Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Finds/October 31

I have a number of great Friday Finds this week.

1. A Maigret book by Georges Simenon called Lock 14 which you may read more about here.

2. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stuart. More here.

3. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene; review here.

4. Home and Away: More Tales of a Heritage Farm by Anny Scoones, though I want to read her previous one first, Tales of a Heritage Farm; review here.

5. I heard about this on NPR and ordered it the same day at my local bookstore, and they've just called to say it is in - Speaking For Myself: My Life From Liverpool to Downing Street by Cherie Blair.

6. The fourth Enola Holmes is out with yet another great title: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan. If you are interested in learning more about this great series, you may click "Book Reports 2008" on the sidebar, and scroll down to Nancy Springer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book Report(s)/Two Mysteries

The Hollow
by Agatha Christie
unabridged audio read by Hugh Fraser
mystery, 1946
finished, 10/28/08


Mrs. Malory and No Cure For Death (British title - No Cure For Death) - sixteenth in the Mrs. Malory series
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 2005
finished, 10/29/08

I found myself in such an interesting reading situation this week. Both my audio book and my print book were mysteries, but there were similarities between the two that quite amazed me. Each book featured a murdered doctor who was not just as he seemed. One had a personable outer self, but was unkind and selfish with his family; the other wasn't liked particularly in his work-a-day world, but was deeply cared for by one who knew him best. These doctors each had a special woman in their lives who would do anything for them, and did indeed do so after their men had died.

Before reading Agatha Christie, I was under the impression that her mysteries were sweet little cozies, filled with murder but tempered with delightful people. What I'm finding, as I read more and more is that her books are complex character studies, with as Jeeves says in the Wodehouse books, "the psychology of the individual." Christie's characters are multi-faceted, not easily dismissed as one sort or another. I have also noticed that in the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books I've read, sometimes the sleuths play a very small part in the story, which I found surprising. In most mysteries I've read, the main character is the person, either police officer or amateur sleuth, who solves the crime.

Now, on to names. I listened to The Hollow and didn't have a clue how the names were spelled until I did some looking into the book, thanks to amazon. Do you suppose such names as Angkatell and Savernake exist? Although there were several members of the Angkatell family, I was able to keep them straight, perhaps due to the narration, where each character is "read" differently. I had more trouble with the Hazel Holt book. This may be because I entered Mrs. Sheila Malory's world part way through. Had I started with the first book, I would have met all the villagers and friends gradually, and by this book would have known who was whom. But even with this little problem, I did so enjoy my time in Taviscombe. I liked the people, even the cranky mother of an old friend of whom Sheila says:

I was obliged to go and get myself ready to collect Mrs. Dudley. This was no easy task, since I knew that whatever I chose to wear would be subjected to the silent but critical scrutiny that had been successfully undermining my confidence ever since I was seven years old.

Don't we all know that kind of person?

I like Sheila and want to spend a lot more time visiting her and her community. I think I'll go back and read the books in order now I know how much I enjoy them. I've just ordered the first one, Mrs. Malory Investigates from an online used book dealer.

A character I found quite interesting in The Hollow was Lucy Angkatell. I wonder if I saw a bit of myself in her. I've never read about a character with a mind like hers. From the outside, at a quick glance, one might view her as vague and scatterbrained. She goes off in a million directions at once, not always finishing sentences or expressing herself so that listeners understand what she is talking about. Whereas, what's really going on is that her mind goes so fast that she can barely express what she's thinking before the next thought comes. Both my son and I seem to share this mental characteristic. Tom says we think too fast. :<) I'm not by any means brilliant, but the few things I do think of come fast and furious, and by the time my words catch up to the idea in my head, my thoughts are somewhere else entirely. I quoted another character here on Tuesday. Edward Angkatell is a dreamy sort of man, who happily has enough money so he doesn't have to go out and hold a job. He wouldn't last a minute in the working world. He does indeed pretty much just read and potter about. Hercule Poirot comes into the book as an invited guest because he has a rental cottage in the area. And of course, when the murder occurs, he joins forces with the local constabulary to try and solve the case. He says he has never met such an opponent before, and there is a most interesting resolution to the crime. For most of the book, though, he is not a main character. The story is pretty much a psychological study of different kinds of people - why they act as they do, what makes them tick. The Hollow was a most satisfying book, yet another gem in my Agatha Christie reading. I let go of the challenge a while ago, but I'll keep reading her all my days.

Now a little postscript or addendum: Here is something I'm beginning to think of as the "Guernsey effect." You may remember this quote from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society:

That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.

In Mrs. Malory and No Cure For Death there are two authors whose mention prompts my further attention - Charlotte Yonge and Mary Russell Mitford. About the first, the author writes:

... she's a brilliant storyteller - once you've got into the book you can't put it down. And there's not many modern writers you can say that about.

And referencing Mitford, Holt writes:

"The writer," Mary Russell Mitford wrote in her preface to The Village, may claim the merit of a hearty love of her subject, and of that local and personal familiarity, which only a long residence in one neighbourhood could have enabled her to attain." So it was that the circumscribed nature of her world...

Well, those mentions are enough for me to look into the writings of both these authors.

Mrs Bale reports on the first snow

Mrs Bale is very happy to announce that we had our first snowfall overnight. Today I couldn't wait to get out and walk! I feel like the rest of the year I just sleep my life away, waiting, waiting for this cold, brisk air. This is the air that makes me feel alive. Though it isn't winter for a couple months, today there is a little taste of it and I'm thrilled. Every season has its wonders, but in winter my heart, "leaps up" as William Wordsworth wrote.

Just a dusting but it brightens up the whole landscape

White sedum

Today's tansy

Beautiful sky


My son, hangin' with the celebs. :<) This is a cell phone photo my boy sent to us. A while ago, Justin Long was at his college, along with Kal Penn and Olivia Wilde. And since then, he went to an Obama rally, and ran into Bill Murray.

Let's see, my only brushes with fame and celebrity, other than shaking Dennis Kucinich's hand, happened in my college days; sharing a dorm with Carl Reiner's daughter/Rob Reiner's sister, and hanging out with Todd Rundgren's sister. The latter impresses my son, the musician, no end, particularly because she gave me a drawing she did of John Lennon because she thought it looked like Tom.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Venturing Out

Inspired by mountainear, I hauled my favorite winter coat out of the closet, pulled up the hood, put on my boots, hung the camera around my neck, and went out into the raw, rainy weather. I walked the .2 mile down to get the mail, and though I wasn't out long, I feel much better. Early in this online journal, I posted some resolutions, and one of them was about getting outdoors more. I haven't kept it well, and in fact, am worse than ever. I get too involved with indoor things. I like the woodstove and baking and reading. But I'm going to work on it, starting with this little walk. If I can go out on this day, I can go out any day.

I think all weather is worse looking at it from the inside. Once I get outdoors, I enjoy myself. And I truly do find this spare time of year very beautiful.

Grey is gray no matter how you spell it
Not very different when I turned it into a black and white picture
Heading back up the hill
I put the political flyer on top to keep the rest of the mail dry. Do the senders really think I haven't decided by now?
The sheepys don't mind the weather, ever
August tansy
October tansy
Wet but happy

Quote du jour/Agatha Christie

I'm a dull dog, I know that, and not much good at anything. I just read books and potter around.
Edward Angkatell in The Hollow by Agatha Christie

I think he sounds delightful, don't you?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Muffin Monday/Barney's Banana Muffins

Continuing with the Mayberry theme, today's muffins come from Aunt Bee's Mayberry Cookbook.

Barney's Banana Muffins

1 1/2 medium bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup melted butter (recipe calls for oil, but you already know that I always use butter!)
1 Tablespoon water

Melt butter.
In large bowl, beat the egg, and then add the other ingredients, stirring just until moistened.
Pour into greased muffin pans.
Bake in preheated 375º F. oven for 10-12 minutes.
Makes a dozen.

This is the first time I've made these muffins, and boy are they good.

We're having them with corn chowder.

Corn Chowder

My corn chowder breaks all the rules. I don't use any fish/meat base. I don't use milk. I use only potatoes, onions, and corn.

Saute a small onion or shallot in 1 T. butter or olive oil (or a mix of each) in soup pan.
Add 2 1/2 cups chopped potatoes (peeled or not, your choice) and cook just a bit with the onions.
Then add 3 cups water, bring to a boil, and simmer on the stove.
When the potatoes have softened, add 1/2 of a 10 oz. bag of frozen corn and cook a little longer.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Because Tom likes milk, I remove my portion, and he puts in some milk. This is a good amount for two people. When the kids were home, I doubled it.

Quote du jour/Andy and Barney

Opie asks Andy at the dinner table if they are rich or poor.

Andy: I'd say we're better off than a lot of people. Got a roof over our heads; Aunt Bee [sometimes I see it spelled Bea] - finest food you ever put in your mouth; Barney for a friend. Yeah, in some ways I'd say we are rich.

Barney: You see, Opie, it ain't only the materialistic things in this world that makes a person rich. There's love and friendship. That can make a person rich.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Finds/October 24

Lots of Friday Finds this week!

1. From Literarily's Friday Finds last week:

See You in a Hundred Years: Four Seasons in Forgotten America by Logan Ward.

2. From Reading Matters:

Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North by Stuart Maconie.

3. From Geranium Cat's bookshelf:

No Cure For Death by Hazel Holt. I bought it at my local bookstore, and began reading it yesterday!

4. From the library, I borrowed The Lighthouse by PD James. This is her latest, but one.

5. My first Martin Edwards came in the mail, The Coffin Trail.

6. and 7. At the bookstore yesterday, I also bought:

At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman, a book of essays.
Robert Frost, a life by Jay Parini.

Now I just need to find the time to read them all!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Cognac is a nice beverage as the days grow cool, and this is quite a spectacular cocktail. I use Courvoisier Cognac and Cointreau, neither one of which is cheap, but just as in cooking, I prefer to use good ingredients.


2 ounces cognac
1 ounce Cointreau
juice of one lemon
ice, if desired

Tom's Scotch on left; Sidecar on right

New Catherine Goldhammer book!

Perhaps you have read, Still Life With Chickens which I wrote about here. Well, I am so very pleased that the author, Catherine Goldhammer, has written a new book. Here is what her email said:

I'm writing to let you know that my new book, Winging It: Dispatches from an (almost) empty nest, has been published this October. Still Life with Chickens was a 'starting over book,' and I guess that an empty nest is a way of starting over, too.
As I wrote this new book, I thought it would be about me and my daughter and our growing independence from each other. It also turned out to be a chance to look at the life I lived before I was a mother, and the life I might have now that my daughter is off at college, and how all of these threads weave together. It was a great experience to write it, and I hope that if you read it, you will enjoy it.

Best wishes,

You may sign up for her emails at her site.
I am thrilled and am going to buy it posthaste!

Gone-Away Bloggers

I've been thinking lately of bloggers whose blogs are now gone. This is one of the facets of online journals - that people get tired or busy or even, sadly die, and then their blogs are gone. Sometimes the writers leave a note on the door to tell us what's up, and other times I just click, and a notice from blogger comes up saying it has been removed. The four I've been thinking about, and missing lately (in alphabetical order) are:

Classical Calling
Gardens By The Lake
Love White Linen
Sweet Harvest Homestead

I hope that like this jaunty couple, they are off having a wonderful time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mais Oui!

Last night we went over to our daughter's place for supper, and played wii.
I bowled
Right up my alley
and our girl won
Tom played tennis
Our girl boxed
As did I, but I think I'm a little too aggressive, don't you? meanwhile, the pugs played
and the fish swam

And a lovely time was had by all!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cookie Tuesday - English Toffee Squares

I've had this recipe for ages, and while the squares don't taste exactly like Heath Bar toffee, the taste is still very good. Perhaps walnut or pecan bars would be a more appropriate name. And I'll bet you could use toffee bits instead of nuts for a more authentic flavor. These squares have long been a favorite in the house.

English Toffee Squares

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk

1 egg white
1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Grease a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray.
Melt butter, add sugar, flour, vanilla, and very slightly beaten egg yolk.
Mix well.
Spread evenly in the pan.
Spread lightly beaten egg white over top and sprinkle evenly with chopped nuts.

Bake 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove from oven and let sit in pan 3-4 minutes.
Cut into squares while still in pan and allow to cool thoroughly before removing.
Makes 18 squares.

Today's picture/Fall colors

Monday, October 20, 2008

Baked French Toast

Occasionally I buy some artisan bread at a co-op, and I needed to use up last week's so instead of "Muffin Monday" I made a baked French toast. An alternative title for the post could be, how sweet it is.

Slice bread into 1-inch thick slices; enough bread to fit in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. I put it in the pan to get the right amount, and then remove it.

Grease the pan with cooking spray.
Melt 1/2 cup butter.
Mix in 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
Spread this mixture into the pan.

Beat 3 eggs, add 1 cup milk, and beat together.
Pour into 7 x 11 pan (or whatever you have).
Dip bread slices in the mixture and then place them in the larger pan.

You may refrigerate this overnight, for a few hours, or bake immediately for 25 minutes in a preheated 350º F. oven.

If you can take a little more sweetness, serve with warmed maple syrup.

Not a dish we have very often, but it is a real supper or breakfast treat when we do. Very, very good.

Book Report/At Home With Beatrix Potter

At Home With Beatrix Potter
by Susan Denyer
nonfiction, 2000
finished, 10/19/08

In 1971 when Tom and I visited the Lake District, we did not go to Beatrix Potter's house, and now I'm sorry we missed it. One reason may be that we were in our early twenties, that time of life when childhood things are just about totally disregarded, and another is that we were traveling by train and bus and foot and as Tom recalls, it wasn't an easy trek to her place, and yet another because we were totally absorbed in British Literature, and all that area meant to us was William Wordsworth.

Among my treasures on the bookshelf are two little volumes bought at Wordsworth's house.

I have taken the Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth off the shelf, and am going to read along in it at odd moments or maybe long sittings. I think 37 years unopened is long enough, don't you? In case you may have missed it, I posted a great Maxine Kumin poem about the famous poet's sister.

I have no memory of Beatrix Potter's books when I was little. I wonder if they were "in fashion" over here during my childhood years. I think her work first seeped into my consciousness in a dusty, silverfish-laden store in which I bought Peter Rabbit dishes for our godchild. Then a few years later, when my own children came along, I couldn't collect those little books fast enough. I loved them and the kids loved them.

The mobile that used to hang over the crib now is on display in the hall. There's Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Tom Kitten, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, and of course, Peter Rabbit himself.

At this point in my life, I'm not sure I will ever get back to the Lake District, but I'm not as sad as I might be because of At Home With Beatrix Potter. It is as close to a visit as could be. I thought this would be mainly a photograph book - a so-called "coffee table book" that I'd just skim through. Not at all. It is a very detailed description of her house, the period she lived in, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and her farms and gardens. It is my favorite kind of history book - one that tells me the domestic details of life in the context of what was going on in the world.

The author collected information from many sources, and shows us the life of Helen Beatrix Potter through her art. Beatrix drew pictures of cozy, nurturing interiors long before she had her own home. She noticed, really noticed the houses she visited; the rooms, the furniture, the way light slanted through windows, and these details went into what she called her "little books." Later, when she bought her first house in the Lake District, she began a long process of decorating it, and then the later purchases, in the way she had dreamed of (and drawn). She used inherited antiques which she loved as a child. She bought furniture at farm sales to furnish her homes the way she had always imagined she wanted them to look.

These pictures from the book show examples of the real life model for a drawing along with the book illustration.

Something I found interesting is that Beatrix Potter didn't really live in the main house which is associated with her. Rather, this house was like a grander version of illustrating a book. She "illustrated" the house. She made it into just what she wanted it to be, and left instructions that it not be changed after her death.

I've read an excellent biography of her by Judy Taylor, and I have the new one by Linda Lear on my shelf, but honestly, this book serves the author very, very well. Susan Denyer divides the book into chapters about the house, the garden, the "little books," and farming life. This last chapter tells us what Beatrix did for a great part of her life. She loved her area, and she worked hard to preserve it. She was a conservationist, not only of the land, but of the sheep native to the area, and of the way of life. And she "walked her talk" buying up great tracts of land and homes, and greatly because of Beatrix Potter this part of the world has been saved from development and change.

Book one in my nonfiction challenge.

Book Report/A Redbird Christmas

A Redbird Christmas
by Fannie Flagg
unabridged audio read by the author
fiction, 2004
finished, 10/7/08

From my November, 2004 book journal:

C+ Nothing objectionable, nothing to make a reader hate it.
Just very so-so, bland.
When I was reading, it was okay, but I wasn't drawn to it.
I didn't think about it when I was away from the book.
I had trouble keeping the women straight - they weren't distinct people to me.
The book just didn't do anything for me.

Why did I read A Redbird Christmas again if this is what I wrote four years ago? Well, I saw it was available on audio cd read by the author, and thought I'd give it another chance. I thought maybe it would be easier to keep those women straight with a narrator, probably using different voices for each one. And in addition, the narrator is the author herself, so why not? It might just be wonderful. And it was. So very wonderful.

When I first read this book, there was a great deal of stress and sadness in my life and the lives around me. I can't help but think this affected my concentration. I may have zoomed through the book not really becoming a part of its world. Well, this time I did. I moved to Lost River, Alabama along with Oswald T. Campbell.

The book begins with his doctor in Chicago telling him he doesn't have much time to live if he doesn't get away from the cold, wintry climate. He shows Oswald a brochure from long ago about this little town of warm breezes and soft air, and having nothing to lose, Oswald goes there. He's not particularly despondent, and just begins living day to day. The people he meets are wonderful, and I kept them very straight this time. I was reminded of the characters in Bailey White's, Quite A Year For Plums; and of The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer, a novel based on a real person who also left the cold and snow for Alabama, Mary Lois' Fairhope, thinking his death was coming soon.

Oswald is offered hospitality and kindness and acceptance as he settles into this community. Most of the people are just the kind you would want for your own friends and neighbors. But Fannie Flagg doesn't turn away from the sadder elements of life. We meet a neglected little girl and we read of a serious feud between families which has destroyed lives. As the book goes on, the reader learns that love and compassion can do much to ease pain and bring about reconciliation. The ending offers a modern-day Christmas miracle which I entirely believed in.

So, four years on, my opinion of the book has gone up two grades, if I were still grading my books. I loved it.

I'll leave you with a video of Jack Teagarden singing Stars Fell on Alabama. The song, and the books I've read this year about Alabama have given me a longing for a place I've never seen. I wonder if I ever will.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Saturday Sally/October 18

Here are a few stops on this week's Saturday Sally.

Please pop over and see all Margaretha's "windows." These paintings or drawings are beautiful and fascinating; each one different from the other and each one creating an emotion in the viewer. Keep going back into the month to see more.

Amy at Atlantic Ave. has started a really interesting new blog featuring people who are 100 or older. Their philosophies are as different as the people themselves.

And here's something unexpected and delightful. Check out the photo of the pumpkin Beatles at You may read about more "pumpkin people" here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Finds/October 17

I found a book, and an author this week.

1. Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Here's a blurb:

This deftly crafted historical novel unfolds dramatically with an absorbing story and well-drawn characters who readily evoke empathy and compassion. Haddix has masterfully melded in-depth information about the history of immigration, the struggle for women's rights, the beginnings of the organized labor movement, and the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 within a narrative that will simultaneously engross and educate its readers.—School Library Journal

2. Martin Edwards. He writes British mystery books, which sound terrific, and also keeps a great blog.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Today's picture/Sunset

Sunset at the end of a raw, rainy day, promising a nicer day tomorrow.

Book Report/Maggie Again

Maggie Again
by John D. Husband
fiction, 2007
finished, 10/7/08

Just about the most moving bit of writing I've ever read is in the play, Our Town by Thornton Wilder. A character has died and is allowed to "go back" for a day when she was a child. She sees her mother as a young woman. She can hardly bear how the living people take their lives for granted. I first read it when I was in high school, and it is pretty interesting to me that with all I've read since, this is what I still think of as "most moving." I wonder if it created my interest in time travel - the idea of being able to go back or forward in time. My favorite book in the genre is Time and Again by Jack Finney. I love this book without bounds and have read it over and over again. Another one I'm very fond of is a young adult book by Nancy Bond called Another Shore. I'm interested in what device an author chooses which allows the character to go back and forth. In Another Shore, the girl turns a corner in the historical village where she has a summer job. In Time and Again, the man sets up an apartment in the Dakota building in New York City surrounded by old things and dressed in old clothes. He looks out on a scene which hasn't changed. Over time, he is able to simply ease himself into the past. I love that. And then there is the movie, Frequency. I'll bet I've seen it five or six times, and I feel the longing to watch it again soon. All of these time travel stories have to deal with the notion of changing the future by an action taken in the past; that the altering of the tiniest detail can have a huge impact later on.

I first heard of Maggie Again through a review Tara wrote. In this review, she actually mentioned my name saying she thought I'd like it! When I couldn't get it through inter-library loan (it was only available at eight locations in the whole country) she mailed me her copy. I was so touched - first with the wonder of her knowing me so well, and second with her sending me her book. She was absolutely right. I loved this book and I can't recommend it highly enough. I was thinking of offering it as a giveaway, to pass along Tara's kindness, but I think my daughter would like it, and I may just read it again.

We meet Margaret Stone, a woman of 74 in 1984, just as she is beginning her retirement from an insurance agency in New York City. She wonders what the future holds for her, and remarks to a co-worker that she'd like to go back and visit her childhood home, Cobblers Eddy, Indiana. Her friend says she has heard of it, which Margaret feels is quite impossible since it is so small that it doesn't appear on a map. The reader is aware of the woman's insistence that she has heard of it or read about it, and recently, too. But Margaret is in her own thoughts and doesn't pay much attention.

The book then takes us back to Cobblers Eddy in 1926. The chapters that follow tell the story of Margaret's life there, when she was known as "Maggie," and how she ended up in New York City. These are idyllic scenes of rural America. My own mother was 13 then, and lived much as Maggie did, surrounded by farms and country roads and hay and cows. It is a time and locale I have always longed for.

So, now comes the hard part in a book review - I want to get you excited about the book, but I really don't want to tell how past and present convene. Let's see. After Maggie moves to NYC, she writes a letter to her three great friends back home, and ends it with a postscript:

P.S. I don't care how you do it, just come. Ride Echo [a cow they ride in the countryside], hop the train, fly, drive, thumb, skate. Just get yourself here. You hear?

These boys take her words seriously, and decide to sneak on a freight train in the midst of their daily chores. All is fine until, at Indianapolis, they hear the car locked so the "riff raff" won't get in for a free ride. And then one of the boys begins to hear music, the same boy who gets intimations of the future.

Do they arrive? Are they 1926 boys in a 1984 world? Will it be Margaret or Maggie they meet? Will young love have a chance?

While reading Maggie Again, I did something I almost never do - I went to the end to see what was going to happen. I got so caught up in their lives that I couldn't bear not knowing. I'll just say, it is a satisfying ending all around. The author makes it all seem believable and possible, as the best writers of time travel do. I so enjoyed being "in" this book. The author does a wonderful job creating rural life in the past, and big city life in the future. The kindly, interesting characters and details of country living would have made this book a good enough story for me, but with time travel added in, I was in my own personal reading heaven.