People who know me know I like to cook. Nothing fancy, but I do like to put my own spin on things. For example, I’m not a fan of pine nuts, nor do I “love” basil. Still, I wanted a pesto of sorts to put on some pasta. Voila! Here’s my spinach pesto, made with fresh baby spinach and pecans. Yes, pecans, I am from the south you know. Pecans are much more often our choice than walnuts.
Then, there was the time I was making some Tex-Mex. I’m not a huge fan of beef, so I searched around and decided to make my version of shrimp taco salad. Not bad for a first try. I’ve made it lots of times since; but it’s never turned out quite a pretty as this picture. Glad I photographed it when I had the chance.
Of course, let’s not leave out desserts. Over the years I’ve made plenty, from pecan pie to shortbread cookies to cheesecake. One of my go-to recipes, probably because it’s so easy, is crock pot chocolate covered peanuts. I changed the original recipe just a bit, and while I still use some store bought chocolate chips, I also use the best chunked chocolate I can find. What’s available seems to depend on the season; but it usually turns out great. They aren’t as photogenic as the salads, but here’s a picture so you get the idea.
Recently, I’ve discovered the value of mentally cleansing the palate between books. I love mysteries, all sorts of mysteries, and can usually be found with at least one with me wherever I go. After all, you never know when you might have to wait five or ten minutes for an appointment, who knows how much you can read in that time.
What does that have to do with cleansing your “reading” palate you ask? I learned that constantly jumping from one mystery to the next kept me from enjoying them as much as I once did. When I thought about it, I realized what was happening was that I hadn’t put aside the ideas, questions, closure, or whatever the previous book had created before I started on the next one. For example, if I’d been reading a cozy mystery set in a bucolic English village, it took a minute to switch my brain to 1940’s California and a hard-hitting female detective. Did I have to not read for a day to solve the problem?
The answer was much the same as I might find for those three dishes I posted at the beginning of this blog. They were all enjoyable creations, but I wouldn’t want to jump from one right into the other, rather I would want to cleanse my palate. That might take the form of enjoying a glass of iced tea or cup of coffee, or something more serious like something bland in between the more distinctly flavored of the foods. Maybe this was what I needed for the books.
So, I explored what it would be like, and the first time out was a roaring success. For my mental palate cleanse, I chose Before the Crown by Flora Harding. It’s the fictional account of the years before Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip married, focusing on their developing relationship. The book was excellent in and of itself, and since I wasn’t trying to figure out “whodunit” I was able to relax and simply read the book. I enjoyed it so much, I thought I would recommend it to you, in case you’re looking for something a bit different. Here’s the review I wrote:
Before the Crown is an engaging book of fiction detailing the acts, emotions, and desire of Princess Elizabeth, Now Queen Elizabeth, and Phillip Mountbatten, now Prince Phillip. Before the book begins the statement is made that this is a work of fiction, although there are indications that attempts have been made to verify the facts.
Whether true or not, the book presents a wonderful story of two young people, drawn together by politics as well as love, who must navigate the waters of parental approval, government approval, and public approval. It is written as if Ms. Harding were an invisible presence during some private exchanges as well as when private journals were being written and recorded. Whether or not this is true matters little when it comes to the book itself.
Because this book is about two individuals who have lived most of their lives in the public eye, the reader already knows a great deal about them. That doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of the book as both the main characters are so well drawn it’s easy to become engaged with them. The reader has the opportunity to experience what it’s like to have to make a marriage that, while hoping for love, is acceptable politically as well as in the eyes of the public. There are hurdles that must be overcome if Elizbeth and Phillip are to be successful, specifically his being Greek and having sisters who are married to high ranking Nazi officials. While he has joined the British Royal Navy, his ties to both these regimes cast considerable doubt on his suitability and acceptability as the future consort to the Queen.
There is also attention given to the gravity of being born royal and the expectations of the person who is to become queen or king. Elizabeth is shown to be serious, dedicated, and accepting of an almost insurmountable task. In contrast, her love of Phillip and decision to marry him is presented as the one thing that Elizabeth is determined to have for her own. Is he worth it? Initially, the Phillip in the book is presented as a fast-living, fun loving character who is calculating in his realization that marrying Elizabeth is his best option for a stable life of wealth and privilege. He is pushed in every aspect of this by his uncle, the first Lord Mountbatten.
Throughout the book, information is provided regarding how much of an outsider Phillip is. He visits Balmoral for the first time, appalled at the idea of wearing a kilt, horrified by the routine of morning bagpipes, and resistant to the task of stalking and shooting a deer. Recognizing he must prove himself to be part of all this to begin to obtain the acceptance of the current King and Queen of England, he manages to fulfill most of the expectations, although not with any great pleasure.
Still, he is not the choice of the King and Queen, which they make abundantly clear at every turn. When Elizabeth defies her father and pursues an engagement with Phillip, the situation is filled with tension. Although the King finally agrees, his stipulations of no announcement for six months takes some of the excitement out of the situation. Then, when they are almost to the end of the six months he decides to take a three month family tour of Africa, pushing the announcement even further back.
Because the reader already knows how the story ends, the tension that might be created from doubt is not there. However, there are still questions to be answered. “Is this ultimately a love story or of a marriage of expedience?” chief among them. For that answer, you will need to read the book.
My thanks to Harper Collins Publishers, Australia and NetGalley for providing me an advanced digital copy for review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
So, there you have a recommendation for something other than a mystery. I know there have been a few in the past. I’m wondering if there may be more in the future. Time will tell. For now, I’ve got to get back to my latest mystery…it’s a compelling read. More about that later. For now, Happy Reading.