May 16, 2014

Book Club Bites: The Shadowy Horses

Welcome back to Book Club Bites! This is my (somewhat) monthly series in which I find a book that would be great for discussion and match it to a recipe.

This month's pick is The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley. I kept hearing Deanna Raybourn rave about her novels so I started following her on Twitter. Not only is she smart, funny and insightful in her tweets, but her books are the perfect page turner. She has found that lovely sweet spot between historical mystery and romance, with just a touch of the paranormal. They are the sort of books I carry around with me everywhere I go, on the off chance I will find a few minutes to read while waiting at the school pickup or post office line.

I've enjoyed all of Kearsley's books, but The Shadowy Horses is by far my favorite. Archaeologist Verity Grey is lured up to Scotland by her former boyfriend with the promise of an extraordinary dig. When she arrives in Eyemouth, Verity discovers her boss will be brilliant but eccentric Peter Quinnell who has devoted his life to finding the missing Ninth Legion of Rome in Scotland. For years he has been laughed at by the profession, but now he has a new clue to the final resting place of the soldiers. A young boy with the second sight sees a Roman Sentinel walking the fields, and locals hear horses run in the night. Peter assembles a small team of archaeologists to survey the site, including handsome David Fortune.

 Since I am an unabashed history lover and archaeology buff, this book was practically written for me. There are sweet, quirky characters and Kearsley's descriptive writing allows you to hear the ghostly horses and see the countryside. The romance builds gradually, and is only part of the plot rather than the entire focus. I loved the balance that this created within the story. Some of her other stories require a solid suspension of disbelief for the paranormal aspects of the plot, but in The Shadowy Horses, Verity reacts to Robbie's second sight in much the same way the reader would. She gradually comes to terms with the strange phenomena surrounding the dig and the reader follows the same journey.

For further reading I included The Eagle of The Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, which Kearsley has said served as inspiration for The Shadowy Horses. In this classic, a young Roman searches Scotland to find out the truth about the legion's disappearance.

As a non-fiction counterpoint, check out Roman Britain: A New History by Guy de la Bedoyere, a comprehensive study of Britain during the Roman conquest.

There is a discussion guide for book groups in the back of the newest edition of The Shadowy Horses, but not one that I can easily link to from here. Instead, I'll leave you with a few more articles about the Ninth Legion and Scottish borderlands to take a look at.

The Ninth Legion's Mysterious Loss (via BBC)
In the Footsteps of the Missing Ninth Legion

Now for the recipe! I originally thought about shortbread, since it appears in the book, but when I stumbled on this dessert called Cranachan I realized it was perfect for this time of year. Raspberries are simmered with honey, and then topped with freshly whipped cream (flavored with whisky if you'd like!) and toasted oats.  Just bring all the ingredients out and let your guests assemble it themselves. What a lovely end to an early summer dinner!

Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain
Serves 4

12 oz frozen or fresh raspberries (or a combination) plus a few more to garnish
3 tbsp honey
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
splash of whisky (optional, though traditional)

Put honey and raspberries into a saucepan and simmer over low heat. Mash the berries a bit with a wooden spoon as you stir, and let it cook for about 5 minutes until all the berries are broken down and a little syrupy.

Toast the oats in a frying pan over medium heat, keeping a close eye on them as they go from perfect to burnt quickly.

Whisk the heavy cream (either by hand or with an electric mixer) until you get soft peaks. Add the sugar, vanilla and optional whisky and gently fold together.

Let guests assemble the mixture by themselves. Each bowl should get some raspberries, cream and oats. Mix it up and top with a few fresh raspberries to garnish.

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  1. As a former anthropology major, I was so intrigued by your description of this book! I keep meaning to read something by Susanna Kearsley, maybe this should be the book to start with!

  2. Once you start on her books, you will be hooked!!! She is incredible!

  3. Ana @ Lessons From YesterdayMay 16, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Okay, you've totally convinced me about Kearsley! And I love how you suggest other related further reading. The raspberries look delicious--Jaime Oliver is the best! :-)

  4. Oh I think this will be right up your alley then…although all her books have some element of history in them.

  5. Sounds like a great book!

  6. Ana @ Lessons From YesterdayMay 19, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    Well, I put Mariana on hold the other day after reading your twitterature review--even though you said it wasn't your favorite, I have a thing for old houses, so I couldn't resist. But The Shadowy Horses looks good too--so I'll probably try and work my way through all of them! ;-)


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