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.

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.

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).

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.

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 where 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 to 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 him). 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. 

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.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Lark on the Wing by Elfrida Vipont

Title: The Lark on the Wing (Haverard Family #2)
Author: Elfrida Vipont
Publication: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, 1970 (original UK publication 1950)
Genre: Middle grade fiction/series
US cover

Plot: When Kit Haverard finishes school, she finally knows that she wants to study singing professionally but her overbearing cousin Laura insists she take a secretarial course instead so she can eventually help her father with his history books (query: who has been doing this all these years?  Laura?  Is Professor Haverard paying a secretary?).  Eventually, Kit does escape to London where she obtains a secretarial job at Quaker headquarters and an apartment (a fourth-floor walk-up but it’s in the very nice Marylebone neighborhood which I visited on my last trip to London - good luck affording it these days) which she shares with childhood friends Helen and Pony.  Next door are Bob, a colleague of Miles and his younger brother Felix, who also sings.   Kit arranges lessons with her mother’s old music teacher, Papa Andreas, who is retired but still works with a few favorite students (he also seems to have quite the ménage living at his little house near Kensington Palace: his cousin Tante Anna; Lotte, the mysterious cook/housekeeper; and Miss Fishwick, who taught Kit piano at Heryot, and is an accomplished pianist).  Kit’s friend Terry Chauntesinger has become an accomplished singer: