Well I’m a big fan of Kate Quinn. She has a wonderful way of taking real life heroines and creating fictional stories. I’ve listened to four of her books now over the last several years, and I also really love the voice of her books on audible whose name is Saaskia Maarleveld. Here is my book review the Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn.
Like Quinn’s other books; The Rose Code (2021), The Huntress (2019), and The Alice Network (2017), The Diamond Eye is based on a real life World War II female heroine named Lyudmila Pavlichenko (Mila). When war breaks out Mila is a young mother, studying at university and trying to make a better life for her and her son in Kyiv.
But war changes everything, including Mila’s life as she finds herself thrust into service in the war against Hitler. But unlike most women who end up in nursing or administrative positions, Mila becomes a sniper, an unlikely national heroine known as Lady Death.
Although Mila is a real person, most of this story is fictional, as Quinn merges fact and fiction and a beautiful writing style that pulls the reader into Mila’s life, her loves and her fierce and determination to survive.
Mila will find herself thrust into the spotlight, meeting President’s and First Ladies, all while grieving her own losses and unwittingly changing the course of history.
I hope you enjoyed my book review The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
We had a wonderful ten day stay at the beautiful Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos a few weeks ago. It’s incredibly rare for us to stay in a resort, or even in a hotel. We usually are in an Airbnb or VRBO, with our hotel stays limited to one night here and there usually at an airport. But we gave this a try and we were not disappointed. Here is my review of the Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos.
Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos is a small Caribbean country in the Atlantic only 736 miles off the coast of Florida. The country has a population of 39,000 within its collection of 40 small islands, of which only eight are inhabited. They use US dollars, drive on the left and are a British territory. Queen Elizabeth names a Governor for the country.
Most of the population are descendants of slaves, who were forcibly brought here to work the salt flats and cotton fields. More recently many people have immigrated from The Bahamas. Today the economy is based on tourism and off-shore financing.
Grace Bay, Providenciales
We spent our time on the island of Providenciales, home ot the international airport (by the way, the airport is the worst thing about the island, sadly in need of an upgrade). Our lodgings were in a small town known as Grace Bay. Grace Bay has an astonishingly beautiful long white sand beach where the lovely resorts sit, including the Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos.
The town of Grace Bay seems to be fairly recently developed, with resorts, shops and restaurants spread out over a few miles and all easy walking distance from our resort. A really nice grocery store was less than a mile, dozens of restaurant and shops about a mile or less. Everything seems practically brand new. Sidewalks are good, and roads too. I felt very safe doing a five mile run each morning.
Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos
This resort was far better than I expected, which of course was a great surprise. We booked the least expensive room, a “studio” for $260 a night via Expedia. With all the taxes and fees, the actual cost was closer to $300. The “studio” is basically a large hotel room that included a table and chairs for two, small sitting area, small kitchen with fridge and microwave (see last week’s blog about hotel microwave cooking), a bathroom and a washer and dryer. Having a washer dryer was a big bonus we weren’t expecting. Our room also had a very large deck with table, chairs and lounge chair over looking one of the two pools.
The Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos also has one bedroom suites. In addition you can combine a one bedroom suite and a studio like ours to create a two bedroom space.
Made up of 8 buildings with 15 units in each, the buildings are spread out around beautifully landscaped grounds. All units either overlook one of the pools or the beach.
There is no elevator, but a very nice and strong bellhop carried our bags up to the third floor on our arrival. Staff also secured the taxi for our return trip to the airport. Taxi’s are different here…usually shared vans.
First Rate Amenities
We were pleasantly surprised to find such beautiful pools as well as access to a beautiful beach area on Grace Bay that included lounge chairs and umbrellas just for the guests of our hotel. Beach and pool towels also available from the friendly staff.
In addition the hotel offers guests the free use of Hobie Cat sailboats, kayaks and bikes.
Pelican Bay Restaurant and Bar sits poolside at the Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos. It is highly rated and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition they had one of the most generous daily happy hours I’ve ever encountered offering half off all drinks from 5-7pm. Special weekly Fish Fry and BBQ are also popular. On Sunday nights they have live music and it was so good.
We cooked in our room five of the nights we stayed and ate out four nights. In addition to enjoying the Pelican Bay Restaurant and Bar for breakfast we walked to four more dinner restaurants and one lunch that we really enjoyed.
More We Enjoyed
Coco Bistro and Coco Van – When we couldn’t get a reservation at the highly rated and very popular Coco Bistro we ended up having a really good meal at their food truck called Coco Van. We had Chicken Fried Burger, Duck Tacos, Egg Roll, two side salads and four beers. $80.
Another highly rated restaurant we tried was called Caicos Cafe. I was expecting it to be Caribbean food but it actually was Italian with lots of pastas and other things too. I had a spinach salad and grilled octopus. Arne had the local specialty Conch Chowder and BBQ Ribs. With one beer and water $120
A short walk down the beach we discovered The Flamingo Cafe, a tiny beach shake with great water view. Not much to look at but the food was great and inexpensive. Conch Salad and two Grouper entries $60.
We ate lunch out one day at the local food truck called Roosters just a block from our resort. Fish Tacos and burgers on the menu but we also tried a local Caribbean pork dish called Griot. $18
We splurged a little on our final night on the island and went to Coyaba, one of the highest rated restaurants in the area. Fantastic service. Cute space. Excellent food. Two fish entries, one salad, beer and water total was $160.
Visiting Turks and Caicos
We chose not to rent a car and not to wander beyond Grace Bay during our visit. But for those interested there are great beaches around the island (some remote), a national park, snorkel and dive tours, sailing tours, sunset tours, kayaking, parasailing, golf and more. Although groceries and dining out were quite expensive, overall we had a really positive experience and would definitely recommend it, as well as a stay at the Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos.
Sue Monk Kidd is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read several of her books, and last year her work The Book of Longings made my top ten list. Today’s book is about one of her older works, published in 2005. Here is my book review The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd.
Jessie has avoided the island where she grew up and her eccentric mother for years, always finding an excuse to stay away. But when her mother’s odd behavior takes an even odder turn, Jessie is forced to leave her comfortable home and husband Hugh and venture back to Egret Island.
Kidd’s story will unfold for both Jessie and her mother, as they learn things about each other’s past. Playing an important role through out the tale is the Mermaid Chair, an ornate and sacred relic in the Benedictine monastery on the island.
Jessie will struggle with her own unhappiness, being drawn to an unlikely and handsome monk. Her relationship with Brother Thomas will make her question everything about her own life, her marriage her childhood and the tragedy that took the life of her father. All this while her mother’s mental health will eventually unlock long hidden family secrets that revolve around The Mermaid Chair.
****Four stars for The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
I hope you enjoyed reading my book review The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd.
We blew our budget through the atmosphere during our 12 days in New York City. Most of that was because we ate out every night in an expensive city. Then we were under budget on the island of Antigua because we used our kitchen and ate in 8 of the 10 nights. Next we arrived to our beautiful resort in Turks and Caicos. A generous room, with a fridge, sink, washer/dryer and microwave. So I got busy figuring out how to stay on budget with hotel microwave cooking.
Hotel Microwave Cooking
I have a microwave at home, but it is not a source for cooking for me. I use it only occasionally to reheat food, or cook frozen vegetables. I’ve never made an entire meal in a microwave. So I went to my favorite recipe source – Pinterest of course, for hotel microwave cooking ideas.
Here in Turks and Caicos everything is expensive. And we really try to stay within our budget, which is how we sustain long term travel. Groceries are expensive, but eating out is even more expensive. So our nine nights at the Royal West Indies Resort meant hotel microwave cooking more than half of those.
We always eat a bowl of fruit, spinach, quinoa, yogurt, and nuts for breakfast. But I had never cooked quinoa in the microwave before. But, yes you can. And the nice thing about quinoa is you can also make other great meals with it using pre-cooked chicken from the grocery store, beans and veg. It’s a wonderful staple that is part of my daily diet.
I never knew you could make hard boiled eggs in the microwave….what planet have I been on? This is revelation for me, because we each eat a hard boiled egg every morning with our breakfast bowl. Here’s how;
Tip – I didn’t have cooking spray but olive oil or butter works fine. I used a bowl not a mug and this is essentially scrambled eggs not an omelet. I added cheddar, spinach and green onion. I had heavy cream from the pasta the night before (see below) and used that instead of milk. I cooked the eggs a total of 4 min stirring every 30 sec. Microwave cooking time will vary.
I made four dinners, two of them using the microwave.
Tip – the pasta took 15 min. A smaller pasta probably wouldn’t take as long. After 15 min our microwave overheated and we had to let it cool down before we could continue. I cooked onions and garlic in butter then added canned tomatoes and heavy cream to make it creamy as well as parmesan.
Without using the microwave we also had a very yummy Swiss cheese and turkey on Toast with a cucumber tomato salad as well as a salad with store bought cooked chicken and lots of other store bought yummy ingredients. You can also cook bacon in the microwave and make BLT’s.
Stay On Budget With Creative Cooking
We don’t travel like we are on vacation. We travel like we are living a regular day…it just so happens to be in an exotic location. And this is how we stay on budget, experience the local culture and feel a little tiny bit like a local. It’s what we set out to do more than six years ago when we started the Grand Adventure, and we have made it work. This is how we sustain long term travel – by cooking in our Airbnb and occasionally in our hotel. Thanks for reading my blog post Hotel Microwave Cooking. Watch for next Friday’s post all about the Royal West Indies Resort in Turks and Caicos.
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Yes it’s his real name. Randy Rainbow is a comedian and satirist and Playing with Myself is his first book. I listened to this book on audible and and it has so many funny moments, but also a serious side. Here is my book review Playing with Myself by Randy Rainbow.
Rainbow, who grew up in New York and South Florida, tells how he went from being a hostess at Hooters (yes really) to a full-fledged comedian hobnobbing with the likes of Carol Burnett, Patti LaPone and Steven Sondheim. His story is truthful and not always funny, particularly the part about his narcissist father, childhood bullies and lack of self-confidence as a young gay man.
Rainbow today looks back on the difficult times that brought him to his success, gives credit to all those people who helped him along the way, including those who did what they could to see him fail. He does it with a fun and inventive writing style and a whole lot a flare. And let’s not forget his signature pink glasses.
Rainbow is a unique talent, and now he’s an author too. I loved this book, and I am a fan of his humor and the way he uses music as satire and all the characters he has developed as part of his act. A breath of fresh air. Thanks for reading my book review Playing with Myself by Randy Rainbow.
*****Five Stars for Playing with Myself by Randy Rainbow
As we travel around the world on the Grand Adventure we have become amateur bird watchers. We didn’t set out to do this but it gradually happened as we marveled at the world’s amazing avian life. A few years ago we discovered the bird identifier app called Merlin. It quickly became one of our most used travel apps. Using it in the Caribbean we have really enjoyed the birds of Antigua West Indies.
The Merlin Bird Identifier App
The free Merlin app is created by the Cornell Lab, part of Cornell University in New York. My husband discovered this app, and it’s honestly amazing that it is free because it offers so many features. Our favorite features include the easy search function, excellent photos (most photos in this post from Merlin) and the super fun birdsong/sound identifier.
As we travel we catalog the birds we discover around the world. And we discovered 13 new birds while on Antigua West Indies. Thanks Merlin!
We spent ten days on this tiny Caribbean island. Here is a list of both the 13 new as well as several others that were repeats with a little bit about each one. These photos below are from the Merlin App.;
Birds of Antigua West Indies
Green Heron – beautiful blue green water bird with a rust colored neck and a crown that he fluffs up when he is agitated or happy.
Broad-winged Hawk – beautiful small hawk, multi colored with spectacular underwing color.
White Winged Dove – usually on the ground or perched, smaller with gray and brown and white on the wings
Zenaida Dove – shy and keeps to beachy or scrub area, similar to Mourning Dove. Distinct white edge on wings when seen in flight.
Green-throated Carib – large for a hummingbird, the fluorescent green color can appear black in certain light.
Common Ground Dove – tiny dove dull brown color keeps to grasses and shrubby areas
White-crowned Pigeon – large dark gray with white cap and pink legs, common in low coast areas and mangroves.
Gray Kingbird – medium gray and white, primarily Caribbean and found in dense woodlands near the coast.
Yellow Warbler – prefers brushy areas near water but easy to spot due to flash of color although females are duller in color.
Carib Grackle – Black with yellow eye, long tail and rather obnoxious call
Bananaquit – Gray with yellow belly and black and white head, known for screeching call. Found in woodlands and gardens, feeds on fruits and at bird feeders.
Laughing Gull, distinctive call that sounds like laughter, most common shorebird on Antigua, white and gray with full black head.
Common Gallinule – chicken-like marsh bird found near cattails, black with distinctive red face and yellow legs.
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch – tame and often seen at your picnic or on your deck, males are black with red throat and females are brownish green.
Great Egret – Large, long-necked white heron found in marshy area, quick to startle.
Cattle Egret – common white stocky with short yellow bill, usually in dryer area than other egrets, splash of pink on the head.
Black-necked Stilt – fragile looking water bird with distinctive pink legs and tuxedo body. Forages in shallow pools and marshes.
Brown Pelican – large and gray brown saltwater habitat, very long bill with pouch for scooping fish. Often gather in groups.
Magnificent Frigatebird – huge seabird found in tropical ocean areas black with forked tail with inflatable red pouch on throat (males) and females white chest and gold bar on shoulder.
Apps Make Travel Fun and Easy
There are several apps we use for travel on nearly a daily basis including Google Maps, Google Translate, Airbnb, Expedia, PictureThis Plant Identifier and The Weather Channel. But Merlin is one of our favorites for both the education and entertainment value it provides. Whether you travel or not, we recommend you check out Merlin Bird Identifier App.
Well I have loved this author in the past for her astonishing work of Station Eleven, one of my favorite books of 2018. It’s about a pandemic by the way…weird. I was excited to read her next novel The Glass Hotel, but it just fell flat for me. So I was cautiously hopeful about her latest book. And, I loved it. Here is my Book Review Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel.
In this novel Mandel continues her imaginative work into “speculative fiction”, a genre that takes the reader through both natural and unnatural, magical and metaphysical and futuristic. But, it’s not SciFi. It’s much more. This book had some elements that reminded me of Cloud Cockoo Land, one of my favorite books of 2021. I love a writer who can imagine life in a completely different realm but make it is believable.
In Sea of Tranquility we meet a wide range of characters, in a wide range of time frames, starting with Edwin in 1912 to Olive two hundred years later and finally Gaspery-Jacques another several centuries in the future. How these people are connected, and reconnected through time travel, is the crux of the story. Can the past be changed, should it be?
You’ll find yourself questioning your own daily reality, as questions are explored that we are grappling with on earth today including climate, pandemic, and violence. Thank you for reading my Book Review Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel.
*****Five stars for Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
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