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

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Great Impersonation by E. Philips Oppenheim - #1920Club

Title: The Great Impersonation
Author:  E. Phillips Oppenheim
Publication: Little, Brown & Co., 1920
Genre: Fiction/Suspense
Setting: 1913 East Africa, England

About the Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866 – 1946) was a English novelist, acclaimed for his thrillers, of which this is the most renowned, selling over 1,000,000 copies in its first year and inspiring several movies over time.  Oppenheim worked in the leather industry for many years and, interestingly, met his wife in Easthampton, Massachusetts while traveling for work in 1892 (Easthampton, about a 90-minute drive from my home, is better known for textiles than leather). Returning to England and settling in Leicestershire, he published the first of more than 160 novels in 1897.    During the Great War he worked for the Ministry of Information in London, which must have provided inspiration for future books.  The Great Impersonation was a perfect choice for the #1920Club, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

Plot: Two men meet in an isolated part of Africa and realize they bear an uncanny resemblance to each other and were , in fact, acquainted at Eton.   As they reminisce, it is clear that Baron Leopold Von Ragastein, a German aristocrat has thrived when Sir Everard Dominey has led a seedy existence since leaving England.   Both left their homes in disgrace – Ragastein fought a duel over a married woman and her husband died; he was banished by the Kaiser, while Dominey is accused of murdering his wife’s childhood friend.   Ragastein sees in Dominey’s declining fortunes an opportunity for his new assignment: to infiltrate English society and learn whether the country is prepared for war with Germany, if he can make Dominey disappear. 
The two men exchanged glances of rather more than ordinary interest. Then Dominey laughed.
“I know what you're thinking,” he said. “It gave me quite a start when you came in. We're devilishly alike, aren't we?” 
“There is a very strong likeness between us,” the other admitted. 
Dominey leaned his head upon his hand and studied his host. The likeness was clear enough, although the advantage was all in favour of the man who stood by the side of the camp bedstead with folded arms. Everard Dominey, for the first twenty-six years of his life, had lived as an ordinary young Englishman of his position,—Eton, Oxford, a few years in the Army, a few years about town, during which he had succeeded in making a still more hopeless muddle of his already encumbered estates: a few months of tragedy, and then a blank. Afterwards ten years—at first in the cities, then in the dark places of Africa—years of which no man knew anything. The Everard Dominey of ten years ago had been, without a doubt, good-looking. The finely shaped features remained, but the eyes had lost their lustre, his figure its elasticity, his mouth its firmness. He had the look of a man run prematurely to seed, wasted by fevers and dissipation. Not so his present companion. His features were as finely shaped, cast in an even stronger though similar mould. His eyes were bright and full of fire, his mouth and chin firm, bespeaking a man of deeds, his tall figure lithe and supple. He had the air of being in perfect health, in perfect mental and physical condition, a man who lived with dignity and some measure of content, notwithstanding the slight gravity of his expression. 
“Yes,” the Englishman muttered, “there's no doubt about the likeness, though I suppose I should look more like you than I do if I'd taken care of myself. But I haven't. That's the devil of it. I've gone the other way; tried to chuck my life away and pretty nearly succeeded, too.”
Several months later, a man calling himself Dominey returns to England after eleven years away, resumes old friendships, gains the trust of the German Ambassador, and subtly help Germany lay the groundwork for war.   Kaiser Wilhelm himself has blessed this mission, and to facilitate his acceptance by his peers Germany is discreetly paying off all the mortgages on Dominey’s Norfolk estates.  Will the great impersonation convince Dominey’s wife and Ragastein’s lover?
Oppenheim
My Impressions: This is a great read!  I have always been a huge fan of impersonation stories, with my favorites being Brat Farrar, The Ivy Tree, and Savannah Purchase. This one combines a daring impersonation, espionage, and the aristocratic country home, about to become a trademark of mystery fiction.  For a book a hundred years old, The Great Impersonation holds its own (apart from a few regrettable phrases) with a compelling plot, a vivid look at the coming war, and interesting characters. The most fascinating is the German Ambassador, who is depicted as a man of integrity, committed to advancing peace between the two countries but the unwitting pawn of his countrymen who anticipate and look forward to war, plotting behind his back.  
Another appealing character is Dominey’s cousin Caroline, Duchess of Worcester, who was kind of him before he left and wheedled loans out of her husband when Dominey was down on his luck (the Duke is astounded when Dominey returns and wants to repay hum). The two women, Lady Dominey and Stephanie,  Princess Eiderstrom, the cause of Ragastein’s duel and exile, are important but less dimensional characters, one pure and one temptress.  Lady Dominey had a nervous breakdown when her husband was accused of murder and has never recovered (she is annoyingly childlike and fragile).   Princess Eiderstom is a beautiful Hungarian who does not seem to hold a grudge against Ragastein for the duel that killed her husband; in fact, she wants her lover back and is only temporarily persuaded to stay quiet about the impersonation.  In the meantime,  Dominey takes possession of his ancestral acres and treats his estranged wife with kindness, even when she attempts to kill him in the middle of the night.  This makes the reader want to root for the German impersonator – or is he an impersonator? 

Source: Project Gutenberg

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Top of the World by Ethel M. Dell - #1920Club

Title: The Top of the World
Author:  Ethel M. Dell
Publication: Putnam, hardcover, 1920
Genre: Fiction/Romance
Author:  This seemed like a good choice for the #1920 Club, especially at a time when my library is closed (sorrow). Dell (1881 – 1939) was a bestselling British romance writer, who wrote more than 30 novels and several short stories from 1911 to 1939, thus was an important contributor to this genre.  I first came across her in the Harvard library when I was ostensibly studying 16th-century History and Literature but easily distracted by the unexpected fiction I found in the stacks.  I read at least one book by Dell and all the Elinor Glyn I found, as I had once enjoyed a book by her granddaughter called Don’t Knock the Corners Off

Plot: Lovely Sylvia Ingleton fell for Guy Ranger when she was just 18.   Her father disapproved of her romantic entanglement with the son of his bailiff although Guy had been to a public school and was a personable young man of 25.   Instead, he is packed off to South Africa to make his fortune and the Squire finds his unfortunate father “another billet.” No job security at the Manor if your son doesn’t know his place!  Sylvia stubbornly considers herself engaged and writes faithfully to Guy for years.   When she is 23, her father remarries unexpectedly and Sylvia’s unpleasant new stepmother makes her life a living hell.  When Sylvia learns the woman has been suppressing her letters from Guy, she decides she must go to South Africa herself to start a new life with him, regardless of possible hardships.  She isn’t a complete idiot – she sends a telegram first and gets a response before she sets out.   There is no one to meet her at Cape Town but when she reaches Ritzen, it is Guy’s cousin, Burke, who is waiting for her and warns her that Guy is not a man worth crossing the world for and she is forced to adjust her plans:
"Have you never heard of me before?" she asked. "Did—Guy—never
speak of me?"
"I knew there was someone." Burke spoke rather unwillingly. "I don't think he ever actually spoke of you to me. We're not exactly—kindred spirits, he and I."
"You don't like him," said Sylvia.
"Nor he me," said Burke Ranger.
She looked at him with her candid eyes. "I don't think you are very tolerant of weakness, are you?" she said gently.
"I don't know," he said non-committally. 
The Good: An entertaining story despite its predictability and lack of dimensional characters. Sylvia is not only beautiful but fearless and resolutely positive.  On the other hand, if only she had spent the five years apart from Guy acquiring some marketable skills!  She could have learned to type like the housemaid in Downton Abbey.   What’s a Squire’s daughter to do when an evil stepmother makes your life a misery and you can’t get a job and move out?  Heading to Africa seems a little extreme and the Manor’s old gardener (seemingly the only person who has her interests at heart) warns her:
"Do you ever ask yourself what sort of man he may be after five years? I'll warrant he's lived every minute of it. He's the sort that would." 
Sylvia shrugs off his words but he was right - Guy has gone to the bad (as Dell would be the first to tell you) although he could have been an equal partner with Burke on his farm, had he lived up to his potential.  But it turns out Guy has no work ethic, drinks too much, uses drugs, and consorts with native women.  Sylvia does not learn all of this at once because Burke tries to shelter her from some of the truth.   Guy cabled her to come in a weak moment but then flees rather than face her, and Burke proposes to her, partly out of responsibility and partly because he admires her pluck and has fallen in love.  Sylvia has no options (it is unclear how she even got the funds to make this trip: maybe she borrowed against the modest inheritance she is due to get in two years) and marries the stranger she instinctively knows she can trust, gallantly asking him to be a comrade rather than a lover.   This is not what Burke wants, but he waits more or less patiently, despite being pulled into an inevitable love triangle in which he worships Sylvia's purity, tries to trust her and give her time to recognize her feelings for him.

Ironically, when Sylvia recognizes she is stranded and that “only her own efforts could avail her now,” the solution is to become Burke’s dependent/wife.  At least she never complains about her bleak new life, isolated 20 miles from the closest town (the only thing she ever asks for is yarn to knit Burke socks!) with a man who does not have Guy’s polished upbringing.  She is a skilled horsewoman and adapts surprisingly well to her new surroundings although remains delicate and faints a lot like a dutiful Edwardian heroine. There are no books at Blue Hill Farm!  Maybe she could have ordered some from Cape Town! Books would have been better than yarn and by 1920 Burke could surely have bought machine made socks, although perhaps Sylvia had honed her knitting skills during WWI like these energetic Canadians and wants to demonstrate she possesses some domestic abilities.  There is ultimately a resolution which provides enough angst for Dell’s readership and a happy ending.

The Bad and the Ugly: Dell was likely a woman of her time with regard to her views of Britain’s colonies and their indigenous people, which results in aspects of the book that make it very unpleasant. Guy uses the N word about the black Africans and warns Sylvia they are lazy and ugly.  They are described as Kaffirs, which Dictionary.com defines as Disparaging and Offensive. (in South Africa) a contemptuous term used to refer to a black person: originally used of the Xhosa people only. He whips them without compunction and acts as if Sylvia is soft when she seems appalled.
She laughingly commented upon this one day to Burke, and he amazed her by pointing to the riding-whip she chanced to be holding at the time. "You'll find that's the only medicine for that kind of thing," hesaid. "Give 'em a taste of that and they'll respect you!" She decided he must be joking, but only a few days later he quite undeceived her on that point by dragging Joe, the house boy, into the yard and chastising him with a sjambok for some neglected duty. 
Later pure, kind Sylvia loses her temper and hits the female servant on her naked shoulders with her riding-switch.   She is instantly ashamed of her action but is angry at the woman for causing it, not so much herself for taking advantage of someone less powerless.  She certainly doesn’t apologize, which perhaps an Elinor Glyn heroine would do as they have more of a noblesse oblige mindset.  A modern reader has to skip over these parts because they are so revolting.
This Dell cover for this book is in better shape, plus a dog!
Source: Project Gutenberg

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Spring of the Year by Elfrida Vipont

Title:  The Spring of the Year (Haverard Family #3)
Author:  Elfrida Vipont
Illustrator: T.R. Freeman
Publication: Oxford University Press, hardcover, 1957
Genre: Children’s/series
Plot: The Spring of the Year continues the story of the Haverard family featured in The Lark in the Morn and The Lark on the Wing but focuses on Kit Haverard’s niece, Laura.  Laura is the fourth and sometimes difficult child of Kit’s older brother Richard and his wife Sylvia (aka Flip), the prefect who was kind to Kit when she was being bullied at Heryot.  Richard is an academic like his father and has just got a department chair at a university in Fairleigh, so the family is reluctantly leaving Oxford. Heading to Fairleigh to house-hunt, they detour to St. Merlyon, a big village with a small but inviting Quaker Meeting House and a beautiful Priory Church.  Laura and her brother Christopher are enchanted by the area and attracted to the house for sale next to Ye Olde Priory Cake and Bunne Shoppe.  Soon, the Haverards have moved in.   While the twins, Richenda and Philippa (born in The Lark on the Wing), are at boarding school at Heryot and brainy Mary at the local grammar school, Laura and her younger brother Christopher attend the village school with Kate Whittacker, whose mother runs the tea shop.   The move takes place in late summer and spring is eventful, with the grammar school examination for Laura and Kate, a local drama production in which Laura gets a significant part, and a growing friendship with Peter Bellamy, haunted by the death of his parents in an auto accident. 

My Impressions: The two books Vipont wrote about Laura Haverard, following her Carnegie-medal winning The Lark on the Wing, were never published in the United States, which is a pity as I am sure I would have enjoyed them as a child and reread them nearly as frequently as the two about Kit and her quest to become a singer.  I think Gill Bilski found me this copy and I thank her.   Laura has more flaws than Kit: she procrastinates and does not have a strong work ethic (bad from the Quaker and heroine point of view) and struggles with being a good friend.   However, these are pretty common childhood flaws and she grows out of them over time.  More than anything, she yearns for recognition and as part of a big family where the twins are recognized for their musical talent and being vivacious, Mary is assumed to have inherited her parents’ intelligence, and Christopher is the only boy.

I am reminded of Elizabeth Janet Gray’s (another noted Quaker author) The Fair Adventure where the heroine, Page, also the daughter of a professor, is inadvertently upstaged by her large family every time anything happens to her.  Page’s father is warmer and more knowledgeable about his offspring than Richard, who doesn’t understand his children at all and does not see his role as supporting their goals, only his vision of what they should do or be.   This may be the difference between an upper-middle-class British parent of this era vs the American version.  Richard’s brother Tom is a lot kinder and more sympathetic, as he was in the earlier books too. 

Vipont provides a much closer look at village life in this book than in the two about Kit.  St. Merlyon is a very friendly place with musical groups for Sylvia, a best friend next door for Laura, and boys for Christopher to engine-spot with.  It is also nice that the Quaker community coexists well with the C of E Protestants: they go to Friends’ Meeting on Sunday mornings and to the Priory for Evensong at night.  Sylvia is impressed by the music and Laura gains two important friends, the Rector, Mr. Bellamy, and his grandson Peter.  Laura goes to the village school where students her age are preparing for the 11-plus, a test that had evolved after WWII that determined whether students would go to a grammar school like Mary in preparation for university or a comprehensive school.  Laura assumes she will do well on the exam, and magnanimously encourages Kate to study hard for the exam.
As it was, it seemed important that she should turn out to be something, only what that something should be she had not the slightest idea.  Perhaps she would find out when she went to grammar school; she was very impatient to make the change and would have liked to have taken the examination at the minimum age as Mary had done, but the Headmistress of her old school would not hear of it.  In fact, the Headmistress was very unpleasant to Laura when she suggested it, and had even hinted that she would have to work very hard to gain admission to a grammar school at all.  Laura said nothing to her parents about the interview; it was not her fault if Miss Ralston did not understand her.  It was only because Miss Ralston kept comparing her with Mary, which wasn’t fair and she would surprise her and everyone else some day.
As in most British stories (unlike real life), pride goes before fall but to some extent that is the beginning of Laura’s path to maturity, helped by playing Ariel in the village production of The Tempest and realizing she wants to act.  Fans of Kit will enjoy her cameo appearances in which she provides much-needed understanding and motivation to Laura.  Even Cousin Milly makes a few appearances in this book, as does Laura’s uncle Tom, his wife Sheila, and everyone’s favorite, Sir Geoffrey Chauntesinger, who comes to St. Merlyon to help save the Priory Church.  The title is inspired by Robert Browning’s Pippa Passes and Laura is named after the opinionated cousin who helped bring up Richard, Tom, Miles and Kit when their mother died.

Snobbish: My family would also have made fun of the cutesy spelling of Ye Olde Priory Cake and Bunne Shoppe but it is very rude that the senior members of the Haverard family joke about it (a) once the Whitakers become friends, and b) in front of Kate Whitaker.  This continues to be an issue in the next book, The Flowering Spring.
Photo credit: Kate Brady McKenna
About the Author:  What a pity I never sent a fan letter to Elfrida Vipont (1902-1992)!*  She had a long and illustrious career.  Oddly, many know her best for a picture book, The Elephant and the Bad Baby.  According to Wikipedia, in addition to her own singing and subsequent writing, during World War II she was headmistress of an Evacuation School set up by Quakers in Yealand Conyers, a small village in Lancashire, where children from those cities and from further afield were sent for safety, away from the wartime bombing.  I was fascinated to learn recently from Kate Brady McKenna, a kindred spirit (to mix favorite author metaphors) on a GirlsOwn discussion group, that her father had attended the school and knew Vipont well.   She shared this photo of Vipont's grave and I was glad to hear she visits when in the area is buried.  Here is a picture of the Old Quaker School, which Kate also kindly provided:
Old Quaker School, Yealand Manor
Family Tree: The American editions of the first two books included a helpful family tree but this book does not.   I am working on one for the next generation but it would be better with proper genealogical software.

Previous Books in the SeriesThe Lark in the Morn, The Lark on the Wing

Source: Personal copy

* I wrote many letters in my head but the only author I recall actually mailing a letter to is Margaret Storey and the US publisher sent it back to me, unwilling to forward it to England!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: From Stasiland to The Parent Trap

The award-winning Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder is this month’s starting point for Six Degrees of Separation, which is organized by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.   The idea is to start with the same title, add six books, and see where you wind up. Kate's blog has links to other chains.

Stasiland is nonfiction by an Australian author which sounds interesting but the libraries that own copies locally are closed so it will have to wait.  I see the book is taught in the history department of Dean College which is part of my library network.

My first book is Forty Autumns by Nina Wilner (2016), her family memoir about five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I read this in 2017 and have recommended it to numerous people.

My second book is also set in Germany, Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini (2019), perhaps better known for her quilting books.  This is a WWII novel about brave women trying to bring down the Third Reich from within.   I have a copy of this book to give away (US only).  Leave me a message if you would like me to send it to you.

Another fairly recent read is Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (2004), which is my third book.  This is another WWII novel, set in Germany and in Minnesota as a daughter tries to learn and understand her mother’s secrets from the past. 

My fourth book also takes place in Germany, The Women in the Castle by local Brookline author Jessica Shattuck (2017).   It focuses on the years after WWII when three German women try to rebuild their lives, haunted by the past. 

After all these fairly dark stories, I needed something more uplifting!   Black Forest Summer by Mabel Esther Allan (1957), a prolific English author of children’s and young adult fiction, is about siblings Max, Asta, Thea, and Vanora who have just lost their mother, so perhaps that is not immediately cheerful.  Asta is an aspiring artist and Thea takes ballet at the Lingeraux School, which features in other MEA books.  Luckily, they are invited to Germany by their deceased father’s brother, Uncle Gustav, whose family lives in Freiburg, for a summer holiday to recover from their sorrow and to make plans for the future.
It pleases me that my copy is from Regina, Saskatchewan (there is a sticker inside); I purchased it from Primrose Books in Saskatoon long ago.  On the other hand, it displeases me that it is a Children’s Press edition which doubtless means it is abridged.  Booksellers should be required to disclose this information, don’t you think?
  

Finally, for my sixth book, I chose Lottie and Lisa (original German title: Das doppelte Lottchen "The double Lottie"), a 1949 novel by Erich K√§stner about twins, separated at birth, who meet at summer camp.   This book inspired the Disney movie The Parent Trap – I think my friend Jenny Altshuler lent me the novelization long before I had seen the movie.  The current generation is more familiar with the 1998 movie starring Lindsay Lohan than the 1961 Hayley Mills version, which I prefer.

I wasn't sure where the chain would lead when I began but I like this Germany theme.  Next month’s book is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  I suspect the current state of the world is sufficiently post-apocalyptic without my having to read a novel about it.  My current reading is primarily escapist.   What about you?   Have you read any of these?   What are you currently reading?