Friday, January 29, 2010

The winner!

The winner of the four Irish Country series books giveaway is Linda at Under the Gables! Linda, please click on 'View my complete profile' on the sidebar, and that will bring you to my email address. Please email me with your complete snail mail address which I will send to the publisher. They will send the books directly to you.

I want to thank all of you for signing up. This was such a special giveaway. I hope those of you who didn't win will either borrow or buy these wonderful books.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mahogany Sour Cream Cake

Mahogany Sour Cream Cake

2/3 cup soft butter
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup water
1 cup sour cream

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teapoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream butter and beat in sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
Add cocoa, water, sour cream and mix well.
Mix together in a separate bowl flour - baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
Add to other mixture.

Mix well and pour into greased 9 x 13 pan, or 2 round 9-inch pans, or 24 cupcake holders.
Bake in preheated 350º F. oven for about 35 minutes, but begin checking after 20 minutes.

This is one of my favorite chocolate cakes. It is really excellent. Smooth and delicious. You may frost it with a simple buttercream frosting or:

Sour Cream Frosting

1/4 cup soft butter
1/3 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar (sifted into butter mixture)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor

5. An Irish Country Girl - fourth in the Irish Country series
by Patrick Taylor
fiction, 2010
finished, 1/21/10

This is one of the books you could win if you enter the drawing! You have today and tomorrow left to sign up here.

From Wikipedia:
Second sight is a form of extra-sensory perception whereby a person perceives information, in the form of vision, about future events before they happen. Foresight expresses the meaning of second sight, which perhaps was originally so called because normal vision was regarded as coming first, while supernormal vision is a secondary thing, confined to certain individuals.
I think my mother had it to some degree. Just before my uncle died she heard three knocks and saw his face at the window. Then the phone rang telling of his death. That's the only instance I remember her telling me, though she did use a Ouija board to find out exactly where my father was during the Second World War.

We learn in this book that it can be hereditary, and I am thankful I don't have it. I do have those odd little moments which probably all of us have, like the other day when my daughter asked how is so-and-so doing just as I was about to tell her that person was coming for supper. Or another day when I read the title of someone's blog which happened to be a song title, and the next moment that song came on the Sirius radio station.

The reader first meets Maureen O'Hanlon 'Kinky' Kincaid in An Irish Country Doctor. She keeps house for the two doctors, Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly and Barry Laverty in the little Northern Ireland village of Ballybucklebo. We learned two things about Mrs. Kincaid in the first three books: she was married and her husband died young, and she has the gift of second sight. An Irish Country Girl is her story. When she has her first experience, her mother tells her:
It does run in families. I got the sight passed on from your Granny Fogarty... I was about your age when it started. The first time something happened I was fourteen, helping with the harvest. I was come over queerly. The world around me slowed down.
Reading this book felt a little bit like sitting at a beloved grandmother's knee as she recounts the story of her youth. And indeed, for a good part of this tale, Kinky is telling it to a group of young carolers on Christmas Day in 1964. The book begins just as the third one, An Irish Country Christmas ends.
I'll tell you a story of faeries, and the banshee, and the Saint Stephen's Day Ghost, and if we've time - but remember I've a dinner to cook, so only if we've time - I'll tell you how the Saint Stephen's Day Ghost came back four years later.
And tell us she does, over almost three hundred pages. I was enthralled. When I wasn't reading, I was thinking about the story. It is told in such a down-to-earth manner that I felt sure it was true. The children certainly never doubted. They would pipe up occasionally with their own knowledge of the supernatural. The faeries in this book are not the sweet little ones we see in illustrations. These faeries have power and they can get very angry if someone crosses them, as Connor MacTaggart does. I've never understood people who do not listen to warnings: 'Don't get on that plane.' 'Don't go on that trip.' Of course the trouble in real life is that unless the 'warner' was overheard, when the 'warnee' dies no one knows he was warned. But in a story, we can see the dire consequences of not listening to one who has the second sight. Connor wants to cut down a blackthorn tree to help heat his cottage. When Kinky tells the children:
Hazel Arbuthnot pursed her lips, sucked in a breath, and shook her head. "Blackthorn? That's what Jesus' crown of thorns was made of, so it was.

"That's not the half of it," Kinky said. "You should have heard what Ma told Connor. She got very serious. 'Don't you dare touch that tree, Connor MacTaggart. Leave it alone entirely. Entirely, do you hear me now?'

"He laughed. 'Because the faeries, the Doov Shee, live under blackthorns?'
I really don't know when I have so enjoyed a book. Kinky (well, really Patrick Taylor!) is the best storyteller. The suspense was amazing. The details, the foreshadowings kept me almost holding my breath. As Kinky tells this tale, we also learn about her life as a young girl in County Cork in the 1920s. The book is history and folklore and human interest all wrapped into one. There is a glossary at the back, and there are recipes from Mrs. Kincaid herself.

In an author's note at the beginning of the book, Patrick Taylor tells us:
... some explanation is also needed for the readers who have come to know Doctors O'Reilly and Laverty, the village, and its inhabitants, because this book is different. But let me first thank you for your loyalty to Ballybucklebo. And please don't worry. Now that An Irish Country Girl is finished, I have begun work on the next Irish Country tale, which is set in familiar territory and peopled by the usual suspects.
I cannot wait.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mrs Bale reporting on the January thaw

Mrs Bale says, I spy with my little eye...


From Wikipedia:

The January thaw is an observed but unexplained temperature rise in mid-winter found in mid-latitude North America.

Sinusoidal estimates of expected temperatures, for northern locales, usually place the lowest temperatures around January 23 and the highest around July 24, and provide fairly accurate estimates of temperature expectations. Actual average temperatures in North America usually significantly differ twice over the course of the year:

Mid-autumn temperatures tend to be warmer than predicted by the sinusoidal model, creating the impression of extended summer warmth known as Indian summer.
For five days around January 25, temperatures are usually significantly warmer than predicted by the sinusoidal estimate, and also warmer than neighboring temperatures on both sides.
During this "thaw" period, usually lasting for about a week, temperatures are generally about 10 °F (6 °C) above normal. This varies from year to year, and temperatures fluctuate enough that such a rise in late-January temperature would be unremarkable; what is remarkable (and unexplained) is the tendency for such rises to occur more commonly in late January than in mid-January or early February, which sinusoidal estimates have to be slightly warmer.

In some regions (such as northern Canada) this phenomenon will not be manifest as a "thaw" in the technical sense, since temperatures will remain below freezing.

The January thaw is believed to be a weather singularity.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Short Story Monday/A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf

You may visit John for more short stories this Monday.

Before I begin, please check the giveaway to see if you are interested in signing up!

On Virginia Woolf's birthday, I've chosen a short story from the collection called Monday or Tuesday, published in 1921. I don't own this book but found all the stories online here.

It seems that death is always somewhere lurking in the works of Virginia Woolf. She has such an awareness of time passing, life changing, and then the final alteration. I suspect this is true of many of us who have lost a parent at a young age. While those with parents still alive have a buffer between them and death, we who are orphans early on have an acute awareness that death can come at any time. We learn to live with it sitting beside us.

When I finished reading A Haunted House, my heart felt full and there were tears in my eyes. It reminded me a little bit of Emily in Our Town, the play by Thornton Wilder. After she dies, she gets to spend an ordinary day back among the living, observing the details of daily life we often don't notice.

In A Haunted House, a dead couple comes back to the house where they were happy.

Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.
“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning—” “Silver between the trees—” “Upstairs—” “In the garden—” “When summer came—” “In winter snowtime—”

This is not a scary haunted house story. It is warm and moving and I thought, wonderful.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Irish Country Series Books GIVEAWAY!

On January 7, I received a very exciting and most unexpected email from someone on behalf of Forge Books, the publishers of the Irish Country series by Patrick Taylor. She offered to send me a copy of the latest book, An Irish Country Girl, AND she said that the company was willing to give away ALL four books in the series if I wanted to offer a drawing on my blog! Here are her words:

We will send the entire series of four titles: An Irish Country Doctor, An Irish Country Village, An Irish Country Christmas, and An Irish Country Girl. An Irish Country Girl will be hardcover, as it was just released and is only available in that format, and the rest of the books could be either trade paperback or hardcover, depending on what the publisher has available on their end.
We can also send those from our end, so when you have a winner's address (within the U.S. or Canada only please), just send it along and we'll make sure to get them out!

So there you have it! I'm thrilled to be able to offer this fantastic giveaway. I've written about the first three in the series here and here and here. I've recently finished An Irish Country Girl and will write a book report soon on this wonderful book.

If you would like to be included in the drawing which will be held on Friday, January 29, please leave a comment ON THIS POST today through Thursday. Please do note above that the publisher will ship ONLY to the US or Canada. The four books will go as a set to one person.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer

4. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline - fifth in the Enola Holmes series
by Nancy Springer
young adult mystery, 2009
library copy
finished, 1/15/10

In The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, Enola Holmes, young sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, meets the elderly Florence Nightingale. I hate to admit it, but I knew next to nothing about her until this book. We learn about her nursing life during the Crimean War, and that the conditions were horrific and those in charge were corrupt. This corruption is at the center of the book. One evening Enola's landlady, the kindly, deaf Mrs. Tupper, shows Enola a threatening letter she has received. She then proceeds to tell the young girl of her life during the war. The young Enola is amazed to hear her story.

I simply could not imagine ... my dear old landlady, she who now spent her days stewing oxtails and tatting pillow-slips, had once traveled to a barbaric land, lost her husband...

Soon, Mrs. Tupper is kidnapped, and it is up to Enola to find her.

In addition to learning about Florence Nightingale, I also learned about the dangers of boarding school caused by women's fashions in Victorian times:

The sufferings of an upper-class girl in a typical boarding school are only slightly less severe than those of an imprisoned criminal upon a treadmill. I speak of painful physical rigours that result invariably in deformity and sometimes in death.

Why do you think fashionable women constantly faint? And die of the slightest ailment, much less childbirth? Or occasionally fade away and succumb even before reaching childbearing age? It is because they are compressed at the waist in a practice no more civilised than the binding of a Chinese woman's feet.

The book tells the reader of the treatment of women in libraries. Enola puts on clothing which will let her 'pass as a particular variety of upper-class female, the kind who espouses causes and studies (or attempts to study, when not being harrassed by proprietary males) at the British Museum.' And later she speaks of the British Museum as a 'den of nasty old men.'

After her landlady is kidnapped, Enola goes out in the street and talks to eyewitnesses, each of whom tells a different story.

a shiny black brougham driven by a pursy, florid man, and the horse had been a bay
a phaeton with ... a nondescript narrow sort of driver and a black horse
a barouche ... and the horse was brown

This book is a perfect combination of historical information, a great young heroine and role model, terrific detail which brings the period and place alive to the reader, often wry humor, and a mystery involving morse code. I've loved each and every book in the series, and hope it goes on and on.

There is lots more Nancy Springer on Letters from a Hill Farm:

first in series




Thursday, January 21, 2010

Today's cd/It Had To Be You - Rod Stewart

Oh, do I love this album! I've been a fan of Mr. Stewart's for as long as he's been singing. One of my earliest favorites was Drinkin' Again which he did with the Jeff Beck group. I just recently learned that the lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer. So, in a way, Rod Stewart is coming full circle here with the standards; 'the great American songbook.' He does, as they say, make the songs his own, as do all the best singers. Some of the titles are: They Can't Take That Away From Me, Every Time We Say Goodbye, That's All, and a song I've raved about in my letters here and here and here, You Go To My Head. I want to buy the other volumes in this collection.

When I use the words, 'today's cd,' that's actually the truth. I put a cd into my Bose on repeat, and it plays all day long. I love to immerse myself in one album this way.

Here's a video of Rod Stewart singing one of the songs, The Way You Look Tonight.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert B. Parker obituary

‘Spenser’ novelist Parker dead at 77
Prolific, funny, he reinvented genre
By Bryan Marquard, Globe Staff | January 20, 2010

Robert B. Parker, whose spare, eloquent sentences turned the tough private investigator Spenser into one of Boston’s most recognizable fictional characters, suffered a heart attack at his desk in his Cambridge home Monday and died. He was 77.

Muscular and gruff like his creator, Spenser shared other traits with Mr. Parker. Behind the pugnacious exterior, both men liked to chase fine food with a cold beer. Both had a sharp wit and lived by a code of honor.

Over the course of three dozen Spenser novels, Mr. Parker introduced millions of readers to Boston, which was as much a character as his burly protagonist. To a predictable genre, he added a complex detective with a sensitive side. The wry dialogue between Spenser and longtime girlfriend Susan Silverman, who was schooled in the art of psychology, gave a modern twist to the repartee between the Nick and Nora characters created generations earlier by noted crime novelist Dashiell Hammett.

“He was responsible for a seismic shift,’’ said best-selling writer Dennis Lehane, whose crime novels “Mystic River’’ and “Gone, Baby, Gone’’ were adapted into movies. “He suddenly made the private-eye novel sexy, in the coolest sense of that word. There’s private-eye fiction before Bob, and there’s private-eye fiction after him.’’

Joseph Finder, a Boston-based author of best-selling spy thrillers, said Mr. Parker “took the American hard-boiled private-eye novel that had been languishing for years, since James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler, and revitalized it. He took a lot of the standard tropes - the tough guy, the lone wolf, the man of honor on the mean streets - and updated them so that his Spenser character became sort of an avatar of himself. He was actually a guy who cooked, who was incredibly devoted to one woman, the way Bob Parker was to Joan, his wife.’’

Publishing 65 books in 37 years, Mr. Parker was as prolific as he was well-read. He featured Spenser - “spelled with an ‘s,’ just like the English poet,’’ he said - in 37 novels. He also wrote 28 other books, including a series each for Jesse Stone, the police chief of fictional Paradise, Mass., and Sunny Randall, a female private investigator in Boston.

His latest book, “Split Image,’’ extending the Jesse Stone series, is due out next month, said his agent, Helen Brann of New York City.

Mr. Parker’s marquee character was turned into the TV series “Spenser for Hire,’’ starring Robert Urich. “Jesse Stone’’ became a TV movie vehicle for Tom Selleck, and “Appaloosa,’’ his 2005 Western, was made into a 2008 film directed by and starring Ed Harris, who filled a shelf with Mr. Parker’s books.

“Robert wrote about this friendship between these two guys that tickled me,’’ Harris said of “Appaloosa.’’ “It just felt right. It felt good.’’

Mr. Parker, he added, “was a national treasure. I loved him and I’ll miss him.’’

Brann, who represented Mr. Parker for 42 years, said he had a heart attack while his wife was away from the house. “She saw him early in the morning, went out for her exercise, came back an hour later, and he was gone,’’ Brann said. “He was at his desk, as he so often was.’’

Pounding out up to five pages a day, Mr. Parker kept a pace few could match. Pressed for his secret, he made it sound simple.

“The art of writing a mystery is just the art of writing fiction,’’ he told the Globe in 2007. “You create interesting characters and put them into interesting circumstances and figure out how to get them out of them. No one is usually surprised at the outcome of my books.’’

Perhaps, but readers around the world raced to devour novel after novel. Brann estimated that Mr. Parker sold more than 6 million volumes worldwide. His work was translated into 24 languages.

He was teaching English at Northeastern University when he began writing the novels featuring Spenser, whose first name is never revealed. Mr. Parker didn’t care for academia and made no secret of his animosity in his first book’s first sentence: “The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse.’’

In 1975, Globe reviewer Walter V. Robinson welcomed “God Save the Child,’’ Mr. Parker’s second effort: “Spenser is back, and none too soon to give the connoisseur of that rare combination of good detective fiction and good literature a chance to indulge himself.’’

Mr. Parker grew up in Springfield, where he and Joan Hall first met at a birthday party when they were 3. They met again years later at Colby College in Maine. He pursued her. She resisted, then relented. They married in 1956.

“He was very smart and he knew it, and I reveled in that,’’ she told the Globe in 1981. “He was the only man who didn’t bore me.’’

After serving in the Army, Mr. Parker worked in a variety of jobs before going to graduate school at Boston University, where he received a doctorate in English literature.

In the early 1980s, the couple separated, then got back together in an arrangement they publicly acknowledged was unusual, but worked for them. They bought a sprawling house in Cambridge and each lived in a private area.

Mr. Parker dedicated his books to his wife, and told the Globe in 1992 that “she has been the central factor in my life since I was a child. You wouldn’t understand me unless you understand me and her.’’

In addition to his wife, Mr. Parker leaves two sons, David of New York City and Daniel of Santa Monica, Calif. The family is planning a memorial service.

Despite the wealth and fame that came with TV, movies, and worldwide sales, Mr. Parker “was so dependable, such a regular guy,’’ said Kate Mattes, who ran Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge for 26 years. “He never put on airs or anything, and he certainly had the right to.’’

Mr. Parker, who sometimes likened himself to a carpenter who built books, helped others learn his trade.

“The debt’s huge and I was always upfront about that,’’ Lehane said. “My first book is so much Robert Parker in the first chapter that I’m surprised he didn’t sue me.’’

© Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays/An Irish Country Girl

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!).
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Page 66 - An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor (a few more than two sentences today)

And this is what it was. Connor had heard a clicking. He looked around but he couldn't see the spider. He listened, listened. There. The noise was coming from the cupboard over the sink.

... He opened the cupboard sloooowly... and jumped back.

The poitín [Pronounced 'potcheen.' Moonshine. Illegally distilled spirits, usually from barley. Could be as strong as 180 proof] bottle tumbled out and smashed in the sink, the fumes of the spirits stinging his nose. And the spider, pausing only to fix Connor with its hard eyes for a moment, hissed and scuttled out of the cupboard, leapt onto Connor's shoulder, and bit his ear.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Short Story Monday/A Really Good Jazz Piano by Richard Yates

Short Story Monday is hosted by John.

Although I did not want to read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, I knew that I did want to read more of his work. This short story seemed a good place to begin. It is in my Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, but was originally collected in Yates' book of short stories, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness published in 1962. It features two Yale graduates in France. One of them has an independent income and may spend his life just 'floating around,' while the other has a job waiting back in the States working for his father. The only women are girlfriends without much of a role in the story. Though the women had superficial parts, their presence did move the story along, teaching the reader more about Carson and Ken.

What I found interesting is that so often we read of the unattractive girl or the unpopular girl while rarely reading of her male counterpart. Ken is that man. He is a hanger-on to Carson, a man comfortable in society, and shallow with a cruel streak. He is overweight and has borne the burden of ridicule and disgusted looks his whole life. Only when Ken is with Carson does he feel alive and happy. In this story, we see them both separate and together, and discover what really makes each of them tick. The circumstances in the story cause a shake-up of their old pattern which provides the climax.

I thought A Really Good Jazz Piano was very good. Richard Yates does an excellent job of developing characters and setting, bringing the story alive.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

3. Betsy-Tacy - first in the Betsy-Tacy series
by Maud Hart Lovelace
juvenile fiction, 1940
finished, 1/10/10

This is my first book read for the You've Got Mail Reading Challenge.
One of the great joys of being a parent is sharing books from your childhood with your own child. For me, the books were Little Women, and the Betsy-Tacy series. And what a thrill it was when my Margaret loved them as much as I did. In fact, not too long ago she stopped by and I found her sitting down with one of the Betsy-Tacy books.

So, where to begin for those of you who haven't read these books. How do I encourage an adult to go out and buy or borrow Betsy-Tacy? After all, there are so many great books out there for adults. Why should you spend your precious reading time on a book for children published seventy years ago? Well, all I can say is that it is a very special book. It tells us what life was like at the turn of the century, when the 1800s were becoming the 1900s, when the author was herself a young girl. Betsy's experiences are those of Maud Hart Lovelace. She wrote:

Of course, I could make it all up, but in these Betsy-Tacy stories, I love to work from real incidents.

The book portrays a childhood friendship all children long for. And it is beautifully written. The descriptions of the people and places are so real that the reader feels like she has actually seen them.

These girls have a playhouse made from an old piano box. They have birthday parties, and go to school, and just play and play. They take walks and have picnics. They color easter eggs, and they color sand to sell in jars. From a chapter called, Supper on the Hill:

That summer they started having picnics. At first the picnics were not real picnics; not the kind you take out in a basket. Betsy's father, serving the plates at the head of the table, would fill Betsy's plate with scrambled eggs and bread and butter and strawberries, or whatever they had for supper. Tacy's father would do the same. Holding the plate in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, each little girl would walk carefully out of her house and down the porch steps and out to the middle of the road. Then they would walk up the hill to that bench where Tacy had stood the first night she came. And there they would eat supper together.

I've seen two cartoons recently that are a sign of these times we live in. The first was a holiday scene of a family. It was one of those houses where the kitchen flows into the living room. You could see all the food in the kitchen, while all the people were in the living room. But not together. Living parallel. Each one of them using a computer, or a cell phone, or playing a video game. The second is a recent New Yorker cover. Two skiers at the top of a beautiful world and one is taking a photo and the other is talking on a cell phone. They are each leaning in opposite directions.

This is as different as can be from the life we see in Betsy-Tacy. The families, the friends, the meals, the homes are the center of life.

When summer time came Betsy and Tacy didn't need to bother with school anymore. They could play all day long. They did play all day long, and they never once ran out of things to do.

"The days aren't long enough for those two," Betsy's mother said to Betsy's father.

Halcyon days, and a wonderful book.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Quote du jour/John Townsend Trowbridge

But cheerily the chickadee
Singeth to me on fence and tree

From Midwinter
by John Townsend Trowbridge

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

2. Talking About Detective Fiction
by P.D. James
nonfiction, 2009
finished, 1/4/10

In her introduction to the book, P.D. James says:
I hope that the many references to my own methods of working won't be seen as hubris; they are an attempt to answer some of the questions most frequently asked by my readers...
These 'references' were, for me, the most wonderful part of this book. I just loved reading:

I have used setting in this way to enhance danger and terror by contrast in a number of my novels. In A Taste for Death the two bodies, each with its head almost severed, are discovered in a church vestry by a gentle spinster and the young truant she has befriended. The contrast between the sanctity of the setting and the brutality of the murders intensifies the horror and can produce in the reader a disorientating unease, a sense that the ordained order has been overturned and we no longer stand on firm ground.

There are details of A Taste for Death, read so long ago, that suddenly pop up in my thoughts. This shows me the power of her writing; her absolute mastery at creating a scene, a sensation that remains ever memorable.

James doesn't try to cover all detective fiction. A few of the chapter titles are:

The Tenant of 221B Baker Street and the Parish Priest from Cobhole in Essex

The Golden Age

Soft-Centered and Hard-Boiled

Four Formidable Women

This little gem of a book is perfect. It is personal and conversational as if the reader is sitting in a lovely little bookstore with the author.

Tom gave me Talking About Detective Fiction for Christmas after hearing this report on National Public Radio. It is wonderful to hear her voice, and the piece will give you a good flavor of what the book is all about. I just loved it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Short Story Monday/My Dear Miss Fairfax by Nicola Slade

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.

I am delighted to say that you may read this story at Nicola Slade's homepage without getting up from your computer.

My Dear Miss Fairfax is an epistolary short story, told in letters between three people in the year 1840. The first letter comes to Lady Steyne from Ambrose Rogers, a man in his late thirties. They had met in the past and he asks for her help in finding a woman who could become his wife. She happens to know a woman in her early thirties, Adelaide Fairfax, whose parents are deceased. Lady Steyne introduces them through letters, and then they begin writing to one another. He has inherited a plantation from his boss on a tropical island. Miss Fairfax has lived in the family parsonage, and Lady Steyne lives in London. There is a really nice touch on Nicola's website whereby a photograph suggesting one of the three homes is featured next to the letter from that person. The page background is a lovely sea green making the story a real pleasure to read on the screen. Because the couple has a mutual acquaintance in Lady Steyne, one never fears the story ending badly. In just a few short pages, the reader gets to know the letter writers, and get a good sense of the island. This is a warm tale beautifully told, and I loved it.

Another wonderful short story by Nicola Slade at Letters from a Hill Farm:


Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Finds/January 8

1. In light of my current interest in Swedish writing, Janice recommended in a comment, The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg.

2. Two recommendations by Martin Edwards: Death Wore White by Jim Kelly and An English Murder by Cyril Hare.

3. There are several on Miss Lemon's list of her top ten crime books that I want to read; a couple by Agatha Christie. I've read about The Sittaford Mystery too often to put off reading it much longer.

4. Speaking of top ten crime fiction, I am finding many, many titles I want to read on the lists people have submitted at Mysteries in Paradise. If you are interested in mysteries/crime fiction at all, you'll love reading these lists.

You may check out links to other Friday Finds here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor

1. An Irish Country Village - second in the Irish Country series
by Patrick Taylor
fiction, 2008
library copy
unabridged audio read by John Keating
finished, 1/3/10

I am completely charmed by the Irish Country series set in the mid-1960s in Northern Ireland. I've really enjoyed the way each book covers only a short period of time, and the next one begins right where the other left off.

In the first book, the new doctor, Barry Laverty, doesn't spend as much time examining a patient as he feels he should have. He knows this, but he is young and on his way to visit his new girlfriend, and the man is a hypochondriac whose wife has called the doctors out many nights when there has been no problem. In this one instance though, it is the old tale of 'the boy who cried wolf.' This time there is something really wrong. In the second book, Barry fears a possible lawsuit stemming from the incident. And there is talk in the village that he isn't a good doctor.

The books are light-hearted and cheerful in many ways, but they also address serious issues in the life of this little village. There is an evil politico; there is an older couple not able to marry; there is an unmarried, pregnant young woman; there is a boss whose cruel behavior causes an employee's skin condition. Young Dr. Laverty learns that not everything is taught in medical school. Rules must be bent, and white lies must be told sometimes. His boss and guide, Dr. O'Reilly, is a true character who can be exasperating, but also very wise. And again, there is the wonderful Mrs. 'Kinky' Kincaid. She keeps the two of them on the straight and narrow, as she feeds and takes care of them. We also learn she has a bit of the second sight.

This video is not just about this book, but offers a great view of the countryside and pub life with the author speaking and bringing his books alive.

I've loved each book and look forward to the new one coming out this year.

More Patrick Taylor at Letters from a Hill Farm:



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Chocolate Cookies

You may remember that in November we gave Margaret's boyfriend the gift of a dessert each month for a year as his birthday present. The first one was Chocolate Chip Bars. December's baked good wasn't a dessert, but a loaf of bread from the new bread maker. And these cookies are this month's installment. They are wonderful.

Chocolate Cookies

Cream together 1 1/4 cup soft butter and 2 cups sugar.
Add 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix together:
2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add dry ingredients to butter mixture.
You may then add 1 or 2 cups of chocolate chips or toffee bits, if desired. I added 1 cup chocolate chips.

Bake on ungreased sheet for 8-10 minutes in a preheated 350º oven.
Makes about four dozen cookies.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Short Story Monday/The Case of the Missing Will by Agatha Christie

Today's Short Story Monday is The Case of the Missing Will by Agatha Christie.

This story was offered free on audio during the week of Agatha Christie's birthday. It is 21 minutes long and narrated by David Suchet, the man who plays Poirot in the televised versions.

A young woman comes to Hercule Poirot with an interesting story. She was orphaned as a child and brought up by her only relative, her late father's brother. He was kind to her but they had one glaring difference of opinion; she wanted to attend college, and he didn't believe in 'book learning' for women. Though Miss Violet Marsh did go on to school they still had a friendly relationship. Now he has died and left a most unusual will. She may live in the old farmhouse, Crabtree Manor, for a year, 'during which my niece may prove her wits.' If his wits prove better, the house and money will go to various charities but if hers prevail, she will get everything. Violet asks for Hercule's help. He says that somewhere in the house her uncle has hidden either a second will or money. He views the situation as 'a problem charming and ingenious.' 'I shall have all the pleasure in the world of solving it for you.' While at the house, there are revelations and frustrations until Poirot's friend Hastings has an idea. The vain Poirot must admit, 'that may be one of your more sensible observations.'

This reader thought the story itself 'charming and ingenious.' I found myself smiling with delight as I listened.

The story was originally published in a collection called Poirot Investigates published in 1924. Agatha Christie, a Reader's Companion by Vanessa Wagstaff & Stephen Poole, offers the original UK dust-wrapper.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Today's poem - The Things by Donald Hall

The Things
by Donald Hall

When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial: a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,
a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.

More Donald Hall at Letters from a Hill Farm:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Book Reports/2010

Alphabetically by book title:

A Cotswold Killing by Rebecca Tope - first in the Thea Osborne series

A Graceful Death by Ann Summerville

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie - fourth in the Jane Marple series

A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie - first in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series

All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie - second in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series

An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor - fourth in the Irish Country series

An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor - second in the Irish Country series

Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason - seventh in the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries

Behind the Curtain by Peter Abrahams - second in the Echo Falls series

Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer - a sequel to Rules of the Road

Betsy~Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace - first in the Betsy~Tacy series

Betsy~Tacy and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace - second in the Betsy~Tacy series

Billy Boyle by James R. Benn - first in the Billy Boyle World War II Mystery series

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker - first in the Bruno, Chief of Police series

Carney's House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace - companion book in the Betsy-Tacy series

Death of a Gentle Lady by M.C. Beaton - twenty-fourth in the Hamish Macbeth series

Death of a Witch by M.C. Beaton - twenty-fifth in the Hamish Macbeth series

Death On Demand by Carolyn G. Hart - first in the Death On Demand series

Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten - first in the Inspector Huss series

Dive Deep and Deadly by Glynn Marsh Alam - first in the Luanne Fogarty series

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn - first in the Chet and Bernie series

Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams - first in the Echo Falls series

Into the Dark by Peter Abrahams - third in the Echo Falls series

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason - third in the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries

Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie - third in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series

Mourn Not Your Dead by Deborah Crombie - fourth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series

Mrs. Malory: Death of a Dean by Hazel Holt - seventh in the Sheila Malory series

Murder on Campus by Hazel Holt - fifth in the Sheila Malory series

Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham - second in the Albert Campion series

Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell - first in the Bagthorpe series

Please Pass the Guilt by Rex Stout - a Nero Wolfe mystery

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason - fourth in the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries

Superflous Death by Hazel Holt - sixth in the Sheila Malory series

The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman - second in the Mrs. Pollifax series

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie - second in the Jane Marple series

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer - fifth in the Enola Holmes series

The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith - twelfth in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason - sixth in the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries

The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith - sixth in the Isabel Dalhousie series

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear - seventh in the Maisie Dobbs series

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama - first in the Marriage Bureau for Rich People series

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie - third in the Jane Marple series

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie - first in the Jane Marple series

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie - second in the Hercule Poirot series

The Stabbing in the Stables by Simon Brett - seventh in the Fethering series

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley - first in the Flavia de Luce series

The Torso by Helene Tursten - second in the Inspector Irene Huss series

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman - first in the Mrs. Pollifax series

Thereby Hangs A Tail by Spencer Quinn - second in the Chet and Bernie series

Voices by Arnaldur Indridason - fifth in the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries

Winter of Secrets by Vicki Delany - fourth in the Constable Molly Smith series

Alphabetically by author:

Peter Abrahams, books 1, 2, and 3

Joan Bauer, book 2

M.C. Beaton, book 2

Maeve Binchy, book 2

Maeve Binchy, book 3

Agatha Christie, books 5 and 6

Dorothy Gilman - books 2 and 3

Hazel Holt - book 2

Hazel Holt - book 3

Spencer Quinn - book 2

Martin Walker - books 1 and 2