Sunday, May 31, 2020

Five Things

To help meet the demand for flour from obsessed home-bound bakers, this 1,000-year-old English flour mill has resumed commercial production for the first time in decades.  Don’t you love their grit (pun intended)?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling, May 29

It's time for more Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.  The idea is to share your bookshelves with friends as a form of armchair travel.
These are from the top shelf of a cabinet where I tend to stick things I want to read but temporarily forget about them.  It also holds my stereo and the coffee maker I keep for guests.  You can see there is no real theme.   It is an eclectic group:

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney - now writing suspense for adults!

Title: Before She Was Helen
Author: Caroline Cooney
Publication: Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press, hardcover, September 2020
Genre: Mystery
Plot: When Clemmie goes next door to check on the wellbeing of her difficult neighbor Dom, he isn’t there.  But something else is.  Something unexpectedly stunning and beautiful.  Clemmie snaps a picture on her cell phone and makes the terrible mistake of forwarding it.  As the picture goes viral, Clemmie tries desperately to keep a grip on her own personal network of secrets.  Can fifty years of carefully hiding under names not her own be ruined by one impulsive text?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown, Chapters 3 - 5

Chapter 3 and 4     Winona’s Tickets, More About Winona's Tickets

When Betsy, Tacy and Tib finish bragging about Tib’s adventure, they begin to plot to persuade Winona to invite them to the show.  They consider a bribe but then Tacy has a better idea – they should hypnotize her!

“Take us to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Take us.  Take us.  Take us,” they intone silently from all directions during the school day.  Winona is slightly unnerved by their glassy stares and their teacher.   The trio’s teacher scolds them for not facing front and doesn’t understand why Tib won’t describe her exciting horseless carriage experience but Tib realized that might hurt their cause with Winona.  In fact, Winona says loudly that she won’t take people who stare at her! The girls drop that plan but hypnosis continues to appeal to certain Betsy-Tacy fans in the Pacific Northwest when needed.
 
Betsy is yearning for Uncle Tom’s Cabin but nobly she does not ask her father to get her a ticket because she knows that wouldn’t help Tacy.   Her longing was a little like what she felt when she saw rows and rows of books in other people’s bookcases (she had read all the books in the bookcase at home).  Kindred meet spirit!  Not that I will ever finish all the books at my home!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Chapters 1 and 2

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace is the fourth Betsy-Tacy book, set in 1904-05 and published in 1943.  The girls are now 12 years old and in the seventh grade. 

It is time for Betsy, Tacy and Tib’s world to be expanded in another direction.  The trio is now 12.  When Downtown opens, Betsy is in her beloved maple tree from which she can see the town of Deep Valley, Minnesota.   She sees four places that MHL knows will be important to her (and to us!), “the Opera House, the Melborn Hotel, the skeleton of the new Carnegie Library, and the high school that her sister Julia and Tacy’s sister Katie attended.”  She is aware of a world unexplored.  
 
Betsy has one of the notebooks from her father’s shoe store and is working on a dramatic-sounding story, The Repentance of Lady Clinton by Betsy Warrington Ray.*   Even before Tacy appears to reveal that her father found their borrowed copy of Lady Audley’s Secret and threw it in the fire.

“He said it was trash.”
“Trash!” cried Betsy.  “I’m trying to write books just like it.”

Friday, May 22, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling, May 22

It's time for more Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves. Any aspect you like, as long as you are entertained, including:
1. Home
2. Books in the home
3. Touring books in the home
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.
 
This is not a shelf but a pile of advance readings copies (ARCs) I brought home from the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia back in February.  There are few things as much fun as picking up books that have not yet been published but I had to carry everything back on the bus so I was fairly restrained. I still filled three bags and shared some with my sixth-grade niece, an excellent reader.  In no particular order:

Above All Else by Dana Alison Levy – YA fiction about teens climbing Mt. Everest

Monday, May 18, 2020

What to Read During a Pandemic

While some people are compiling recommendations of dystopian angst or Stephen King-like disaster, my rules are different. The book can’t be depressing (of course, depressing is in the eye of the beholder), it has to be worth reading more than once, and it needs to be available as an eBook or from Project Gutenberg.  It would be diabolical to make you long for something you cannot get quickly and I am rarely so cruel!  Also, remember that your library owns many eBooks and may be willing to purchase more.  Download Libby, if you haven't already!

Fiction

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: The unexpected friendship between a crusty, retired military officer and Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village.
The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman: Natalie’s family is stunned when the Vermont resort they want to visit answers their inquiry, “Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles."  She is determined to go anyway and it becomes a mission.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.  It's an opportunity to look at your bookshelves and rediscover titles you read or plan to read. This shelf in my guest room caught my eye as I was, of course, looking for something completely different last night - a book about a WWII evacuee, in fact, as one does from time to time.  

Looking at this shelf brings back my childhood and my favorite library, where I found most of Madye (pronounced MAY-dee) Lee Chastain’s books.  Chastain (1908-1989) was a children’s author and illustrator,  and I am a huge fan of the 12 middle-grade novels she wrote.  Seven are historicals and five have contemporary settings.   My favorite is Emmy Keeps a Promise, the second book in a trilogy, and apparently the only one of her books Harcourt published in hardcover and paperback.  It is a warm and affectionate story of sisters Arabel and Emmy Thatcher trying to make their fortunes in 1850s New York. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Kiss Me Again, Stranger by Daphne du Maurier #DDMreadingweek

Title: Kiss Me Again, Stranger
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publication:  Pocket, paperback, 1970 (originally published 1953)
Genre: Short Story Collection
My Impressions: I picked up this lurid-looking book quickly at a library book sale right before the Lockdown, in anticipation of Daphne du Maurier Reading Weeka celebration of the life and work of Daphne du Maurier, organized by Heaven-Ali.   I thought it must be a lesser-known title like her dystopian novel, Rule Britannia, which I always forget.   Imagine my surprise when I examined it last night and saw it was “a Collection of Eight Stories, Long and Short,” including the short story that spawned a million nightmares, The Birds.  I now realize her short stories been published under different titles.  As most of my reading takes place late at night, I wasn’t sure reading The Birds was really in my best interest so I started by reading around it and enjoyed the other stories.  

Monday, May 11, 2020

Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier #DDMreadingweek

Title: Myself When Young: The Shaping of a Writer
Author:  Daphne du Maurier
Publication:  Arrow Books, paperback, 1993 (originally published in 1977)
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Occasion: Daphne du Maurier Reading Week
Plot: You probably know her as the author of Rebecca but du Maurier (1907 – 1989) wrote several other bestselling books that are equally memorable.  She came from a talented artistic family.  Her father was a famous actor, Sir Gerald du Maurier and her mother, Muriel Beaumont, an actress who met him in a play. Her grandfather was a well-known cartoonist for Punch, a popular humor magazine, and writer, French-born George du Maurier. He is best known for creating the character Svengali that became a catch-phrase for a coercive influence on someone.  Daphne was educated primarily at home before being “finished” in France, in the kind of family that summoned the children to say hello to guests briefly before sending them to the nursery with Nanny. Although not part of the nobility, the du Mauriers clearly mixed with all the right people due to Sir Gerald’s prominence.  Her upbringing seems fairly typical for an upper-middle-class British family but the drive and passion that developed in this shy young woman was all Daphne’s own.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Friday's Bookshelf Traveling

It's time for a round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves. Any aspect you like, as long as you are entertained, including:
1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.
I chose a shelf in my living room that is pretty much devoted to historical fiction, featuring one of my all-time favorite books, Wintercombe by Pamela Belle.  Set during the English Civil War in the 17th century, this is the story of Silence, Lady St. Barbe, and her family, Puritans besieged by Cavaliers (I am for King and Country myself but these particular Cavaliers are not very appealing, with one obvious exception).  When Charles I’s debauched soldiers insist on moving into the estate, with no regard for the family, they bring chaos to Silence’s well-managed home and one of them breaches her heart.  Silence is a wonderful heroine: brave, capable, kind, and possessing a sense of humor she needs to keep hidden.  The book is full of memorable characters, many of whom appear later in the series.   I am happy to report it’s available as an eBook and a careful reader could make it last until her state reopens, depending on where she lives and how fast she reads!  It seems to be on sale.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Road to 84 Charing Cross Road

It’s time for #6degrees, inspired by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. We all start at the same place as other readers, add six books, and see where one ends up.   This month’s starting point is The Road by Cormac McCarthy: “his most harrowing yet deeply personal work. Some unnamed catastrophe has scourged the world to a burnt-out cinder, inhabited by the last remnants of mankind and a very few surviving dogs and fungi” (author website).   I have read at least one book by McCarthy but this sounded way too much like real life!

My first book involves more cheerful roads: The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum (1909).  In this fifth Oz book, Dorothy and Toto (back in Kansas) meet the Shaggy Man, who asks them to point out the road to Butterfield.  When the road splits into seven different paths, they take the seventh and have various adventures before arriving in Oz.  Of course, nowadays Aunt Em would be very concerned about Dorothy talking to a stranger who looks like a tramp, let alone heading off into the sunset with him!  My great-grandfather read the first fourteen Oz books to his children and I believe our copy of this book was the first edition. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles, author of News of the World

Publication:  William Morrow, hardcover, April 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: In March 1865, the long and bitter War between the States is winding down. Until now, twenty-three-year-old Simon Boudlin has evaded military duty thanks to his slight stature, youthful appearance, and utter lack of compunction about bending the truth. But following a barroom brawl in Victoria, Texas, Simon finds himself conscripted, however belatedly, into the Confederate Army. Luckily his talent with a fiddle gets him a comparatively easy position in a regimental band.

Weeks later, on the eve of the Confederate surrender, Simon and his bandmates are called to play for officers and their families from both sides of the conflict. There the quick-thinking, audacious fiddler can’t help but notice the lovely Doris Mary Dillon, an indentured girl from Ireland, who is governess to a Union colonel’s daughter.
After this brief meeting, Simon and Doris go their separate ways. He moves around Texas seeking fame and fortune as a musician. She must accompany the colonel’s family to finish her three years of service. But Simon cannot forget the attractive Irish young woman and vows that someday he will find her again.

My Impressions: Historical fiction is my favorite genre and because this Civil War/post-Civil War setting is a time frame I rarely read, it was new and interesting to me.   Simon is an angry young man – aware of his temper and trying to control it – yet he is surprisingly capable of friendship.  Most of the book is about the cast of characters he attracts to form a ragtag band and how they scrape together what passes for a living in rural Texas.  But running like a ribbon through the story is a fateful encounter he has with a young woman who came from Ireland as an indentured servant.  Simon falls for her without really knowing her; he has had a lonely life and yearns for a marriage and a settled home: 
His first problem was to find a girl who would fall in love with him despite his diminutive stature and his present homelessness.  The right girl.  He had not been a celibate; nobody growing up in the river-port town of Paducah, Kentucky, on the Ohio or playing saloons in Texas could lay claim to a life of sinless perfection, so perhaps he had no right to make demands, but the girls he had met and courted, briefly, had no comprehension of 9/8 time.  They regarded him as a poor choice given his occupation as a traveling musician – always disreputable – and his stubborn, relentless dedication to his fiddle.
Although the book is not a romance in the usual sense of the word, if you consider an alternative definition, “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life,” it captures the pleasure Dora takes in the prosaic aspects of her new country. Simon finds her enthusiasm very appealing as they begin an unusual correspondence and he consumes her letters:
He read this over several times.  She was not a creature of displays and stratagems, the natural world delighted her! She was not avid for social events and the endless striving of towns!  He came to this conclusion on the strength of that one sentence.  He scattered mental exclamation marks throughout his own thoughts.
I find it comforting that they are entranced by each other’s letters (and am also amazed that letters actually reach their destinations) as that constitutes a form of acquaintance. While it is extremely plausible that Simon would build her up in his mind and that she, miserable in her position, might find him intriguing, they have little in common.  Somehow the author creates such a sense of connection between this unlikely couple that the reader is shipping them ardently, although Damon, who knows Simon wonders “what woman would be happy with a man whose need for solitude was so great, if Simon was heading for marital disaster.”  We will hope for the best!  Those who read Jiles’ News of the World, which my book group enjoyed in 2017, will remember and appreciate her storytelling, unlikely companions, and what the publisher calls her “trademark spare yet lilting style” and will find it again in this new book.  

News of the World: Simon and Doris made an appearance in that book, which I must admit I had forgotten!   The movie is in post-production and Tom Hanks plays Captain Kidd.

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:


April 15th: Lit and Life
Thursday, April 16th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Friday, April 17th: A Bookish Affair
Saturday, April 18th: BookNAround
Wednesday, April 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life
April 23rd: Books, Cooks, Looks
April 29th: Books and Bindings
May 4th: Book by Book
May 7th: Jathan & Heather
May 8th: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer

Publication: William Morrow, Hardcover/Trade Paperback/Ebook, April 2020
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Alexis Gold knows how to put the “work” in working mom. It’s the “mom” part that she’s been struggling with lately. Since opening her own advertising agency three years ago, Alexis has all but given up on finding a good work/life balance. Instead, she’s handed over the household reins to her supportive, loving partner, Tommy. While he’s quick to say they divide and conquer, Alexis knows that Tommy does most of the heavy lifting—especially when it comes to their teenage daughter, CeCe.

Their world changes when Tommy receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, and Alexis belatedly realizes everything she’s worked relentlessly for doesn’t matter without him. So Alexis does what Tommy has done for her almost every day since they were twelve-year-old kids in Destin, Florida—she puts him first. And when the only thing Tommy wants is to spend one last summer together at “their” beach, she puts her career on hold to make it happen . . . even if it means putting her family within striking distance of Tommy’s ex, an actress CeCe soon idolizes.

But Alexis and Tommy aren’t the only ones whose lives have been turned inside out. In addition to dealing with the normal ups and downs that come with being a teenager, CeCe is also forced to confront her feelings about Tommy’s illness—and what will happen when the one person who’s always been there for her is gone. When the magic of first love brings a bright spot to her summer, CeCe is determined not to let her mother ruin that for her, too.  As CeCe’s behavior becomes more rebellious, Alexis realizes the only thing harder for her than losing Tommy will be convincing CeCe to let her back into her daughter's life.

My Impressions: Although this is a book about grief and loss, it is also a book about hope and about the vicissitudes of being a family. Tommy, the dying father, is the most appealing character in this story and at times I felt there must have been an earlier book in which he and Alexis reconnected as adults and fell in love.   However, this is a debut novel that captures the pain of losing a beloved family member.   Having lost my own father three years ago, I was reflecting on Joe Biden’s advice to bereaved families, not merely that the pain will ebb but that there will be a moment when one’s first reaction is a smile of love and affection rather than tears, and that is the moment when one has begun to recover.   I am certainly not there myself and I don’t think Alexis and CeCe will reach it soon. 

The book was well written and full of memorable characters; however, Alexis, the heroine, is very unlikeable.  We are meant to excuse her because she started her own business three years ago and has demanding clients.   Yet, CeCe makes it clear Alexis failed to show up to her events and activities long before she ran her own business.  In fact, being the boss doesn’t just mean more pressure and responsibility, it often means some flexibility.  Alexis simply wasn’t there for her husband (even when he is trying to tell her of his diagnosis) or daughter, and just because she agrees to spend the summer in Destin doesn’t make up for years of neglect.  Even when she knows she will be CeCe’s only surviving parents, she has a hard time being kind yet is resentful of her daughter’s hostility.  She is also very rude to CeCe’s boyfriend, who is the son of her best friend.  Her apology is grudging and it is ironic that she wants forgiveness for her neglect, yet is blaming a teenager for something his father did.  She also has been stalking this boy on Instagram even before he was involved with CeCe, which is kind of odd for something so busy.  I did like Alexis’ friends Jill and Becky, either of whom could use a book of her own in the future.

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Tuesday, April 7th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, April 8th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, April 9th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, April 10th: Stranded in Chaos
Monday, April 13th: BookNAround
Tuesday, April 14th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, April 16th: Laura’s Reviews
Friday, April 17th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, April 17th: Instagram: @shelovesthepages
Monday, April 20th: Into the Hall of Books
Tuesday, April 21st: Really Into This
Wednesday, April 22nd: Openly Bookish
Thursday, April 23rd: Book by Book
Friday, April 24th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, April 27th: Instagram: @thebookclubmom
Tuesday, April 28th: Instagram: @readingmama_reviews
Wednesday, April 29th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Easy Shortbread Thumbprints

Have you noticed that working remotely requires a lot more cookies than working in the office? 

Ingredients

½ cup softened butter

1/3 cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup apricot or raspberry jam


Directions

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and white sugar until smooth. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Mix in flour until dough comes together. Form dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Make a small hole in the center of each ball, using your thumb or finger, and fill the hole with preserves.   The hole should not expose the cookie sheet!

Bake

Bake for 14 to 18 minutes at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)  in preheated oven, or until lightly browned.  Let cool 1 minute on the cookie sheet.

Results

Delicious and very quick to make!   This was adapted from an AllRecipes version and some of those bakers recommended putting the cookies in the refrigerator or freezer for ten minutes before baking so they are rounder than flatter.   I suspect that is the result of using all butter, which is essential for shortbread.  Butter is an emulsifier and it makes cookies tender.  It also adds in the crispy-around-the-edges element, which you can see in my photo.  Adding too much butter can cause the cookies to be flat and greasy, however.  If I double the recipe in the future, I might try using ¾ butter and ¼ margarine.  

The original recipe called for almond extract instead of vanilla.  I have never owned any almond extract but some will recall that it features prominently in the Beany Malone books.  Over several books, it seems like she will never run out of almond extract: 

Johnny offered to run up to Downey’s drugstore for more, but Beany said firmly, “Not you, I’ll go.”  As though Johnny could buy a few candle holders.  He’d come back with five dozen.  Wasn’t Beany still using the pint bottle of almond extract he had bought over three years ago when a recipe had called for a few drops of almond extract?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday's Bookshelf Traveling

I liked Judith's idea at Reader in the Wilderness of visiting a bookshelf that hasn’t been getting a lot of attention so gazed around the room where I sit most often – this particular shelf sometimes gets ignored because it has the much-read-and-referenced Betsy-Tacy books on the shelf above and the almost equally beloved Beany Malone and Elswyth Thane books on the two shelves below!  I am not sure how this happened.
My bookshelves usually have some kind of theme, although there are aberrations like this one.   This shelf has a couple overflow Betsy-Tacys hidden on the left, three fantasies by Kristin Cashore (I loved Graceling and Fire), and then a row of books by Madeleine Polland. 
 
Madeleine A. Polland (1918 – 2005) was an Irish-born author, primarily known for her highly regarded children’s books although it is her adult historical fiction that I have read and reread most recently.   In The Third Book of Junior Authors, which I picked up at one of my favorite hangouts, The Traveler Restaurant, she reveals:
It always pleases me when people ask me what type of books I write, to say that I specialize in ghost stories.  This naturally causes raised eyebrows, as none of my books appear to be conventionally of this type.
What I was referring to is my preoccupation, since I was a small child, with the feet that have walked before mine . . . As I grew older, and began to read more, and to study history for myself, this obsession grew, and with it some faculty to sense the past in certain places or concerning certain people.   It is this obsession that has written all of my historical books.

She worked at a library, then as a WAAF in radar during WWII, and met her husband near the end of the war.  They had two children, and a friend in publishing suggested she try a book.  She wrote The Children of the Red King, set at the time of the Norman Conquest in 13th century Ireland, with the first of many strong female characters.  Her historical fiction can be compared to Rosemary Sutcliff and Hester Burton, with well-developed characters and authentic, convincing settings.  I found her children’s books in the Newton Boys & Girls Library and enjoyed them, although some were dark or sad or both.  One of my favorites, Shattered Summer (1969), is set during the summer of 1685 when the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s illegitimate son, tried to seize the throne from his uncle.  This was the last battle fought on English soil.  

One of her best known is Deirdre (1967, based on the Celtic legend, Deirdre of the Sorrows), which was well-reviewed but overshadowed as it came out the same year as From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth,  and The Egypt Game. My copy is my actual childhood library copy, which I found on the discard shelf a few years ago (one is always torn between sorrow at such a book being weeded and satisfaction at passing by at that exact moment).  She also wrote two children’s contemporary suspense novels, which are a good blend of unnerving and convincing.

I must have been pleased when I started using the adult library around the corner and found Polland's adult novels or possibly my mother found them first.  At least one is romantic suspense but most are historical fiction, faintly reminiscent of Daphne DuMaurier’s historicals but warmer.   My favorite is Sabrina (1979), which I highly recommend.   Set in Ireland, just before WWI, it is a dramatic story about a girl from an affluent family who falls in love with the son of her mother’s best friend: normally, an ideal situation.  But Sabrina’s strong-minded mother had decided Sabrina should become a nun and she has no intention of allowing any of her children to disrupt her plans for their futures.  It is impossible to take this book down without starting a reread – a bad idea, when I have an end of semester project on Bletchley Park due May 3, not to mention my real job is keeping me busy remotely.   Madeleine was on the south coast during the war, not Bletchley Park, but I suspect she and I would have had a lot to discuss.  She appears to have written 31 books altogether, so if library book sales ever resume, I have some collecting still to do, as all her books are well worth reading!

How do you arrange an author’s books, when they are different genres, not to mention different sizes?  It looks like here I shelved the adult hardcovers, then the adult paperbacks (my fingers are twitching that those two are not alphabetical but I decided it would be cheating to fix it), and then the children’s books.   The card is from my friend Emily - it's perfect!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Love, Jacaranda by Alex Flinn, a retelling of Daddy Long Legs

Title: Love, Jacaranda
Author:  Alex Flinn
Publication: HarperTeen, Hardcover, July 2020
Genre: YA
Plot: Jacaranda Abbott is a foster kid with a voice.  While working as a cashier at the Publix grocery store in Florida, she makes up and belts out a song for an elderly customer and it goes viral. When she is offered a scholarship to attend a performing arts boarding school by a mysterious benefactor, she knows what an incredible opportunity this is but is worried people will find out her mother is in prison.  School is hard work but fulfilling and Jacaranda, now calling herself Jackie, is determined to take advantage of every opportunity.   She is happy but once she starts dating a millionaire’s son who seems sensitive and caring she wonders what will happen if he finds out her secret.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Five Things

Dr. Amy Acton, the Health Official flattening the curve in Ohio, took time out to say that Laura Ingalls Wilder helped her get through a very difficult childhood.

My newly crafted mask is not unattractive but slides down the back of my head, although I followed the specs.   A paper bag would be easier to wear!   I am not speedy enough to equip medical professionals but have made a few for family.  I doubt my nephew was thrilled to receive a mask for his 15th birthday but he politely admired it and put it on (taking a wary glance at his reflection in a nearby window) (it wasn’t his only gift).

Why is it that the things you dislike are indestructible?   This knife from Ikea is so poorly shaped one is at risk whenever using it – whereas good paring knives disappear sans avoir dire au revoir like the people in my junior high French book.
 
When you spill tea on something light-colored, do you too automatically think of Henny in All-of-a-Kind-Family?
Speaking of tea, ginger tea is supposed to be good for you and the first sip is always pleasant.  However, the second sip makes me wonder if I used too much dishwashing liquid when I washed the mug!

Thank you to Emily for reading my last Five Things and sending me two actual letters!   In honor of her thoughtfulness, I found the picture of our first lunch together in NYC in 1996.  A lot has happened to us since then, good and bad, but I am so glad our friendship has endured!  Also, it is a long time since I had bangs but I still have that coat (although it is too shabby to wear) and the Betsy-Tacy button.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Further Chronicles of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery - #1920Club

Publication: McClelland & Stewart, Hardcover, 1920
Genre: Children’s fiction
This was the edition at my library
The #1920Club is hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings who share blogger reviews of books published that year.
Plot: This is a short story collection set in Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, the Canadian village and province made famous by Anne of Green Gables.  Anne plays a leading role in just one story, The Little Brown Book of Miss Emily, and is mentioned in passing in two others, as most of the stories are about other Avonlea or nearby residents.  Gossip, weddings, tragic love affairs, orphans, quirky pets and feuds are featured, some with happy endings and some with dramatically sad results.  For those who cannot concentrate on full-length books during this current worrying time, Further Chronicles might be just the ticket!


My Impressions: Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908 and by 1920 Montgomery had published four sequels.  She would go on to publish 20 novels and a number of short story collections (others were published after her death). This is an uneven collection of stories and, apparently, Montgomery did not authorize their publication.  As a child, I read but was never quite as enthusiastic about Montgomery’s meandering tales of characters I had never heard of (I realize this is why I never cared for Sara Stanley, The Story Girl) but upon rereading, I realize there are several that are quite memorable.  Montgomery’s books are full of feuds and disagreements that seem silly to outsiders.  One such 20-year estrangement takes place in Her Father’s Daughter, where Isabella Spencer forbids her husband to resume his life as a sailor and when he does, she bans him from her home and her life, refusing to even discuss him with their daughter, Rachel.  Rachel meets him by chance just once and establishes instant rapport.  When she is to be married, she insists on inviting him, to her mother’s annoyance.  As stubborn as her mother, she wins out and the wedding results in reconciliation for all. 

The Little Brown Book of Miss Emily features Anne but is written in the first person so it does not sound like her at all, although Marilla and Diana ring true.  An old lady, disliked by the girls because she was sharp and sarcastic, dies and leaves Anne a trunk containing her journal.  Emily’s journal reveals a long-ago romance with a famous painter from Montreal who loved her but his mother did not think country-bred Emily was good enough for him, so persuaded Emily to give him up.  Emily sends him a purposely vulgar letter, pretending she was just flirting so he would be disgusted and never correspond with her again. 
When we had finished [reading the little brown book] the tears were running down both our faces.
“Oh, poor, dear Miss Emily,” sobbed Diana. “I’m so sorry I ever thought her funny and meddlesome.” 
“She was good and strong and brave,” I said. “I could never have been as unselfish as she.”
A poignant story but does it seem like the authentic Anne to you? I remember particularly disliking the final story in this collection, Tannis of the Flats, in which a lovely young woman who is part Cree and part French Canadian falls for Jerome Carey, newly arrived in town to run the telegraph.  Tannis is educated and well-mannered but is referred to throughout as a half-breed and no one, including Carey, takes his flirtation seriously.  When he meets Elinor, a golden-haired, blue-eyed beauty, he forgets Tannis, who is devastated.  However, when there is an accident and Carey faces death, he wants to say goodbye to Elinor and Tannis is the only person who can unselfishly bring her to the deathbed: 
She knew when it happened by Elinor’s cry.
Tannis sprang up and rushed in.  She was too late for even a parting look.The girl took Carey’s hand in hers, and turned to the weeping Elinor with a cold dignity.
 “Now go,” she said. “You had him in life until the very last.  He is mine now.”
“There must be some arrangements made,” faltered Elinor. 
“My father and brother will make all arrangements, as you call them,” said Tannis steadily.  “He had no near relatives in the world – none at all in Canada – he told me so.  You may send out a Protestant minister from town, if you like; but he will be buried here at the Flats and his grave will be mine - all mine!  Go!”
And Elinor, reluctant, sorrowful, yet swayed by a will and an emotion stronger than her own, went slowly out, leaving Tannis of the Flats alone with her dead.
Upon rereading, I can see why my eleven-year-old self was instinctively horrified by the racism and could not forget the passionate loss conveyed.  I felt sorry for Tannis and the author did too, recognizing that Tannis did not know the rules of light-hearted friendship. However, I think Montgomery was more approving of the way Elinor copes with tragedy: she grieved quietly, she never marries, and is “quiet and serious, with a shadowed look in her eyes which time could not quite succeed in blotting out.”   We know now that Montgomery's husband, Reverand Ewan Macdonald suffered from melancholia and that she herself struggled with depression in an era when it was not acceptable to reveal such suffering. 

For those who prefer more Anne in their Montgomery, here are my Top Ten Most Romantic Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe Moments.  
Visiting Green Gables in 2014
Source: Personal copy
Stopping by LMM's resting place