Sunday, December 28, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #15

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #15: 

"Sacred or Profane"

The Challenge: Sacred or Profane

I found it difficult to document any of the traditional recipes we made for Christmas. I can't read Italian or Norwegian and my Nonnie put her own spin on her traditional Neapolitan desserts so that was out, despite the feast of 7 fishes and numerous desserts...

I made two recipes that fit the category: St. Lucia buns and rice pudding. December 13, by the old calender, was the darkest day of the year in Sweden. In Christian times it became the Saint's day of St. Lucia, the patron saint of light. Lucia or Lucy was an early Christian martyr who donated her dowry to help the poor. Supposedly she sent food supplies to Sweden during a famine. December 13 is celebrated as St. Lucia's Day in Sweden as a festival of light. One young woman (historically the oldest girl in the family) is chosen to be the Lucia bride or queen and she leads a procession and serves sweet saffron buns twisted into special shapes to her family and visitors.

Rice Pudding is a Christmas Eve tradition in my family going back to my grandmother's child and before that her mother and Norwegian grandmother. Christmas Eve was their big holiday and they had a meatless meal of fish. There was dried fish called lutfisk and fish pudding called plukfisk.

Plukfisk ready to go in the oven

"Plukkfisk is a classic Norwegian dish which consists of pieces of fish, potatoes and onion cooked in a bechamel sauce.  The dish is originally from Hordaland county, on the west coast of Norway and the home of the second largest city in the country, Bergen.  Cod is traditionally used as the fish, but you can use any white fish you like. “'Plukk' means 'pick' in Norwegian, and refers to the fact that you pick the fish and the dish is served in small pieces. 
from Arctic Grub

Following the fish pudding came risgrøt, rice pudding served with butter and cinnamon sugar in a soup bowl.  My great-grandmother told the story that one must always leave a bowl of rice pudding for Nissen (an elf-like creature who lives in the barn) so he wouldn't cause mischief.

Originally, from the Viking times to the late nineteenth century, Grøt was made from barley. In Christian times it was eaten on Sundays and holidays. This dish was not sweet like the modern dish until the late 1800’s when sugar and cinnamon was introduced to Norway. Sweet risgrøt, rice porridge has been around since the 1800s, when rice began to be imported to Norway, and it was included in the first Norwegian cookbook published in 1845.
I was able to document the traditional Christmas rice pudding in several sources:
"On Christmas Eve every person of condition has a mess of rice-porridge..."

Frederick Metcalfe, The Oxonian in Thelemarken; Or, Notes of Travel in Southwestern Norway in 1856, Hurst and Blackett, 1858.

 "In every house from that of the wealthy nobleman to that of the peasant the same Christmas supper is served a specially prepared fish for the first course rice with cream and powdered cinnamon for the second and roast goose for the third ...." 
Christopher Orlando Sylvester Mawson, Doubleday, Page & Co's Geographical Manual and New Atlas ,1918

"Our Swedish supper. The first course was lut fisk. This is a ling or a cod prepared for a Christmas delicacy by being buried for days in wood ashes. A piece of lut fisk placed on your plate immediately falls apart into flakes each flake is translucent and trembles like jelly. When eaten alone it is tasteless but when seasoned with salt much pepper and lots of butter sauce of two kinds and well mixed with a mealy potato the lut fisk is delicious. The next course was rice porridge with powdered cinnamon and cream and the third and last a great fat goose roasted to a turn. These are the three time honored dishes for Christmas eve and while we supped every family in Sweden from the King to the peasant was eating just the same sort of supper with the same courses and in every home throughout the Northland from the palace to the backwoods hut stood the Jul gran the Christmas tree with ribbons fluttering from its branches and wax tapers burning brightly from every bough."
William Widgery Thomas, Sweden and the Swedes, Rand, McNally, 1891

The Recipe: 

Ideal Rolls
Butter an earthen bowl
Melt two table spoonfuls of the best table butter but do not burn it
Keep it melted until you need it
Then heat to boiling one pint of milk and one half pint of sweet cream
Cool to a tepid state
Mix one cake of compressed yeast with a little of the milk
Add one generous half spoonful of salt
Sift a quart of flour into an earthen bowl and make a batter with the milk and cream
Beat with a wooden spoon or spatula the more air you can beat in the better and the fresher the air the more improving it is to the bread
When the batter is smooth stir in flour until it is too stiff to stir then mold it thoroughly pulling it and beating it with the palms of the hands until it will mold free of the board without flour Put the dough into the buttered earthen bowl and brush it over with the melted butter. A paint brush is best for this purpose I use a large and a small one .
Cover over the dough and put it into a warm place but not on the stove. It needs an even heat this is why it is put into an earthen. It will take from an hour and a half to two hours to rise. It must not crack open but be on the verge of cracking. Mold again and shape into rolls. Brush the rolls carefully over with melted butter set them to rise for an hour or an hour a quarter. When they are light bake from ten to fifteen minutes in a hot oven and just before they are to come out them over with milk. This makes a brown crust. A hot oven and quick makes them tender They should be snowy white very light but with rather a fine texture and should have a very sweet rich taste .If the directions are followed and the yeast and flour good this will be the case Octave Thanet
Marion Harland, The Home-maker: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 1889  
 Rice Milk Pudding

RICE MILK. --Pick and wash half a pint of rice, and boil it in a quart of water till it is quite soft. Then drain it, and mix it with a quart of rich milk. You may add half a pound of whole raisins. Set it over hot coals, and stir it frequently till it boils. When it boils hard, stir in alternately two beaten eggs, and four large table-spoonfuls of brown sugar. Let it continue boiling five minutes longer; then take it off, and send it to table hot. If you put in raisins you must let it boil till they are quite soft.
Esther Allen Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper Family Receipt Book,
Cincinnati: H. W. Derby & Co., 1845

This recipe is the closest to the modern one we make. 

The Date/Year and Region:1889 United States, 1845 New England

How Did You Make It:

St. Lucia Buns/Lussekatter

7/8 c.butter (3/4 c +2 T)
2 c. milk
1 pkg. yeast
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. saffron (to taste)
2 eggs
5 cups flour (approx. you will probably need more)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)


Melted the butter on the stove, added milk and turned the heat up until the mixture was lukewarm. Then I added the yeast and stirred the mixture, letting it sit for a couple of minutes while mixing sugar, salt and crushed saffron. I  beat an egg and added the milk mixture and then the dry ingredients and mixed with an electric mixer. I then added as much flour as needed to form a ball. I turned the ball out onto a floured surface and kneaded for a few minutes before leaving the dough to rise for several hours. After the dough rose, I broke pieces and knead each piece before rolling into snakes. I made two snakes, crossed in an X and curled the tops under and the bottoms up. I added Craisins (since I don't eat raisins) to the curls and brushed with a beaten egg. I placed the buns on a greased cookie sheet and baked at 375 for 20-25 minutes. I serve warm with melted butter on Christmas morning. Some people like to split them in half and toast them.

from Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas by Astrid Karlsen Scott

Rice Pudding
We rub butter over the bottom of a saucepan to prevent burning. Then place 1 cup or 2 cups (we did 2 this year for a large crowd) in the saucepan with the same amount of water and a cinnamon stick. With the stove on medium heat, we brought the rice to a boil and then lowered the heat until it simmered. We covered the pan and simmered until the water was all absorbed. Next we added 4 (or 8) cups milk and brought the mixture to simmering over medium-high heat. When the milk simmered, we lowered the heat to low and added 3 (6) tablespoons of brown sugar and stirred. Covering the pan again, we let the mixture simmer until thickened. When most of the milk is simmered away, remove from heat and take out the cinnamon stick.

Adapted from The American Girls Collection Kirsten's Cookbook, Pleasant Company 1994

Time to Complete: several hours

Total Cost:
I don't know. We bought the saffron (cheap saffron) rice,  and whole milk and had the rest on hand.

How Successful Was It?:
I cheated and used the modern recipes we always use so I knew they would both be delicious!

How Accurate Is It?: 
Ideal rolls: Somewhat. I used modern powdered yeast, regular 1% milk and rolled into special shapes. I brushed with an egg but when I don't have egg, I use milk.

Rice Pudding: Mostly. We added the cinnamon stick and omitted the raisins. We serve with cinnamon sugar sprinkled from my great-great grandmother's slotted spoon. 

Longer story about St. Lucia's Day:

The Legend of Lussi

In old Sweden, the 13th of December was known as Lussinatt or Lussi night, the most frightening night of the whole year. Lussi was a demon who caused havoc haunting every farm in the district. Children who had been naughty feared Lussi would sweep down the chimney, scoop them up and take them away.
In parts of Europe, including Sweden and along the coast of South Central Norway, Lussi was a winter tradition. It was believed that all Christmas peparations had to be completed by the winter solstice, December 13. It was feared that Lussi and her cats were would harm anyone working on December 13th. Also on this night, domestic animals were given the power of speech.

St. Lucia, Catholic martyr

The legend of St. Lucia varies greatly. She was generally believed to be a martyr in the year 304 A.D. She was from an aristocratic family who lived in Syracusa, Sicily. Lucia's mother became very ill when Lucia was a young girl. They traveled to a neighboring town where they prayed for healing in front of a picture of St. Agatha. The saint appeared to them and Lucia's mother was healed by St. Agatha. Lucia was deeply touched by this miracle and she vowed to dedicate her life to Christ and remain pure throughout her life. She distributed her dowry among the poor people of Sicily. Her fiance was furious and informed the authorities that hs bride-to-be was a Christian, which was a crime punishable by death. They agreed to burn Lucia at the stake. When the judgement was being carried out, she was smeared with oil, resin, and pitch, but the flames could not harm her. God was protecting Lucia from the flames. Lucia's definace of death enraged her fiance and he thrust his sword through her neck, thus killing her. 200 years later she was canonized by the Catholic church and became the patron saint of light.

Lucia comes to Sweden
In the middle ages, the solstice was a time of great festivities and celebration. By the 1700s, the date of the winter solstice was changed to December 21 and December 13 was saved for Lussi. The St. Lucia festival as we know it today began in South West Germany where a small child, resembling the Christ Child, dressed in white with a wreath of candles in her hair, went out giving Christmas treats. This custom spread to Sweden by the mid 1700s and evolved into the modern celebration of St. Lucia.
The St. Lucia festival as we know it today began in South West Germany where a small child, resembling the Christ Child, dressed in white with a wreath of candles in her hair, went out giving Christmas treats. This custom spread to Sweden by the mid 1700s and evolved into the modern celebration of St. Lucia. Lucia originally came to Sweden from Syracuse where she was a saint in the days of Christian persecution. She appeared for the first time in Västergötland at the beginning of the 19th century. Lucia Day is December 13th because that was belived to be the midwinter solstice.
The Lucia Queen or Lucia bride is traditionally the oldest girl in a family. Lucia appears early in the morning wearing a long, white robe, red sash and a crown of glowing candles on her head. She is accompanied by girls also wearing long white robes amd by "Star Boys" with tall hats and Tomtar (elves). She brings a tray of coffee, Lucia buns (Lussekatter) or gingerbread cookies.

Other versions of the myth
The Legend of Sankta Lucia

History of St. Lucia

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What I Read in October Part VI

What I Read in October Part VI . . .

A Cathedral Courtship and Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin -- Historical Romance

Miss Katherine Schyler is traveling with her Aunt Celia to visit the Cathedral towns of England in 1900. Aunt Celia is so focused, she won't even allow Kitty to have a Season. She doesn't even notice when Kitty encounters a handsome angel of mercy at Winchester. Jack Copley is in England to sketch the cathedrals and when he sees Kitty, his concentration is shattered. It's love at first sight, but first he must win over Aunt Celia. Will she ever look at anything other than a cathedral long enough to realize he wants to court her niece?

This is a very simple short story. The heroine is very young, innocent and a little silly. The characters don't have any depth and the story progresses quickly. It's only 50 pages long so there isn't much plot. The writing is nice but nothing spectacular.

The rest of the book contains Penelope's English Experiences. I own Vol. I so I will be reviewing that separately when I finish it.

Bless Me, UltimaBless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya -- Historical Fiction

Tony Marez/Antonio Marez Y Luna is six years old; the son of the seas (marez) and the moon (luna). His mother's family is tied to the land while his father comes from a line of vaqueros (cowboys). His father dreams of moving to California when Antonio's brothers return from the war; Antonio's mother wants to stay put and dreams of her youngest son becoming a priest to lead her people. Tony isn't sure what he wants but he feels he must obey his mother's devout Catholic Faith. Then Ultima, a cuarandera (healer) moves in with the Marez family bringing with her strange healing potions. Antonio feels drawn to her, but when the community starts buzzing about her being a witch, particularly one old man who seeks to destroy her, Antonio's beliefs are challenged. He believes in Ultima but he also believes in God and the Virgin. Is this part of growing up? The losing of innocence his mother despairs? This book blends traditional New Mexican Indian folk beliefs and Catholicism to show how one boy comes of age in the 1940s.

The writing in this book is beautiful, especially the dream sequences and the passages involving mysticism. I thought some of the message was heavy handed, especially towards the end. There's a lot of Spanish phrases that aren't defined. I know enough Spanish to understand the basics but I suspect a lot of the phrases are vulgar slang they don't teach us in school! I wish there was a glossary to refer to. There's also some vulgar English language and as the book progresses, a lot of violence. The children in this novel are very precocious and talk about adult things. Even Antonio worries a lot about adult problems. The central question is whether one has to believe either in Ultima's shaman medicine or in Senora Marez's God. This is a hot button issue right now and though the story takes place in the 1940s, it sounds very contemporary. I think people who grew up with old school Catholic parents and grandparents can probably relate to Tony. My family isn't that devout but I know a lot of the older people around here are.

The only character I really liked was Ultima and she is more a presence in the novel than a main character. The only other characters I remotely liked were Samuel and Frances.I found myself wanting to defend her and learn from her as well. She's an amazing, strong woman. Antonio is very young and worries a lot. He also tries to fit in with the other punk kids from the town but he's different. I felt sympathetic to him but wasn't overly fond of him. He's too precocious for 6-8 years old. Antonio's brothers are losers. I understand war is traumatic and wanting to forget and wanting to get away from the small town where one grew up but they don't seem to have any ambition or any sort of redeeming qualities, much like their father though he at least has a dream. Senora Marez relies too much on her Faith and her own family importance. I don't see why Senor Marez married her. She seems to have destroyed him.

This book is undoubtedly on many high school and college reading lists. If you like books like that and want to read it on your own, it will at least make you think. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea.

What I Read in October Part V

What I Read in October Part V . . .

Netherwood: A NovelNetherwood: A Novel by Jane Sanderson -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Eve Williams is content in her role as wife of one of Netherwood's colliers and mother to three growing children. She keeps her house neat and clean and her husband (and sometimes neighbors) well fed. Arthur Williams too is content; Lord Netherwood is a benevolent employer and Arthur has no reason to get involved in this union business his friend Amos Sykes is always going on about. Eve, however, is sympathetic to the striking miners at Grangely, another mine where she grew up. She knows about the despair and lack of hope in Grangely and wants to do something to help. First she helps move peoples' belongings and then the Methodist minister comes calling and asks the Williams family to put up a young widow and her baby. Eve knows she should help but where in the world will they put two more people and what about the extra work? Arthur readily agrees, earning the enmity of his son Seth. By the time the woman, Anna Rabinovich, moves in, Eve needs the friendship of the other woman more than ever. Through tragedy, the two women bond and Anna's ambition and keen business sense help propel Eve to heights she never dared dream. Soon she's embraced by the Earl and his family (though his heir's interest is in bedding her) and she's on a dizzying track to notoriety which will change her life forever. Meanwhile, Lord and Lady Netherwood have drifted apart. She has her gardens and social ambitions while he has his hounds and estate matters. The Earl and his Countess can agree on one thing: they have a problem with their children. Eldest daughter Henrietta aka Henry, is unmarried after 4 seasons, has a good head on her shoulders and plenty of compassion. If she were a boy, she would make an excellent Earl. Sadly, she's female and expected to look pretty and find a suitable husband. Henry's younger brother Toby is a ne'er to well who enjoys drinking beer at the local public house and consorting with the dairy maid and other willing women. Younger son Dickie shows up to luncheon in his tweeds and prefers horses to duty (like Henry) and baby Isabella, age 11, is a pert mix who is adored and spoiled by her father. When their world collides with Eve's, it may bring about the biggest changes in their lives they've seen in years.

This book was very different from what I was expecting. From the completely wrong description on the back of the book, I expected Downton Abbey fan fiction. The little bits of upstairs life is similar but the downstairs parts, which make up the bulk of the novel, are not at all similar. I really liked the setting of the Yorkshire coal mining town. It's obvious the author knew what she was writing about and did her research. The descriptions are so vivid, I can easily see it. I was fascinated by the culture of the town and how the people interacted with Lord Netherwood and how they felt. The story is more about labor history than anything else. I liked how the author had her characters represent both sides of the union issue. The descriptions of Yorkshire food are also incredible and there are recipes included. I gather that Eve's recipes are comfort food and the equivalent of serving pigs in a blanket or mac n' cheese. I really liked the business angle of the story too. I did not like the author's writing style. The third person head-jumping between many characters was jarring and made me feel detached from the action. Also, there are parts when i felt like the I was missing something because the action starts in the middle and then goes back to tell how the character got there. I couldn't really feel for Eve or anyone else because the writing style didn't pull me in. There are also two sex scenes I found vulgar and unnecessary. They are brief so don't let them stop you from reading the book.

Anna is my favorite character. She's amusing and ambitious. She provides the push Eve needs to maximize her potential. Her story is fascinating and she's a great character. I liked her better than Eve. Eve is a little too timid at first and then in the London section, which I hated, she does things that are so unlike her, it's hard to believe her personality changes that much in such a short time. I didn't feel her romance at all and didn't think it was necessary. It's introduced too late in the story to be interesting and Eve doesn't act like herself. I also found it strange that she is SO beautiful that every man who sees her instantly wants to sleep with her. That's just bizarre and detracts from the story. Henry is my other favorite character and I feel bad for her that she has such a keen mind but can't use it. She cares about the estate and the people and can't ever be Earl. My least favorite character was Toby. He's a stereotype of the typical young man of the period. I found him disgusting and in need of a good slap.

I give this book 3.75 stars. It should have been streamlined to focus on Eve and her coming into her own. Lose the romance and lose the upstairs plot and this would be a beautiful book.

Content warning:
Some language and violence
Two sex scenes that are vulgar and unnecessary. They are brief so skip them and don't let them stop you from reading the book.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen MysteryJane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron -- Regency Mystery/Austenesque

Jane Austen, her mother and sister are traveling the 17 miles from Chawton to Steventon to spend the holidays with her brother James and his family. They must travel by public stage all day and into the night to reach their old home. They're looking forward to seeing James-Edward, age 16 and Caroline, age 9. Jane and Cassandra have a special surprise for young Caroline to make her holiday special. Along the way, an accident forces them to make the acquaintance of a Mr. West who is staying with their old friends the Chutes at their home The Vyne. Soon an invitation arrives to join Mr. West and the other guests for some holiday cheer at The Vyne. Tired of James' parsimony and Mary's constant need for attention, the Austen women are eager for some gaiety. There's a lot to celebrate this season, with a new book, Napoleon in exile and an end to the unpopular American War (War of 1812). However, amidst all the gaiety come dark secrets and death. Jane suspects murder, as does Mr. West, an artist with a keen mind. Jane has not met such a mind in many a long year and she can't help but admire him, but can she trust him? If she can't, she could be the next to be killed.

If you love the idea of English Christmas then this book is for you. It's chock full of quaint customs and celebrations that seriously need to make a comeback! I loved reading about the celebrations throughout the 12 days of Christmas. There's a lot of background information on the Austens here as well.

The mystery starts almost halfway through the plot with a death. I loved how Jane jumps into sleuth mode because it shows what a sharp mind she has and how her talent is seeing people as they really are. This time she has assistance from Mr. West, a somewhat brooding man around her own age. He's a good counterpart for her. He appreciates her mind so of course I liked him. I wasn't sure who the murderer was. I thought I knew but there was so much going on, I couldn't connect the dots. I turned out to be correct about some things which were a little too obvious. I really liked the political context and learning the history of the War of 1812 from the British point of view.

The story contains plenty of humor to make it not so dark. Much of the humor comes from Mary Austen, who seems to be the model for Mary Musgrove. (If she were my sister-in-law, I'd slap her). There are other characters who are supposed to be inspiration for characters in Persuasion and Sanditon, which Jane has not yet written. The new characters are slightly more in depth than stereotypes of Regency stock characters. Only Jane Austen could make them come to life and be three-dimensional but I don't have any real complaints about the way the new characters are written here. They're mostly all secondary characters anyway.

This is another excellent entry into the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. It's been far too long and Jane Austen's life was far too short so there's only a few years left in her life but perhaps Stephanie Barron can come up with more "missing manuscripts" that show Jane Austen as a sleuth.

What I Read in October Part IV...

What I Read in October Part IV...

News from Thrush Green (Thrush Green, #3)News from Thrush Green by Miss Read -- Historical Fiction/Romance

This book follows up the last two and takes place about 2 years after Winter at Thrush Green. The local gossips are all abuzz about The Tollivers, a cottage that has been empty for years. A young woman and her son move in - without a man - and proceed to fix up the cottage and grounds with some help from Harold Shoosmith. The lady, Phil, has moved to Thrush Green for a fresh start after some personal problems. She's an independent modern woman who writes a girls' column for a living. She's a little hesitant to become involved in village life but soon Winnie Bailey becomes the mother she misses. Can she confide in Winnie? Winnie's nephew Richard arrives to conduct some research at Oxford. Winnie and Dr. Bailey find him self-centered and boorish but Phil discovers he can be charming when he wants to be. Albert and Nelly Piggot find that married life doesn't suit them as much as they had hopes and Nelly ignores doctor's orders at the peril of Albert's help. Meanwhile, Dotty Harmer is busy trying to find GOOD homes for a litter of feral cats, despite Sam Curdle's offer to drown them.

This book is very different from the previous two. There's no hook or mystery to grab the reader and keep them interested. The plot doesn't engage as much, being a series of small events without an overall narrative. The plot is more melancholy than the previous two books. Modern life intrudes : television news, Heathrow airport and painted women are all mentioned, along with a number of d- words and one h-word. I really didn't like this intrusion of modernity at all. I vastly prefer the stories centered around village gossip for that reminds me of Cranford with a bunch of middle aged and elderly ladies sticking their noses in everyone else's business. I absolutely hated the ending. It took me by surprise. I like the predictable coziness of these types of stories.

The main characters here are Phil and Jeremy with Harold Shoosmith as the secondary main character and Albert Piggot as the third. Dotty Harmer also has a small plotline. My favorite character was Dotty. I'm also passionate about animal welfare and impatient with children at times so I could certainly relate. I guess I'm a crotchety old spinster myself and if I could, I'd be the crazy dog lady instead of the crazy cat lady. I wanted to like Phil because she's an independent woman and a writer but I felt she was too weak and weepy at times and her language brought the modern time frame of the story into sharp focus. Her plot takes a dramatic twist I didn't expect which affects the tone of the novel. Jeremy is a wise-beyond-his-years kid but with all the exuberance and good nature of a young boy. He's sweet and provides a good friend for Paul. Shoosmith is not an interesting character. He's indecisive though his heart is leading him in a certain direction. He takes on too authoritative a role for my tastes.

I have one more book on my nightstand and then I will see what the other books sound like and maybe see if I still like the series. 

Battles at Thrush Green (Thrush Green, #4)Battles at Thrush Green by Miss Read-- Historical Fiction

The story takes place not long after the last book, though it was written several years later and seems to have a contemporary setting. Battles are waging at Thrush Green. Albert Piggot, unable/unwilling to work as hard after his surgery, has a complaint about the churchyard. It's too much for him to keep up and looks like an eyesore. The good Rector and Harold Shoosmith agree and come up with a plan to renovate the churchyard based on one they liked in another town. This plan meets with opposition from some of the church council members. It could take years and money to come to a conclusion and Rev. Henstock doesn't like conflict. He's also waging a battle with the drafts in his house. He doesn't mind them but for dear Dimity's sake, he wishes he could provide a more comfortable home, but how to do it on so little salary? Battle is waging at the Tullivers too. Frank wants to send young Jeremy to boarding school but Phil thinks he should attend Paul's day school for a time until he's older and more adjusted to the changes in his life. There's a battle waging in the schoolhouse too. Miss Fogarty has never looked forward to retirement more than this term. A new, young, modern teacher had come to take the younger junior class and Miss Watson takes the new teacher's side against her old friend. It's a long term and something has to change. Dotty Harmer is left a car by her late brother and everyone is shocked. No one can remember her driving - at least not for the last 50 years! Dotty insists she has had her license since she was 17 and kept it up. She won't be swayed and persists in driving (at 30 miles an hour). When a boy on a bicycle runs into her and has to go in the hospital, Dotty is summoned to court. She maintains an outward calm but is inwardly worried. What will the outcome of the trial be?

This is another slow moving entry in the series. The hook comes almost halfway through the book and it wasn't enough to keep me interested. The other battles didn't interest me at all. I disagreed with the plan for the churchyard and I agreed with Phil about Jeremy's schooling. The teacher plot was already done in her Fairacre series and it bored me in that series and still here, though this one was better. There is one death in the story that made me sad. This story doesn't contain a romance or love story at all. I missed it and felt that it made the first two books better. Modern life intrudes again a bit, yet some of the old biddies are straight out of Cranford. Miss Fogarty even wears a spencer in winter! I think this story would be best appreciated by older ladies who can relate better to the characters.

What I Read in October Part III . . .

What I Read in October Part III . . .

The Secret BluestockingThe Secret Bluestocking by Eileen Jackson -- Regency Romance

Miss Emma Waring is beautiful and clever; a writer of of serial romance stories, Emma knows she must hide her talents or she'll never find a husband. Her Mama and Nurse have drummed that into her head her whole life. When her great-aunt Lady Augusta Brancaster arrives at the parsonage with her niece, Miss Lucy Venables, to take Emma to London for her Season, Emma realizes more than ever must she hide her intelligence. She encounters Lord Kinvers, a handsome, cynical rake whose exploits are well known, and she instantly dislikes him. Attemtping to play the empty-headed coquette, Emma attracts Kinver's notice and they share a searing, passionate kiss. Emma is horrified and shocked and vows to avvoid Kinver at all costs. That's easier said than done when he comes calling on Lucy. The unflappable, serene Lucy is exactly the sort of wife Kinver needs. She's nothing like the sensual Miss Waring who stirs his blood. If only she were not a lady! He leaves the courting of Miss Waring to his newly wealthy friend James Exford. Emma knows she must accept Exford's offer if he makes one, for it will help her family. She is feeling the pressure from her unscrupulous publisher and his villanous clerk and her brother's gambling debts, not to mention the angst of trying to hide her intelligence. When a villain threatens to expose her biggest secret, she knows she'll be ruined and her family will suffer. Can she allow that to happen? If she married Exford will he stand by her? Will he allow her to write? Why does she feel so much for a certain rakish gentleman whose kisses burn in her memory?

This story had potential but as it is based on deciet, it doesn't' begin well and it doesn't turn out well until way too late. It's not at all Georgette Heyer's Sylvester, unfortunately. The plot has way too much going on and the book is too long. The romance doesn't really work for me. The hero and heroine spend more time kissing than really getting to know each other. They both make intferances about the other based on what they're told and what they observe but all their interactions are lies and lust. There are too many unrelated villans to complicate the plot and a subplot romance involving Lucy. The author lost track of her story and rushed it at the end. Though this story is technically kisses only, it's not what I would call "sweet" and the kissing is somewhat passionate. The book wouldn't rate subtle sensuality on the All About Romance scale but it's more than sweet so I am not marking it kisses only.

I didn't like Emma. She's not a true bluestocking or she wouldn't care so much about hiding her intelligence. There's nothing to indicate she's a bluestocking. She happens to be clever and a good writer but that doesn't make her a bluestocking. I cringed every time she opened her mouth in front of Kinver. I liked Lucy much better. She's confident in who she is and what she wants. Of course she's secure in her position but I think her wealth is incidential and she would be the same no matter what. I loved her interactions with her Grandmama. She actually adds some humor to the plot. I did not like Kinver. We're told he was hurt by his mother's past behavior (she's apparently a nymphomaniac?!) and he's cynical because of it but there's not much from his point-of-view so we don't really get to know him. I just didn't feel anything for him. He spends a lot of time lusting after Emma but comes too late to the truths. Exford is a better man but not very bright or sensitive. I liked him better than Kinver for the most part.

A Noble RogueA Noble Rogue by Nancy Lawrence-- Regency Romance

Miss Sara Brandon-Howe returns home from school to find the house in disarray: the servants have left over lack of payment and a temperamental Frenchman is tearing up the kitchen and making the only maid left cry. Sara quickly takes charge of the situations and means to clear matters up with her brother, Philip. Philip, Lord Carville, is an point-non-plus. He's eager to keep up with the London swells but doesn't have the money. He's currently entertaining two of them, Lord Hetherington and Hugh Deverill, until a big card game in Bath when Philip hopes to win back his fortune. Until then, Sara must pose as the housekeeper to save face. Hugh "Devil" Deverill finds the housekeeper very pretty and charming and decides it will amuse him to seduce her. The more time he spends in her company, the more he's convinced she isn't who she says she is. She blushes like a schoolgirl, dresses like a lady and is on intimate terms with prosy Lord Westbury. For some reason this chit brings out a tender side of himself he's never realized he had. For Sara, an innocent flirtation brings flutters to her heart and blushes to her cheeks. Everyone tells her Devereill is a rogue not to be trusted. She knows he's going away soon and thinks she can withstand his flirtations until then - or can she?

Ugh, ugh and more ugh. I'm all for a reformed rake story and a Pride and Prejudice type story but this one doesn't even come close to approaching good. Sara is so young and innocent, she has no idea what Hugh is up to or the danger he poses to her. I can not like a hero who sets out in cold blood to seduce a woman because he's bored and he assumes she's more than a servant to Philip. "Oh he won't mind and neither will the girl," Hugh tells himself. He's also a gamester who "fleeces gulls" and the reader is supposed to like him. He has some good qualities but Sara never knows all he's done for her. We learn about it from his valet but that's never communicated to Sara. The ending is so incredibly bad and yet obvious in his intentions, I failed to enjoy it. The characters never really get to know each other and there's no indication of how Hugh can support a wife. Is he independently wealthy or does he make a living as an ivory turner or somesuch? Who is he really? We never really know and neither does Sara. He has his moments of tenderness, to be sure, but it's not enough to make him appealing. Sara is just too naive to be appealing. She's stubborn when she shouldn't be and she can be as whiny and selfish as her brother at times.

Don't waste your time reading this. It was free through but I still wouldn't recommend it.

What I Read in October Part II . . .

What I Read in October Part II . . 
Night of a Thousand StarsNight of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn -- Historical Fiction/Romance

I'm not sure how to summarize the plot without giving it away so read at your own risk! Penelope "Poppy" Hammond can not bring herself to marry Gerald Madderly, the crushing bore her mother has chosen for her, it would be too too Victorian. Poppy hoped they could be compatible but it is not meant to be, so she leaves the church by way of the window assisted by the affable curate, Sebastian Cantrip. Along the way to her estranged father's cottage in Devon, she makes a full confession. Poppy then meets her father, Eglamour "Plum" March (Lady Julia's brother) for the first time and finds him lovely, but is bored. When she heads back to London, accompanied by her maid, Masterson, to find Sebastian and thank him properly, she discovers that all is not as it seems. Sebastian left in a hurry for the Holy Land and left a precious possession behind. Poppy feels he's in trouble and it's up to her to rescue him. She manages to find a way to get to Syria, under her real name, Poppy March, with Masterson following discreetly behind. In Syria she discovers a wild, wonderful land filled with twinkling stars and fragrant Jasmine blossoms. There's also danger afoot as the Syrians are making a bid for independence from their French rulers and a half-French Comte tries to seduce her. Then there's Hugh, her employer's valet, who makes impassioned speeches and kisses her without emotion. When Poppy is reunited with Sebastian, the adventure she has longed for finally begins. She discovers that with adventure comes danger and the passion she's always longed for.

There, I hope that summarized things properly without giving it away. The next part is telling you how I felt about this novel. It. was. amazing! I could not put it down. My favorite part of this novel is Deanna Raybourn's beautiful prose. She describes the Middle East so vividly, I can imagine away the present images of conflict in Syria to see the land the author seems to love so much. Certainly Poppy fell in love with it. I also love all the literary allusions. The title refers to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie. The stars play an important role in both stories. There are also Austen allusions! The heroine and hero have both read and enjoyed Miss Austen's novels. There are lots more literary references to be found here. A for literary geekiness! Then, there's the plot. There's almost non-stop adventure and intrigue that kept me turning the pages long after I was nodding off. I finally had to stop the first night but stayed up too late the second night to finish. I could not put it down. I was really shocked at some of the plot twists and surprised at how some turned out. Others I wasn't surprised at all. I pretty much figured I knew who the villain was and I was certain I knew that all was not as it seems with Sebastian, but there's plenty there to keep the story interesting. I was so happy to catch up with the Marches but sad to learn some of them are no longer living. (The story takes place in 1920, making Julia 60ish and her siblings elderly). 

There's a love story here that feels a little cliched but I enjoyed it. The love scene comes at the perfect moment and is implied rather than shown. The middle of the book reads like a YA novel but then the sexual tension amps up and the action gets violent. The violence was too much for me. I learned a lot about the different cultures in Syria. There's a bit of political commentary, I tried to highlight some passages but my PC screen in finicky like that. I'll try to do it on the iPad and add them in later. It's very important to understand the political background of Syria for not only is it relevant today but it plays a huge role in the story.

The weak link in the story is the main characters, especially Poppy. Poppy is very innocent and naive. She blunders along in a dangerous situation without thinking. She's a much younger version of her Aunt Julia and more annoying. I found it hard to believe she didn't notice that not all was what it seemed with Sebastian. After all, she was told certain things, she was warned away and she refused to believe anything other than her first impression of him. Sebastian summed Poppy up nicely by comparing her to a particular Austen character. Sebastian is one of those chip-on-his-shoulder outcasts who does his very best to be noble and do the right thing. He's willing to fall on his sword for Poppy and trying his hardest to be noble and not act on his feelings. It's perfectly obvious and she doesn't see it. His high-handed actions are more typical of a Victorian man with Poppy pushing his patience to the limit. Poppy doesn't appreciate what he does for her. Sebastian isn't as swoony as Brisbane but I hope they get to meet Aunt Julia and Uncle Nicholas (now the Duke of Abadour) some day so Nicholas and Sebastian can compare notes and roll their eyes over their impetuous loves.

The secondary characters are great. I want to know more about Rashid and Demitrius and especially the famed aviatrix. She has her own book, City of Jasmine, which I fully intend to read next.

I think that's all I can say without giving away too much.

Read this if you love Deanna Raybourn's other novels. Adult fans of The Agency series by Y.S. Lee will probably like this too. 

City of JasmineCity of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Five years ago Evie married the handsome, charming, boyish Gabriel Starke after once dance. He then promptly broke her heart before dying on the Lusitania. Or did he? Evie has made her own way in the world first as a war nurse and now as a famed aviatrix. Just before setting out on one final trip in her beloved ancient plane, The Jolly Roger, she finds a mysterious photograph of Gabe in the desert she knows was taken recently. With her eccentric Aunt Dove in tow, Evie sets out for Damascus to find Gabe. When she does, she'll be sure to give him a piece of her mind and then properly divorce him as she meant to do so long ago. In Syria, she uncovers clues to her husband's whereabouts and believes he is involved in some sort of criminal activity. Together they embark on an adventure across the Syrian desert involving treasure, a thrilling chase and a deep and everlasting friendship with the Bedouin. Evie also discovers a lot of built up resentment and anger towards Gabe that she needs to work though. He's not the man she thought she married and she's not the girl she once was. She plans to stand by him and help him find this treasure he seeks and THEN she'll divorce him ... or will she?

This book is a companion to Night of a Thousand Stars. The action takes place just before Poppy winds up in the Levant. Even though I knew some of the story from Night of a Thousand Stars, I was curious enough to read this book. It's similar in plot, basically another view of the same story, but because it takes place earlier, there's a lot of political intrigue as well, which I found very interesting. Also, all the action takes place in the Badiyat ash-Sham, the great desert, is a major character in the role. The title of the novel is misleading. The descriptions in the novel of the landscape, the people and the culture are all so incredibly vivid and well-drawn. I got a better sense of the history and the setting from this novel than in the other. The author really excels as setting the scene. I liked learning all the ethnographic things that Evie liked too. The romance is fun. The bickering didn't annoy me so much because Evie had every reason to be angry and every reason to suspect Gabriel was what she thought he was. Even his name implies he's a fallen angel! There is one discreet love scene at the end but the story is PG-13. There are a few light-hearted moments to keep the story from being too dark. What I didn't like was the obvious spouting of anti-imperialist thoughts from the mouth of a well-educated British woman! I can see being anti-war after what she experienced as a nurse, and I don't know much about the post-WWI generation, but I would think she would be for King and Country, etc, etc. I also felt that the story didn't grab me and make my heart pound, I suppose because I already knew the outcome.

Aside from that possible inaccuracy, I really loved Evie. She's had a tough life and has finally come into her own and discovered who she is and what she wants. She still has some growing to do, which makes the story fun. I like how she grows and completely becomes a woman. Gabe is a bit too brooding for me. He's another poor little rich boy who longed for adventure. He has a lot of growing up to do, even in this story. He's had a rough couple of years too and is mature for his age, but still young and trying to figure out who he is. I didn't exactly find him romantic, or what he did noble, but I loved him for his convictions and for doing the right thing by his friends. My favorite characters are Aunt Dove, the eccentric Victorian lady traveler and Hector, her parrot. They add some levity to the story and I admire Aunt Dove for being her own person though she's a bit scandalous.

I really enjoyed this novel. It works as a stand-alone or part of a trilogy that includes Whisper of Jasmine and Night of a Thousand Stars. It is also related to Spear of Summer Grass

What I Read in October Part I...

What I Read in October Part I...

Into Hertfordshire: Darcy's Tale Vol. I by Stanley Michael Hurd -- Austenesque

Pride and Prejudice as told from Mr. Darcy's point-of-view. This story gets inside Darcy's head and could easily be called Darcy's Diary or Darcy's Thoughts for the most part. His thoughts are interrupted by his correspondence with Georgiana and her replies. The appendix in the back has the full set of correspondence, so there's two novels in one. This is exactly why I could not love this story. I didn't like the story being interrupted by lengthy letters. The letters are very dull and don't sound a bit realistic. As far as I've read, people in the 19th century didn't go around pouring their hearts out to each other, especially not to siblings so far apart in age. In the original it's clear Darcy does not treat Georgiana like an equal. She's in awe of him and thinks of him more as a father. It says so right in the text. In this version, they sound like they're the same age and tell each other everything. I also don't like that Darcy tells Bingley about Wickham (leaving out Georgiana and just hinting at a scandal). It ruins the element of surprise (even though we know it's coming) when it's revealed to the reader later.

The writing is rather dry and just doesn't grab me. There aren't many detailed descriptions in this book. I want to know what color Elizabeth's dress is and how it compliments her figure, not just it compliments her figure. Does it compliment her fine eyes or bring out chestnut highlights in her hair? I guess men don't think about those sorts of things? Anyway, at least tell me what her dress looks like and what she's reading, etc.

This Darcy is less snobby and reserved and more cool and logical. He leads with his head too much. He loves to read philosophy - both ancient and modern and thinks logic can be applied to any situation, especially marriage. He does believe in marrying someone of a like mind, someone he can respect and enjoy their company. Caroline Bingley does not fit the bill and neither do any of the Society misses he's met so far in his nine Seasons. (Why 9? He shouldn't have been on the town that young). He enjoys conversing with Elizabeth because he thinks her verbal sparring is actual logical debate rooted in theory and structure! He tells himself he just wants to be her friend but finds himself strangely attracted to her face and figure. Darcy's long letters to his sister reveal he's falling in love with someone he considers ineligible for any kind of good match because of her family. He feels sorry for her that she'll end up with someone who is not her intellectual equal and whom she can't respect. (Jane Austen's fate had she married Harris Bigg-Withers, I'm sure). He's not opposed to Bingley's marrying Jane, he's just worried about his friend's feelings because he thinks Jane doesn't return Bingley's affection.

Georgiana is a lot like Darcy but she's still young enough to believe in true love. She has a great deal of the Darcy pride but it doesn't seem as if she's a snob. She realizes that if Caroline Bingley is associating with the Bennet sisters they can't be too far beneath the Darcys socially. She recognizes her brother's feelings before he does and tries to move the relationship along. She has potential to be a bit mischievous. I look forward to seeing how she develops in the last two volumes.

I love Bingley. He's so sweet and caring. He's not stupid or slow, he's just a goodnatured man who takes things at face value. He seems to have good instincts and wants to be everyone's friend. In turn, everyone wants to be his friend. He falls in love easily but hasn't been sued for breach of promise yet.

I also really liked Darcy's valet, but he's not as awesome as Fletcher in Pamela Aidan's trilogy.

Caroline is as she appears in the original. Louisa is made out to be not very bright and she just echoes what Caroline has to say. I don't think that's true in the original, I just think both ladies need to make themselves feel superior to others because their origins are in trade so they're kind of outsiders. 

Into Kent: Darcy's Tale Vol. I by Stanley Michael Hurd -- Austenesque
Mr. Darcy returns from Hertfordshire to London to his loving sister, who is eager to hear all about Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy tells her it's of no consequence and not to dwell on what can not be. Darcy spends a lot of time trying to come up with a logical debate on why he should or should not marry Elizabeth. He tries to help poor Bingley who is suffering from a broken heart. Together they enter into Society a bit and try to find suitable mates. Darcy is enchanted by a lively, intelligent young lady but not enough to want to marry her, at least not yet. Then comes Easter and his annual trip to Kent to see his aunt where he comes face to face with Elizabeth once again. Darcy delights in Elizabeth's lively mind, her teasing and her precious silence when only silence will do. Should he speak what's in his heart and mind? Of course we all know the answer to that question and what happens next.

This book does a good job of fleshing out the story and putting Darcy in his element. We see the man he is with his friends, laughing and teasing; the man he is with his sister, kind and loving; the man he sees himself as, logical and proud and the man he is with Elizabeth, tongue tied and awkwardly teasing. If you don't care for period details and lots of logical arguments, you will probably find this book boring. I love period details and that's why I find the hero diary novels boring. There are some great details about life in London for one of Darcy's station and how Georgiana is learning to become an adult.

We learn Darcy's idea of what love is based on his experiences with ladies of the ton and why he loves Elizabeth so much. He's really conflicted between duty and desire. He's in love but he's so concerned with upholding the family name and good breeding that he's miserable. He confides in his friends and family which is nice because it shows a different side of him that we don't normally see. However, I don't see Darcy as the laughing, teasing sort. He had a lot of pressure put on him at a young age when his father died. He didn't really get to live it up with other young men in town. He worries about Georgiana and everything else. We know he's not the teasing sort because at the end of the original novel, the narrator tells us Elizabeth is tempted to tease him but she doesn't because he hasn't learned to laugh at himself yet and then we learn Georgiana is shocked by the way Lizzy talks to her husband. The Darcy is this book is not as stiff as I picture him. I guess I'm mostly used to brooding Darcy.

There are a lot of new characters in this story. I really liked the introduction of Darcy's other possible love interest. She is another character from another novel. I picked up on her identity pretty quickly and I saw right through her. I wasn't at all surprised by what Darcy's valet learned but I felt Darcy was TOO innocent and should have known better. His reaction is pretty ptitiful. Darcy's valet, Perkins, is another new character. He's enigmatic in this book. We don't know much about him except he knows his duty, like his master, but he also seems to like to flirt. Other new characters include Darcy's family: The Earl of Andover, his lovely wife, his eldest son George, Viscount St. Stephens and of course Colonel Edmund Fitzwilliam. Darcy's relatives are parallels to Elizabeth's family. The Earl and Countess are much like the Gardiners; a loving, supportive couple who help guide the Darcys to adulthood. Cousin George is a fop, a member of the Carlton House set, a "duckling" and direct parallel to a certain obsequious clergyman related to Elizabeth. Bingley appears as well but I see him as a new character because this Bingley comes across as more intelligent and witty than the original. He's fully well aware of what his sister's goal is and how Darcy feels about it without being told. Bingley is such a likeable character though, I felt like I needed to give him a hug!

This second volume is better than the first. I'm curious though how Darcy is going to grow and change if he's already not as stiff as usually portrayed.