don’t be fooled by their appearance. They’re nothing like us. They’re cold-blooded murderers. Never forget that.”

She stuffed the remnants of the overalls into the rag basket, and then stood stiffly, sore from overdoing her chores.

“You look all done in, Ursula,” said Kate. “Why don’t you go soak in a hot bath? It’s been a long day.”

Ursula went upstairs and ran the bathwater, letting her clothes drop heavily to the linoleum floor. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, pushing aside her hair. She did look done in.

She touched the amethyst earrings. It had been so long since she felt pretty, since she had worn a dress, since she had gone to a dance. Everything now was bleak and grim. Her brothers, and most of the town boys, were gone. Everyone was having a hard time, having to adapt to all the changes. For the most part, she didn’t mind. She loved the farm, loved the fields at sunset, had even learned to love the backbreaking work. It kept her mind focused, prevented it from filling with daydreams. Foolish dreams of college and travel, of seeing the beautiful capitals of Europe. She wondered if those cities would even still be standing after this nightmarish war was over.

The steam gradually blurred her reflection – just as her dreams had blurred and faded, she thought. No matter. There wasn’t time for girlish daydreams. Her mother was right; she had behaved childishly today. Work needed to be done, and she would do it. 

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Amazon link:  https://amzn.to/2paLyMt

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The Romance of Travel: Biarritz

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On the southwest corner of France on the Bay of Biscay, not far from the Spanish border, lies the beautiful town of Biarritz.

Part of the Basque Country, the town has a rich and varied history. It began as a small fishing and whaling village, became a popular destination for European aristocracy in the 19th century and, more recently, has become known as a premier surfing destination in Europe.

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A leisurely stroll through the town is the best way to take in the various beaches, the lighthouse, plazas, hotels, and old harbor.

The mix of architectural styles — belle époque, art deco, and neo-medieval — add to the town’s glamour.

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Biarritz is studded with elegant villas and charming homes with black filigree balconies, sturdy shutters, gardens and gates — all built to withstand the rough Atlantic storms.

Its maritime origins remain an integral part of the town. The beautiful cathedral, Notre Dame de Rocher, is situated on the harbor where it provided shelter and solace for the fishermen, sailors, and their families.

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A mosaic depiction of a ship is situated near the altar, a large clam shell serves as one of the fonts, and a model ship hangs from the ceiling.

A walk along the old harbor leads to one of many vista points,

and down to a promontory called La Vierge de le Rochelle. A bridge built by Gustave Eiffel in 1865 leads out to the statue of the Virgin Mary.

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At the top of the hill, a cafe with outdoor seating offers the perfect vantage point to watch the sun sink over the Atlantic.

Another day’s walk takes you up a wooded area that leads to more breath-taking views.

October hydrangeas in soft autumn colors lined the path of the hill-climb.

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The steep path offers benches and various viewpoints to watch the surfers,

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and to take in the spectacular views of the ocean and the hazy coast of Spain in the distance.

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There is a quality of light in Biarritz that adds to its beauty — dramatic, dark shadowy clouds pierced with sudden sunlight over waters that can be rough and white-capped, or seemingly calm with a vast shimmer. The weather this time of year can be fair and mild one day,

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stormy and brisk the next.

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A stop at the Miremont Patisserie Salon de Thé was the ideal way to end one such brisk autumn day.

Built in 1872, the cafe exudes elegance and old-world charm, with rich ornamentation, mirrored walls, and mosaic floors. A large window overlooks the ever-changing ocean. It was the perfect place to warm up with a cup of its famous hot chocolate.

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I chose the Chantilly. The cocoa and whipped cream were served separately to mix to taste. The hot chocolate was thick, dark, sweet, and delicious. A welcome treat on a blustery October afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romance of Travel — Scotland (Part 2) The Highlands

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(The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye — image from Pinterest, Anne McKinell Photography.)

“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove / The hills of the Highlands forever I love.” –Robert Burns

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(Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness)

To the north of Edinburgh, beyond the Firth of Forth, lies the Scottish Highlands — mountains, valleys, glens, lochs, rugged coastlines, and islands: the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and farther north, Shetland. (In all, Scotland has close to 800 islands)

The Highlands is a land filled with castles, history, legend, and lore: Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, the northern city of Inverness, the Isle of Skye, Iona. A two-week driving tour through Scotland was an eye-opening experience to the breathtaking beauty of the Highlands.

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(The charming village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.)

The Isle of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides, is famous for being the location of the Monastery of Iona. A short ferry ride from Mull takes you to the small windswept island of Iona.

“In 563, Columba came to Iona from Ireland with twelve companions and founded a monastery. It developed as an influential center for the spread of Christianity among the Picts and Scots.” (wikipedia)

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A seat of learning, the monastery is associated with the illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells.  “It is generally accepted that the book was begun in the monastery of Iona at some point after c. 740.” (www.historyireland.com)

We chose to stay in the town of Oban because it’s one of the main places to catch the ferry to Mull. We were pleasantly surprised by its charm and lively harbor. It proved to be an unexpected find.

The port town has a waterside promenade lit by tiny lights, perfect for strolling after dining at one of the town’s wonderful restaurants.

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Leaving Oban and driving north to Skye, you’ll be tempted to stop and admire the glens, castles, rivers, and lochs along the way. A few hours exploring the much-photographed Eilean Donan Castle was well worth the detour.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides and has some of the most beautiful and dramatic sites of the Highlands: the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing,

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Neiss Lighthouse, and the Fairy Glen.

Stopping in the tiny hamlet of Dunvegan on our way to the lighthouse, we came across the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum and caught a glimpse of “Old Scotland.”  

Crossing the Highlands and driving north takes you to Inverness, “the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands.” The River Ness runs through the middle of the town and is crossed by several bridges, one of which takes you from one side of the river to the other, crossing through a pretty wooded island on the way.

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Day trips from Inverness include driving along Loch Ness and touring the battlefield of Culloden, site of the final Jacobite rebellion.

Continuing a few hours north takes you to the northernmost town on the British mainland — Thurso, located on the North Sea.

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It’s the perfect place for stopping over before taking the morning ferry to Orkney. A beach walk after dinner offers beautiful views of Thurso Bay.

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From its harbor at nearby Scrabster, you can take the ferry to the town of Stromness in Orkney. The 90-minute journey takes you past some stunning scenery.

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(The Old Man of Hoy seen from the ferry to Orkney)

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On the ferry to Stromness, I was struck by the quotes by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), which prepare the traveler for the beauty of Orkney — a beauty both subtle and rugged.

“There was a fitful gleam of cold sunlight as we climbed aboard the Hamnavoe.”

“On the salt and tar steps, herring boats, puffing red sails, the tillers of cold horizons, leaned down the gull-gaunt tide.”

“The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.”

Though Orkney has the jagged coastlines and rocky landscape of much of the Highlands,

it has a different feel to it. In part, due to the remnants of the deep layers of history found throughout Orkney — in Neolithic archaeological sites, such as Skara Brae; in the stone rings of Brodgar and Stenness; in prehistoric mounds, and the remains of Viking settlements.

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More recent history is found in other ruins throughout the islands,

and in WWII sites — reminders of the importance of this remote location during the war: Scapa Flow (home of the British Fleet during both world wars), the Italian Chapel (built by Italian POWs),

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(the Italian Chapel)

and the Churchill barriers (rocky man-made causeways), among others. There’s a museum in Stromness that is a trove of WWII and local history.

Stromness, the main seaport, embodies the essence of Orkney. Its buildings are solid and strong, built to stand against fierce North Sea storms. Its streets are rocky and steep and overlook the expanse of the sea. “Fitful gleam[s] of cold sunlight” cast the town in “marvelous rhythms of … darkness and light.”

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An evening stroll along the harbor anchors you in its maritime presence — with bracing winds, the smell of “salt and tar,” and the sound of gulls.

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With touches of charm and homey warmth found in its narrow streets.

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As we left the Highlands and drove back south, we spotted a rainbow over a pot-of-gold mustard field — it seemed the perfect image for the close of our Highland tour.

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