Sunday, June 7, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Bonus Challenge 

"Breakfast Foods"

The Challenge: Breakfast Foods
I had all kinds of plans for this challenge but unfortunately I'm without an oven so I had to go with Plan B.

The Recipe: Johnny Cakes
1886, Rhode Island

Johnny Cakes are a type of cornmeal pancake made with Indian cornmeal and water spread thin on a board and cooked on an open fire. The early English settlers learned how to plant and cook Indian corn from their native neighbors. Supposedly the name comes from Journey because they were easy to make on a long journey. The legend goes that travelers carried cornmeal in their saddle bags and mixed the cornmeal with their water supply and cooked the cakes over an open fire on a rock, a board, a hoe, whatever was around. This recipe is a Rhode Island tradition. The special white cornmeal is stone ground at a local mill. It's probably more refined than the cornmeal used back in colonial days. A Google Books search reveals numerous anecdotes about how inedible these early Johnny cakes are and later recipes tried to improve them by adding sugar, eggs and flour. I stuck with the tried and true local recipe.  

1 c. stone ground white cornmeal
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. boiling water
fat for frying

Mix cornmeal, sugar and salt together in a bowl. Boil water and pour over cornmeal mix. Stir to a thick batter. Grease a frying pan or griddle and cook one side for exactly 6 minutes. Do not peek or turn over. Flip and cook for 5 minutes. Serve warm with butter, apple butter, honey or maple syrup.
Makes about 10 small cakes

Wash them down with some coffee milk and you have a true Rhode Island meal!

Common Griddle Cake
A quart of indian meal, a pint of warm water, a level tea-spoonful of salt. Sift a quart of indian meal into a pan. Make a hole in the middle, and pour in a pint of warm water, adding the salt. With a spoon mix the meal and water gradually into a soft dough. Stir it very hard for a quarter of an hour or more, till it becomes light and spongy. Then spread the dough, smooth and evenly, on a stout, flat board. A piece of the head of a flour barrel will serve for this purpose. Place the board nearly (but not quite) upright, and set a smoothing-iron or a stone against the back to support it. Bake it well. When done, cut it into squares, and send it hot to table, split and buttered. You may eat molasses with it.
Eliza Leslie, Miss Leslie's Lady's New Receipt-book: A Useful Guide for Large Or Small Families Containing Directions for Cooking, Preserving, Pickling ..., A. Hart, late Carey & Hart, 1850. 

How Did You Make It:
I followed the recipe on the box. I fried in butter instead of drippings or lard. I cooked them in round cakes which is the traditional way. They're not light and spongy the way Eliza Leslie describes.

Time to Complete:  half an hour or so

Total Cost: $4.66 for the cornmeal. I had salt, sugar and butter on hand.

How Successful Was It?:  Very successful.This isn't the first time I've made them. I don't do it often enough to count it as a specialty. 

How Accurate Is It?:
100% except I fried in butter and I don't have any local raw honey on hand right now so I topped with grocery store honey. I didn't make the apple butter but it did come from a local  orchard.  (I find coffee milk really gross so I skipped that part of the tradition.)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What I Read in January Part VIII . . .

What I Read in January Part VII . . .

Miss Silver Comes to Stay (Miss Silver, #16)Miss Silver Comes to Stay by Patricia Wentworth--historical cozy mystery

When Miss Maud Silver comes to stay with an old friend, she doesn't count on being called on in a professional capacity to solve the murder of James Lassiter. 25 years ago, James Lassiter wanted to marry Rietta Cray, despite her cousin Catherine Lee's attempts to attach him. Alas, James went away penniless, Catherine married Edward Welby and Rietta was left to raise her sister's son Carr Robertson. When Edward died, he left Catherine with hardly anything to live on and she turned to her distant relative, Mrs. Lassiter, for help. Catherine was allowed use of the Gate House and some furniture. Now James Lassiter has returned a wealthy man, determined to sell the estate in tact but it seems as if some valuable items are missing. If only his mother had left some proof of her intentions and if only he could find it and prove Catherine stole from the estate. He's determined to get his revenge. Carr also returns to Melling with his new girlfriend, Fancy, a showgirl, cut in the same mold as his first wife Marjorie. Carr is determined to avenge Marjorie's death caused by a despicable man who left her high and dry. When Carr discovers the identity of the man, he's furious and when that man ends up dead, he becomes one of the prime suspects. The other prime suspect is his aunt, Rietta. No one is sure who did or didn't do it but the Inspector wants to see someone behind bars ASAP. His Chief Inspector intervenes and collaborates with Miss Silver to crack the case.

This mystery is less cozy than I expected it to be. Miss Silver is mentioned once at the beginning and then doesn't appear again until the middle of the novel. She's a professional detective, not a knitting needle toting granny (though she does knit her way through the mystery). The main character is in very real danger of being accused of the crime, as is her nephew. The whole mystery involves many complicated backstories. The red herrings kept me alert. I was certain I had figured out whodunnit but then something happened that changed the course of the mystery and I was proved wrong. I did guess, at that moment, who DID do it but not why. It was all very complicated. I stayed up late to finish the story to see where it all goes. A romance or two is thrown in for good measure.

None of the characters in the novel are appealing at first but I found myself liking Rienna and Carr and feeling sorry for Rienna. I hated Catherine for being a spoiled beauty who lied and manipulated the truth to get what she wanted. James Lassiter is also a very nasty character and I feel those two deserved each other. If you are sensitive about cruelty to animals, you may not want to read every word of this book. It was only a brief mention but enough to make me despise James. He's cruel and vindictive and deliberately hurts people.

I didn't really like the author's writing style. The story was told in a cold, detached manner. The romances have very little feeling, despite the two principals being passionate people. Miss Silver shows no emotion at all and there's a lack of liveliness and humor in the story despite being set in a quaint English village where everyone gossips. The book did remind me of Georgette Heyer's early mysteries so I guess this style must have been popular in the 30s and 40s. It just didn't appeal to me and I don't think I'll be reading any more Miss Silver novels.
Murder at Honeychurch Hall (Honeychurch Hall Mystery, #1)Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison--Contemporary Cozy Mystery

Kat Stanford has just quit her job at the popular TV show Fakes and Treasures to start an antique shop with her mother. She's also hoping for an official commitment from her (married but separated) boyfriend David. When Kat's mother calls and announces she's broken her wrist and needs Kat's help, Kat is only too happy to step in. Then Kat is shocked to discover her mother has purchased a carriage house in Devon -200 miles from London! Kat promised her late father she'd look after her mother so off she goes to Devon where she finds a fleeing nanny, a little boy obsessed with a fictional WWI pilot and her special antique toy mouse, a dilapidated carriage house and a neighbor out to get her mother. She also discovers her mother has secrets she never knew. The secrets begin to come out as they battle Eric, the owner of a junk yard next door. Eric's wife Vera seems to hate Kat and Iris for some reason and the fleeing nanny up and disappears. When the police get involved, Iris decides to play matchmaker. When Kat stumbles across a dead body, she and her mother become prime suspects. Can she solve the mystery before her mother ends up dead?

This is a cozy mystery but not a typical one. The plot doesn't follow the usual path. There are a lot of mysteries that need to be unraveled and the dead body doesn't appear until 3/4 of the way through. The description on the dust jacket is misleading. The mystery kept me reading until way too late in the night. I had to know how it was resolved. There were some secrets that are easy to guess and others that aren't. I figured out who the killer was before Kat discovered the truth.

I didn't find any of the characters in this novel appealing. There are too many of them to make them real flesh and blood people. I didn't even really like Kat all that much. She insists on keeping her head in the sand regarding her boyfriend, she doesn't really listen to what her mother is telling her in the beginning and her character growth is minimal. David is a jerk and I don't know what Kat sees in him. I found the little boy, Harry, annoying. His interested in Biggles is so obscure that I have never heard of that character. He's cute when he's repeating what he's heard the adults say but mostly I found him annoying. I was fond enough of him that I didn't want him to die. His formidable grandmother, Lady Edith lacks the humor of Maggie Smith's Lady Violet. She's a complex character but doesn't have a lot of "screen" time. Eric and Vera are crazy. Neither of them seem like real people. I hated them both and I know that's what the author intended but they were a bit over the top.

This book is the first in a planned series but I'm not interested enough to read more about the characters.

What I Read in January Part VII . . .

What I Read in January Part VII . . .

Affairs at Thrush GreenAffairs at Thrush Green by Miss Read--Historical Fiction

Two years after the rectory burned down, Charles Henstock is settling into his new role with 4 parishes. There are some hiccups along the way and he wonders if he can live up to the reputation of his predecessor. Dotty Harmer's niece Connie has moved into Dotty's cottage to help out. Meanwhile, Albert Piggot receives a shock and Percy Hodge has marital troubles. Kit Armitage, long absent from Thrush Green, returns to the place of his youth to search for a retirement home. Perhaps he'll take one of the new old folks' homes being built on the site of the old rectory. He finds unexpected delights in his old home while Violet Lovestock makes plans for him. Miss Fogarty and Miss Watson are still teaching at the school while Agnes takes an arthritis treatment which may have consequences.

This book was better than the last. The modern references are kept to a minimum. Instead, the older characters remember their youth in the late 20s with fondness Much of the story focuses on Charles Henstock's insecurities and a growing romance between two characters. One character dies, which is a little sad, but the sadness quickly passes as the months go on. The romance is as usual, predictable and sweet though I didn't necessarily see those two characters together. My favorite character is old Polly the dog. There's something special about senior dogs. I still love Dotty and I'm sad to see her aging quickly. Albert Piggot's plot provides some comic relief. I was interested in how that would work out more than any other plot though I don't much like him. I think this book is best appreciated by older people around the ages of the characters. I can't really relate to any of them but I like reading about what they're up to. I feel like a part of the village.

Affairs at Thrush GreenAffairs at Thrush Green by Miss Read--Historical Fiction

Two years after the rectory burned down, Charles Henstock is settling into his new role with 4 parishes. There are some hiccups along the way and he wonders if he can live up to the reputation of his predecessor. Dotty Harmer's niece Connie has moved into Dotty's cottage to help out. Meanwhile, Albert Piggot receives a shock and Percy Hodge has marital troubles. Kit Armitage, long absent from Thrush Green, returns to the place of his youth to search for a retirement home. Perhaps he'll take one of the new old folks' homes being built on the site of the old rectory. He finds unexpected delights in his old home while Violet Lovestock makes plans for him. Miss Fogarty and Miss Watson are still teaching at the school while Agnes takes an arthritis treatment which may have consequences.

This book was better than the last. The modern references are kept to a minimum. Instead, the older characters remember their youth in the late 20s with fondness. Much of the story focuses on Charles Henstock's insecurities and a growing romance between two characters. One character dies, which is a little sad, but the sadness quickly passes as the months go on. The romance is as usual, predictable and sweet though I didn't necessarily see those two characters together. My favorite character is old Polly the dog. There's something special about senior dogs. I still love Dotty and I'm sad to see her aging quickly. Albert Piggot's plot provides some comic relief. I was interested in how that would work out more than any other plot though I don't much like him. I think this book is best appreciated by older people around the ages of the characters. I can't really relate to any of them but I like reading about what they're up to. I feel like a part of the village.

What I Read in January Part VI . . .

What I Read in January Part VI . . .

Jane Austen Takes the South by Mary Jane Hathaway -- Austenesque Christian Romance

Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits (Jane Austen Takes the South #1)Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway

Shelby Roswell, southern girl, Civil War scholar and Associate Professor had left her small town and marriage-minded mother for a career. She's on track for tenure and she's certain her new article will earn tenure soon, despite the poor review her book received from noted historian Ransom Fielding. When she discovers Fielding is Visiting Professor and teaching to a packed lecture hall, she's furious. How dare he come to her territory no doubt to ridicule her more. The gloves come off when she encounters him humiliating a student. She's determined not to let him get the better of her. Ransom vows to himself to avoid Shelby at all costs. She's fiery and fiery women are dangerous. Since the death of his wife several years ago, he's been content to date only superficial women who won't ever mean anything to him. Why does he let Shelby get to him? Should he let her? Shelby's Jane Austen loving friend Rebecca is convinced Shelby has her very own Pride and Prejudice story going on. That would imply Shelby and Ransom end up together in the end. Shelby would never marry HIM - would she?

I liked this update to Pride and Prejudice. It wasn't a direct adaptation but it had similar characters and situations. Not enough to be too close to the original but enough for Shelby's friend to get a good laugh out of it. The plot moves quickly. It's not super long - I read it in one night, but drags on a bit at the very end. The timeline is too rushed at the end to be believable. I wasn't aware this was a Christian book before I read it. Shelby's Faith is important to her and it kind of turned me off. Forgiveness is a huge theme of the novel. I would have read this book anyway because I couldn't resist a story about Civil War historians :nerd freak out: and a literary best friend :double nerd freak out.: (I'm both a literary scholar and an historian). I wasn't super crazy about the southern setting. Are people in the south really like that or is this book populated with negative stereotypes? Shelby's mother is so bizarre. What century is she living in? I'm a Yankee and the constant references to "the war" and those Yankees. The setting is a bit too local color.

The bad guy doesn't equal Wickham. Wickham isn't evil or really bad per say. He has bad judgement and hes lazy and greedy. This villain is truly criminal evil and thus the story lacks some of the first impressions that made Jane Austen's story so exciting.

My favorite character is Rebecca, Shelby's literature professor roommate and best friend. She loves Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell and makes other literary references. I loved that about her. I also love her Darcy obsession and her sense of humor about it. She's also interested in fashion which I could care less about, I still liked her. My second favorite character is Shelby. How could I not like her, a Civil War historian? Her new research project involves Civil War and Reconstruction diaries. Diaries are my speciality! What kept me from really loving her is her blind, almost childish Faith. I had a tough time accepting her belief in God's involvement in human lives. That and her lack of interest in good literature (She watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice and read the book once but has no interest in reading it again) kept me from fully loving her.

This Darcy - Ransom Fielding - is brooding. He has good reason to be. His story is hinted at and finally revealed when he's ready. It didn't really make me love him. I liked him OK. He has some gentlemanly qualities but he can also be harsh. Like Darcy, he's human and has flaws. His plot seemed a little improbable when he finally comes around in the end. The misunderstanding was so stupid and unbelievable it pretty much ruined the story for me.

This isn't a bad update but it's not one I'd read again.

Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs (Austen Takes the South #2)Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs by Mary Jane Hathaway

This story is an update of Jane Austen's Emma with far fewer characters. Caroline Ashley gave up a career with the Washington Post to come home and stay with her mother after the death of her father. Three years later, Caroline's mother still isn't well enough to be on her own and Caroline has settled in comfortably, aside from her mother's Bridge parties, pink lemonade and failed chocolate triple-layer cakes. Her best friend, Brooks Elliott (Mr. Knightley) lives next door with his widowed father. Brooks comes by every day to offer comfort, chili-slaw dogs and advice. Caroline is content until she meets Lexi Martinez, a budding artist from a working class family who is about to go off to college to study accounting. Caroline also meets Franklin Keene, an up and coming publisher of manga who wants to offer her a job. Suddenly, Brooks begins acting strangely around Frank and giving Caroline advice she hasn't asked for. He couldn't be in love with Caroline, could he? Not little Caroline who has always been like a kid sister to him. If he is in love with him, she would never see him as anything other than her big brother. Franklin's sworn enemy, Lauren Fairfield, returns to her grandmother's native Thorny Hollow to photograph the antebellum mansions for a coffee table book. Caroline begins to feel jealous of the time Lauren gets to spend with Brook at his family home. Brooks still visits almost every day when he can so why should she be jealous?

This is a fabulous update of Emma. I liked it much more than Hathaway's Pride and Prejudice update. This one is less Christian. The characters go to church on Sunday and believe in God and there's a brief mention by a secondary character about God's plan for us but that's the extent of the Christian content. The story flows smoothly until the big misunderstanding, which I didn't think worked as well as it does in the original. Jane Austen's characters are limited by the conventions of their time which limit their actions. Modern Caroline and Brooks are not constrained. They should be able to have an open conversation about things. That was the only part of the story I didn't really like.

This is more of a direct adaptation than Pride Prejudice and Cheese Grits and like the previous book, most of the references are to the BBC mini series. I found that one well acted and visually stunning but it used little of Jane Austen's amazing writing. I especially liked the Regency dance scene but the ladies should have been wearing 4 layers too. There's no mention of undergarments under their dresses, which were made to fit them.

The characters in this novel are wonderful. I really liked Caroline and could relate to her being stuck in a comfortable place. I felt for her that her mother wouldn't let her out of sight easily and longed for her to find herself. She's not as annoying as Emma. She interferes with a young woman's life but I agreed with her to a certain extent. I also agreed with Brooks. Caroline is more willing to admit her mistakes and accept them. The thing I did not like about her is that she is an educated woman who worked at the Washington Post and she can not read a Jane Austen novel? That sounds a little far fetched. Brooks is a swoony sort of hero. I never liked Mr. Knightley because he was always telling Emma what to do. Brooks listens and sometimes offers advice and sometimes teases. He's always there for Caroline when she needs him. Plus he's always accompanied by his dog.

Frank and Lauren are stereotypical characters. Those who know the story can easily see who Frank is supposed to be. Even his name is basically the same. I didn't like him from the first. Lauren annoyed me with her superior attitude and slinky clothing. She was a more complicated character to figure out and I was surprised at her story a bit. Blanche is the best secondary character. She may be Brooks' grandmother but she's not a typical Granny. Unlike the other ladies of Thorny Hollow, Blanche spends her days on a singles cruise! She's a hoot. I also loved Absalom, the Golden Retriever. He's very sweet though he doesn't have a lot to do. I felt bad for Debbie Mae. My best friend can sort of relate. Shelby and Ransom make a brief cameo appearance and are mentioned a few times.

The local color stuff is still here but less annoying than in the first book. The antebellum mansions are the most prominent southern feature, crazy women who sound like they're from The Help appear briefly and there's some Confederate reenactment but no one is Yankee bashing in this book.

I highly recommend this book to Mr. Knightley's biggest fans. It's very sweet.

What I Read in January Part V . . .

What I Read in January Part V . . .

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen's MasterpieceCelebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen's Masterpiece by Susannah Fullerton-- Austenesque

The author takes an in-depth look at all aspects of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's most famous novel. Chapters discuss the writing of the novel; reactions to the book; the style of Pride and Prejudice; chapters on the characters; the translations, and more modern topics such as the sequels, retellings, etc. and the branding of Jane Austen. There is even a chapter dedicated to the first sentence.

I liked the beginning of the book where the author discusses the actual novel and how it came to be. I also liked the literary explanations on the style and the characters. It caused me to think more about certain characters and how I feel about them. I enjoyed learning about the translations, especially since I just read a novel in which the French first edition makes an appearance. The section on the book covers was very interesting. Everyone has their own idea of what the characters are supposed to look like and some publishers ignore the characters and make the covers appeal to a certain readership. I enjoyed the breakdown of the sequels and adaptations. It will help me decide which, if any, I want to read next, though she omits some. I know which ones I do NOT want to read and that's important.

Then the book started to lose me when the author discussed the film and TV adaptations. She inserted her own prejudices and opinions in her summaries and I wish she had left the subjective out and let the reader decide. Everyone has their own favorite version. I felt like she was too biased and didn't appreciate the somewhat condescending tone of the writing. I happen to enjoy the BBC/A&E version by Andrew Davies. I've never seen the 1980s version and I don't think I'd like it because I enjoy watching newer BBC adaptations that are more cinematic than theatrical.

The discussion on Selling Pride and Prejudice and the last chapter on Pride and Prejudice now and in the future felt a bit redundant. I already read Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe and watched the documentary The Many Lovers of Jane Austen (look it up on YouTube). This was more of the same.

My favorite part was all the amazing pictures, especially ones from Jane Austen's lifetime and the early illustrated editions of the novel.

If you are new to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice is your favorite novel, I suggest this is a good place to start learning more.

What I Read in January Part IV . . .

What I Read in January Part IV . . .
Maids of Misfortune (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery #1)Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke--Historical cozy mystery

Annie Fuller, widow, runs a boarding house and supplements her income by posing as a psychic medium providing financial, business and relationship advise from her San Francisco home. She's about to lose her home to the man who helped ruin her husband. When one of her favorite clients, Matthew Voss dies unexpectedly, leaving her $10 and shares in a mining company, Annie is stunned. The police claim suicide due to financial ruin but Annie knows that is far from true. She sets out to discover the truth, with the help of the Voss' lawyer, Nate Dawson. Nate is not thrilled with Annie's unconventional, unladylike behavior, but Annie is determined to do things her way. She has come too far since her husband's death to go back to being meek. She has a chance to save her home, her friends and help her client one last time. The course of her investigation leads her to pose as a maid in the Voss household where she goes up against a snooty ladies' maid Cartier, Mr. Voss' Bible-thumping sister Miss Voss. She finds an unexpected ally in Wong, Matthew's manservant but discovers that all is not right in the household and one of them must have murdered Matthew. Annie is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery with or without Nate's help.

This cozy mystery is quite good. Though there are a lot of standard plot points in this novel, I enjoyed it. I did figure out who the murderer was right away but there were enough red herrings to keep me interested. The period details are largely limited to the role of women but I don't know enough about San Francisco at that time to say much about the description. It's not so easy to tell the story is set in 1879 because the characters sound more modern and the descriptions of San Francisco are limited. It is a very 19th century story though, just not really specific to 1879.There was also a light romance that made the story more enjoyable. Annie and Nate enjoy a typical love/hate relationship common in period pieces. Annie is unconventional and ahead of her time and Nate was brought up with traditional values though his sister apparently isn't so traditional. I liked the banter between Annie and Nate and how she taught him to rethink his values. He did it willingly instead of being the alpha male and demanding Annie stay safe at home, which was a nice change from the typical Victorian novel. The romance has enough spark to satisfy those who enjoy love stories but it limited to kisses only.

I loved Annie. Her character growth seems to have happened already but I liked how she realized she needed to change and how far she's come. I loved how she stuck to her convictions and how she was a loyal friend to Matthew after his death. Her activities as Madame Sybil are really interesting and I admire how she was able to turn her passion into a business though women weren't allowed to be stock brokers or financial advisers.

I hope to read the rest of the series if I can get it. This was a freebie kindle download on Amazon and it did not disappoint.

What I Read in January Part III . . .

What I Read in January Part III . . .

Growing Up Italian: Grandfather's Fig Tree and Other Stories by Ed Iannuccilli -- Memoir

Stories about growing up Italian-American in Providence in the 1940s and 50s. This is sort of like a tame Italian version of A Christmas Story. Not all the stories are about being Italian and he repeats himself a few times with the same story told in different ways. My dad is a little younger and grew up in a different city but he can relate to the stories in this book. For me, being another generation, Dr. Iannuclli's experiences were vastly different from mine. The writing is pretty simple and easy to read. I'm loking forward to reading Vol. II though this one didn't wow me.

What Ever Happened to Sunday Dinner? ...and Other StoriesWhat Ever Happened to Sunday Dinner? ...and Other Stories by Ed Iannuccilli -- Memoir

More stories about growing up in tthe 40s and 50s. The book is divided into sections like My Mother, My Father, Family, Friends, etc. As with the first book I enjoyed the Italian stories the best. I especially liked the story about working in his uncle's market. He hints at certain things in early stories that get fleshed out later and some of the stories are a bit repetitive. I skipped a story about fighting. My dad's stories are better than these and I'm inspired to write our own book.

What I Read in January Part II . . .

What I Read in January Part II . . .

The Poison Place by Mary E. Lyons -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

The Poison PlaceThis is the story of Moses Williams, former slave to the famous colonial era artist Charles Willson Peale. Asa small child Moses grew up alongside Master Peale's eldest son Raffaele. The boys played together and got into mischief together. As they got older, Moses discovers what it means to be a slave. Peale, full of ideas but frequently broke, was a complicated master. He both hated slavery and owned slaves. He treated Moses kindly but never forgot the boy was a slave. As an adult, Moses was made to work with the dangerous poison arsenic that was used in taxidermy. He saw the effects of arsenic poisoning on his master and was determined to avoid the same fate. He worries about his former friend Raff, but can not speak for fear of losing his job.

This is a short but powerful novel. Of course I have heard of Charles Willson Peale and Rembrandt Peale but I didn't know anything about them or their lives. The story really illuminates the complexities of our history and how one could be against slavery but still own slaves. Peale wasn't portrayed very well in the novel. Of course he wouldn't be seen in a good light from the point-of-view of one of his former slaves. I didn't find his son Raffaele very appealing either, yet I felt sorry for him at times. I liked Moses but not always his voice. It was difficult at first to understand his dialect but fortunately the author uses it sparingly. He sounds like a real character and it was heartbreaking to look at his dates and know he only had a dozen years left to live, probably due to arsenic poisoning.

I especially love the author's use of primary source material and how she worked it into the story. The drawings, engravings, etc. all add to the authentic feel of the narrative. I wish she had included picture credits though. There's an excellent bibliography at the end. The book made me curious about the Peale family and the natural history museum.

What I Read in January Part I . . .

What I Read in January Part I . . .

Gossip from Thrush GreenGossip from Thrush Green by Miss Read--Historical Fiction

Changes are coming to Thrush Green... This story has way too many modern references, including smoking pot. The story focused a bit too much on the two teachers and their changes in the beginning. I didn't find their plot very interesting. I was also not interested in the new neighbors renting The Tullivers. My favorite character is Dotty Harmer, the eccentric animal-loving spinster (um me in several decades?). I was happy to see her included in the plot but sad at the direction the story takes her. I also love the three little old Victorian ladies. Winnie Bailey is another favorite but she's mainly an observer this time. It sounds like the author tried to wrap things up with the novel or perhaps take the story in another direction. I'll try the next book and see what happens.

The Glad SummerThe Glad Summer by Jeffery Farnol -- Historical Romance

When Nicholas Harbourne travels to Sussex to his newly inherited estate, he discovers the locals are filled with animosity towards their new landlord and Joanne Marsden, mistress of the farm Fallowdene is grieving to have to sell her beloved home. Nicholas, in disguise as the lowly handyman Anthony Anson, sets about to woo the lovliest woman he's ever seen but only if she'll have him for himself. He manags to charm her young niece Priscilla and her aunt Jemima but Joanne remains cool. Nicholas is determined she will have him and her happily ever after before the summer is out.

This story was only so-so for me. I'm not fond of stories based on deception and I hate when the hero persists in going after the girl even when she says no even if she means yes. I liked the hero until he grabbed the heroine and kissed her and punished her by holding her close. His conduct was not that of the villain but it still bothered me. I liked him until that point. He's a beta hero who seems like a slow, lazy rich man or a foolkish bumpkin when confronting the villain. He's a kind and generous soul - almost too kind. He's too perfect to be true. I don't believe in love at first sight and though his relationship with Joanne developed from there, love at first sight was his motivating factor.

I really liked Joanne. She's strong and brave in the face of poverty yet she has a sense of humor at times. She's beautiful and loving towards her family and a caring employer. She's almost too perfect. I can see why she falls in love with Anthony but I don't blame her for reacting the way she did when she found out. What she learned was true in a way, if you look at it from a certain angle but she knew a different side of Nicholas/Anthony that should have allowed her to dismiss the story as false claims.

I liked the secondary characters much better. Aunt Jemima is wise and caring and little Priscilla steals every scene she's in. She's completely adorable in her childish innocence. The villain is rather two-dimensional and is a proper period romance villain. The farm workers remind me of The Wizard of Oz's Zeke, Hunk and Hickory. They're devoted to their mistress and true blue, hardworking men.

The story was written just after WWII as a look back at the idyllic seeming Victorian era. There's a heavy handed message that concludes the story which I didn't like. I love reading about the Victorian era but I know better than to romanticize it and as we know from the beginning of the story, life was less than perfect for most people.

What I Read in December Part XII. . .

What I Read in December Part XII . . .

The Mischief of the Mistletoe (Pink Carnation, #7)The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig--Austenesque/Regency Christmas/Regency cozy mystery

Miss Arabella Dempsey has been living with her Aunt Osborne since the death of her mother some years ago. Her wealthy aunt gave her the best of everything, including a London season, but Arabella remained a wallflower until she met the charming Captain Musgrave. Now Captain Musgrave is her new uncle and Arabella is left out in the cold (almost literally) since her aunt's imprudent marriage to a younger man. Arabella has a sickly clergyman father and three younger sisters to care for. She's determined to see her sisters' future secured by taking a place as a teacher at a young ladies' seminary. Her friend, Miss Jane Austen, warns against it, but Arabella thinks it will be fine. She didn't bargain for literally running into a gentleman nicknamed Turnip; finding mysterious messages inside Christmas puddings; lively teenage girls; midnight intruders and perhaps spies! If Arabella had known all that, would she have accepted the position? If she hadn't, she never would have met Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh, not the brightest star of the beau monde but an all-around nice gentleman. Though they have met before, Turnip does not remember Arabella, but after their first unusual reunion, he's determined never to forget her name. When a mysterious message shows up in the Christmas pudding his little sister Sally pushed at him, he and Arabella find themselves faced with the possibility of tracking down spies and traitors. Arabella is convinced this is all a prank or much ado about nothing but Turnip, having some experience in the matter, believes Arabella to be in danger. As the Christmas season goes on, Turnip and Arabella get to know each other better than they ever did in a London ballroom and Turnip is determined to keep Arabella safely by his side for as long as possible - maybe even forever.

This volume of the Pink Carnation series appears to be more of a spin-off. I haven't read the others by a handy list of characters in the back cleared up any questions I had after finishing the novel. The plot was inspired by Jane Austen's unfinished novel The Watsons. In this book, Arabella is the eldest and the plot veers wildly from what Jane Austen intended. Jane herself appears as a character in the novel, which I did not like. Her presence seemed superfluous and her dialogue was copied from letters and other writings which is immediately recognizable to any dedicated Janeite. The story didn't have to be The Watsons. It stands on it's own just fine.

The characters really make this novel superior to most Regencies and even cozy mysteries. Even the supporting characters are great. I fully expected to hate Sally and her "most particular" friends and dismiss them as annoying teenage girls, but I truly grew to love them in the midnight intruder scene. I especially liked Lizzie. They made me laugh. Miss Climpson is only in one scene and she steals it with her absurd dialogue.

The main characters are stellar too. Turnip is a beta hero. He's bumbling, forgetful and fond of shockingly garish clothing but he's a loyal friend and a true gentleman. I wouldn't want to marry him but I enjoyed him immensely. He's so funny and charming the way he is. I like his sense of humor and how Arabella shares the same sense of the absurd. I love his Shakespeare references (or thingamummy, what's her name? Macwhatsit?). Arabella is a great heroine and I really liked her character development. She starts off as a wallflower whom no one remembers and ends up a heroine. I liked her journey very much and wanted her to succeed and be happy. I also like that she's intelligent and capable of handling any situation without vapors.

The plot resembles a cozy mystery though there's no murder. I could NOT put this book down. The rollicking mystery plot had me guessing at every turn. I was rather surprised at the villain. I guessed that person had something to do with it but never did it cross my mind how much or who the villain would turn out to be. There are any number of red herrings to complicate matters. The romance is awesome! It's sweet with a little bit of checking out each others' figures. There are a few kissing scenes that are perfectly clean. The romance develops nicely over a short period of time and concludes with a comical scene that will please the reader. The story plays out like a comedy of manners nearly in the style of Georgette Heyer. I nitpicked the inaccurate language (not period/American) and inaccuracies. If you like the idea of Georgette Heyer but struggle with the language, try this novel instead. If you love Heyer's beta heroes, you must read this book. 

Bonfire Night (Lady Julia Grey, #5.7)Bonfire Night (Lady Julia Gray 5.7) by Deanna Raybourn-- Victorian Mystery novella

In this last (sob) Lady Julia novella, a London solicitor shows up after dinner one night to inform Brisbane he has inherited an old country estate in thanks for a service to a lady. In order to take possession of the estate, they have to be in residence every cross-quarter day to collect the rents. That means the Brisbanes have to be in residence for Bonfire night in a few days time. Nicholas and Julia, accompanied by Plum, Portia, the children and their nannies, head off to the country for a quiet retreat. Or not. Their sleep is interrupted by strange ghostly noises: moaning and clanking and interviews with the staff and villagers bring up more ghostly tales. Brisbane is certain the ghosts are nothing more than a local prank and he is determined to get to the bottom of it. When he solves the mystery, it could have disastrous change his and Julia's lives forever.

Deanna Raybourn confirmed on her blog that she isn't writing any more new Lady Julia mysteries unless a TV or movie production company takes an interest. (hello PBS and BBC are you listening?) *sniff* *sob* This is a very short novella which takes a different turn than the rest of the mysteries. The ending was too rushed. The mystery is solved pretty quickly and I felt like not enough time was spent wrapping up. I was surprised by what was behind the haunting. I never guessed at all. This is a good story to read on Halloween because of the ghostly content. As usual, Julia alludes to some "interesting interludes" between her and her husband but nothing is described. I don't think this was a fitting send-off to such beloved characters. I want more! There are some cute extras on the author's website but it's not enough. I hope her next Victorian mystery series is as much fun as this one was.

What I Read in December Part XI . . .

What I Read in December Part XI . . .

A Regency Christmas EveA Regency Christmas Eve -- Regency Christmas Stories

In "Little Miracles" by Barbara Metzger, a family of churchmice take it upon themselves to rescue the crumbling church they call home. They have only one shot, on Christmas Eve, to allow humans to hear them speak. With the locals claiming the clergy is cursed and the church falling down around their ears, is the church worth saving? The Rev. Mr. Merriweather is convinced it is, if only he can catch the ear of his patron and distance relative. In his wildest dreams, the church is repaired and filled and he marries the Squire's beautiful daughter. Though he should believe in miracles, it will take all his faith to envision a happy ending by Christmas. This is the best story in the anthology. Instead of dogs we have mice. The story is told from the point-of-view of the mice and switches to Rev. Merriweather and back and forth with the mice. The mice are hilarious as usual and add the comic relief to the story. Mr. Merriweather is an admirable, if a little bit boring, man and deserves to have a happy ending. This story is kisses only.

In "The Marriage Stakes" by Allison Lane, the heroine, Sophie attempts to rescue her very pregnant, widowed sister Caroline and bring her home. The sisters find themselves stranded in a snowstorm with little money and a baby on the way. Damon, Lord Westlake, comes across the stranded ladies and attempts to help them. He can not figure out why Sophie is so cold with him but he's willing to be chivalrous and help. He invites the sisters to recover at his estate where they discover several young ladies engaged in a battle to win Damon's hand in marriage. His family believes that if a man does not announce his marriage on Christmas Eve of his 29th birthday, the family will be cursed. with. He doesn't believe in the silly superstition but it makes his family happy. Only Sophie's wise head can help Damon find the one lady he can tolerate spending the rest of his life. I liked this story third best of them all. I liked wise Sophie who is proud and prejudiced against the nobility at first but comes to learn to treat everyone individually rather than condemn them all with the same brush. Her misgivings are a little annoying but valid concerns given her history. Damon isn't really a well-developed character but he's a good hero - very noble and kind. The eccentric guests provide some humor. The romance is kissing only with one passionate kiss that doesn't go too far.

In "The Gift of the Spoons" by Nancy Butler, the hero, Lord Herne's son is believed to be dying and none of the doctors know why or how to treat him. On the advice of his old nurse, he seeks out the witch woman Pippa Spoon to demand she come help his son. Pippa is much younger and very different from what he expected. She claims she's not a hero but Herne is desperate. Engaging Pippa's help means bringing her pet wolf home with him and hiring a man to look after a bear! What Pippa discovers surprises even her and she knows that only one person has the power to heal the boy and it isn't her. This story is my least favorite. It has some strange supernatural elements to it that I didn't really like and some very passionate kissing. This story is more "warm" than the others. I liked Pippa but I didn't really understand her. Herne is very Mr. Rochester like and the boy is named Colin, presumably after the boy in The Secret Garden, with whom he shares some similar traits. The story was meant to be heartwarming but I didn't really understand it. It's a little too unconventional for me.

"The Reckless Miss Ripley" by Diane Farr is the shortest story in the collection. Fred Bates is passing time at a country inn when a young lady blows in looking for the mail coach. When she learns she has missed it, she somehow persuades Fred to drive her to the next town to catch the stage or find some other way to Bath. It's imperative she arrive before Christmas Day but on Christmas Eve during a snowstorm that may be impossible. She discovers that her reason for the journey may not be so urgent after all. Claudia is crazy. She's a young, impetuous heroine without much common sense. She's akin to Georgette Heyer's Amanda in Spring Muslin or Lucilla in A Lady of Quality. I didn't believe in the romance at all. It happened too quick and a lot has to be inferred and the characters aren't developed enough for that.

The hero in "A Christmas Thief" by Edith Layton is really down and out. He was a soldier in His Majesty's Army and now the war is over, he's come home to England. He returns to discover he's lost his fortune. Not only did his brother gamble everything away, the friend Maxwell trusted with his investments was the victim of an embezzler. He spent the long, lonely nights on the battlefield dreaming of marrying his sweetheart. He's been faithful to her and she has done the same, but how he he marry with no money? It's Christmas and Maxwell's orphaned niece and her governess are coming to stay with him. Maxwell vows to give the little girl the loving home she deserves, but how can he do that with no money? He wants to give her a Christmas gift but hasn't the money to buy one. When he decides to steal one, his decision has repercussions he could not have imagined. This is a true Christmas story about the meaning of Christmas. I really liked this one a lot. I felt so bad for the hero. I wanted him to succeed but not by stealing. There's not much humor or romance in this story but it's a good old-fashioned heartwarming Christmas story.

What I Read in December Part X . . .

What I Read in December Part X . . .

A Midnight ClearA Midnight Clear by Lynn Kerstan-- Regency Romance

Miss Jane Ryder is in need of a job and a place to stay ASAP so she takes a job with the scandalous Lady Swann who wants Jane to transcribe her scurrilous tell all memoir of the British aristocracy of the 18th century. When the new Marquess of Fallon discovers Lady Swann's intentions, he is outraged. She threatens to destroy everything he is working hard for. When Lady Swann refuses to suppress the book, she sends Jane with an offer to Lord Fallon to uncover the history of the women of the family. Lord Fallon sees the opportunity to use Jane for his own ends but she's too sharp for that. She decides to accompany him to his estate over Christmas to find what she's searching for. Both Jane and Fallon find the unexpected and discover a Christmas miracle. It will take more than a miracle to find the happy ending they both desire.

This is a cute story but not all that memorable - more like a 3 1/2 star read but since it's Christmas I will round up. The plot is pretty good. Though the timeline is super short, the relationship develops meaningfully and realistically for the characters. There is a mystery towards the end that comes out of nowhere and I couldn't put the book down until it was solved. The conclusion is less tedious and common than I expected and not too rushed. I liked the way it all came about. This book reminded me of Joan Smith's writing style. The romance is clean but there's talk of past exploits and Lady Swann's conquests (current and past).

My favorite character is Lady Swann. She's a riot! She's manipulative in a good way and provides a lot of comic relief. I liked Jane and Fallon as well. Jane is a great heroine. I felt bad for her once she revealed her full history and her wishes for Fallon's future children. My heart broke for her. I love how she can stand up to the most autocratic people when she feels like it and how she's too smart to be manipulated - or so she thinks. She's very caring and strong. At first I loathed Fallon. He was a typical alpha male, high-handed aristocrat in the mold of Mr. Darcy but more hot tempered. Then, once Jane got to know him and his story, I grew to care about him too. He's an honorable man (sort of... he is a nabob and he probably didn't get that way from being honorable) struggling to do what he feels is right. I think he was actually on the right track given that the next generation will come of age during the stuffy Victorian era. Yet, I wanted him with Jane and I wanted him to be happy and true to himself. It was a tough dilemma.

This is a good older Regency. It's light but has substance. I would recommend it to fans of the old traditional Regency novels.

Christmas PresentChristmas Present by Amanda Grange -- Austenesque/Regency novella

Darcy and a heavily pregnant Elizabeth go off to visit Jane and Bingley and their newborn son for the holidays. There they meet with Caroline Bingley and the Bennet family who have come to find Kitty a husband. Darcy is worried about Elizabeth and encountering her silly family is the last thing he wants to do but if it makes her happy, so be it. Then his own family shows up unexpectedly bringing more uninvited guests. They all come together for a ball on Christmas Eve and you can guess what happens next.

Snooze. That's pretty much all I have to say about this story. The author got some slight details wrong/added in strange things. I don't see Mr. Collins having a brother. If he does, then the entailment passes to the brother if there are no heirs so I think Jane Austen would have mentioned it. Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine are spot-on while Kitty hasn't yet reformed. She's sulky and acts like a typical teen who is angry at her parents. The main characters were pretty much as I imagined them. There's not much to the story so there isn't much of an opportunity to flesh them out a bit more.

What I Read in December Part IX . . .

What I Read in December Part IX . . .

The Counterfeit Lady (The Victorian Bookshop Mystery, #2)The Counterfeit Lady by Kate Parker -- Historical cozy mystery

Miss Georgia Parker, spinster and bookshop owner, is content with her middle-class life - mostly. She hopes one day to avenge her parents' deaths at the hands of a mysterious antiquarian book collector and occasionally dreams that the handsome Duke of Blackford will take her in his arms. When the Duke appears with bad news for Georgia's friend Lady Phyllida Monthalf, Georgia is plunged into an investigation of murder and treason. In order to find out who killed her friend's cousin, she must pose as a wealthy widow from the Far East returning to London and her former paramour, the Duke of Blackford. The Duke arranges everything and Georgia resents his high-handed manner but she agrees to the task to help her friend. When she spies her parents' killer, she has further motivation to find the missing blueprints and Phyllida's cousin's murderer so she can finally seek revenge. The Duke threatens to derail Georgia's focus with his close proximity but she knows she can never be a Duchess.

This story is a bit different from a typical cozy mystery. The heroine is a member of a secret organization. I'm not sure what they do or why they call themselves the Archivist Society not having read the first book. Also, the Archivist Society has a very good idea of who did it, they just have to catch the person. There's no real "whodunnit" in this book, though there are some red herrings that keep the story interesting though not fast paced. There are some details that make the time period but it was hard to remember this was Victorian because the language and characters sounded so modern. Even some of the plot details sounded too modern for the Victorian era. Why can't everyone be Georgette Heyer? I also noticed that Lady Phyllida is called Lady Monthalf but Georgia states that Phyllida is single so I believe she should be Lady Phyllida and not Lady Monthalf. The big reveal wasn't a huge surprise but it left me confused because there were several villains. I guessed correctly and wrong at the same time because I had forgotten completely about a certain foreign person who was mentioned once early on in the novel. I had the right person but not the right motive. There is WAY too much backstory in this novel. More than there should be for a second book, more than can be contained in the first book! It seems that Phyllida's brother was Jack the Ripper?! The story concludes with room for another mystery but if there isn't, there aren't really any loose ends.

I wanted to like Georgia, being a middle-class spinster archivist but I found her a bit cold. I don't really know why she loves the Duke, other than she's attracted to him and he's a bit more straight-laced than most of his fellow nobles. She has a lot of backstory that takes up a lot of the book but it doesn't really develop her character. She keeps worrying about her shop but she doesn't really say why her shop is so important to her other than it's her livelihood. She's tough and doesn't let emotions rule her. She's a very modern heroine and a bit too modern for the late Victorian age. She'd be more at home a few decades later in the Edwardian era or 20s and 30s. Other than her clothes, she's not really a Victorian character.

The Duke is enigmatic. We don't know much about him. He's kind of a nicer Mr. Darcy type. He's very straight-laced like Mr. Darcy, at least on the surface. The story doesn't dig deeper into his backstory. I liked Phyllida the best. She was the most Victorian and had the most backstory. I felt sorry for her that she has had such a rough life but she rises to the occasion and stays strong throughout. Emma was my other favorite character. Her beautiful face hides a tough girl from the East End who knows how to wield a knife. I love how she uses her looks to her advantage to keep people from suspecting she isn't who she says she is. The other characters are rather two-dimensional. Lady Bennett is a typical spiteful lady though she has a small amount of depth to her character. I liked Lady Peters but wasn't sure about her being worthy of liking. She seemed to like Sir Henry who is a completely nasty character. I think Clara Gattenger sounds like she would have been an interesting character to know. Her mysterious bruises were never fully explained. I had a theory about them but then something else was brought up which gave me a new theory. There should have been more about her.

Friday, May 22, 2015

What I Read in December Part VIII . . .

What I Read in December Part VIII . . .

Shawl Straps (Aunt Jo's Scrapbag) by Louisa May Alcott -- Historical Fiction novella/Travelogue

A travelogue featuring three spinsters traveling through Europe on their own. There isn't much plot - the point of the story is women can do anything they set their minds to and don't have to rely on men. This isn't Louisa's best book but I admire her dedication to women's rights. 

 Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag: My Girls, Etc. by Louisa May Alcott -- Historical Fiction/short stories

This volume of Aunt Jo's Scrapbook features several unrelated stories. The frontispiece of the first edition features an illustration that isn't in this volume. There are two more illustrations that follow. The first story My Girls is a tract about how virtuous young girls can become whatever they want to be with a little encouragement and not become idle and empty-headed. Of course she ignores the fact that she came from a very progressive family and most girls could never dream of becoming lawyers or doctors in 1877! This story represents Louisa's stance on women's rights and why I adore her so much.

The second story Lost in a London Fog is the story of two sisters, one being based on Louisa and the other her sister May, take a cab in London with a cabbie who has not only been drinking, but has no idea where he is going! They're out all night in the London fog in despair of ever getting home again. This story is pretty bland and not in Louisa's usual vein.

The Boys' Joke and Who Got the Best of It is more in Louisa's usual line. It features a charming dolls' Christmas party and a bunch of boys who try to outwit the girls with a sweet little party of their own. Animal rights activists beware - there are certain gruesome elements to the story that apparently didn't bother anyone in the 1870s. Even with that, this was my favorite story in the book. It's a lot of fun and if you like Little Men you will probably enjoy this story.

The fourth story Roses and Forget-Me-Nots is one of Louisa's moral tales in which a rich girl learns to really see the poor and help a poor girl find happiness. It's a little heavy handed but not too bad. The writing is typical of Louisa's moral tales. Nothing new or special here. Old Major is an unusual story because it's about saving an old horse and rewarding him for his years of hard work. Unlike Black Beauty it's not from the horse's point-of-view but very much the same idea. I didn't remember Louisa was a champion of animal rights as well. I knew I loved her for a reason!

What the Girls Did is a forgettable moral tale. A once wealthy girl learns to leave off the frills of Society and live plain and simple with middle-class folks and give back to those in need. The descriptions of the culture and social life are really interesting and give a good feel for the time period.

Little Neighbors features a lonely boy, an old professor and a cheerful little bird. This story is sweet without being overly moral and didactic. It's a nice little domestic story and I can see Emerson in the role of professor.

Marjorie's Three gifts is another moral tale rewarding the virtuous poor. I wish Louisa's poor people weren't so abnormally good. I prefer her blood and thunder tales because the characters show more human emotion. Marjorie is a sweet girl and deserves happiness as a reward. I like how the story COULD be mystical if interpreted from a child's point-of-view.

Patty's Place is a moral Christmas story about an orphan who is in need of some love and kindness. I've read this one elsewhere so I skipped it for now. It's not a bad story and full of heartwarming Christmas cheer.

Autobiography of an Omnibus is unlike anything I've ever read as it's told from the POV of a bus! It ends up being a moral tale about the virtuous poor. It's a little slow until the final section and I was wondering what the point of the story was until then.

Red Tulips a moral tale of the same idea as Roses and Forget-Me-Nots. This time the virtuous poor girl happens to be "colored." Little Betty, a colored girl, loves bright flowers but does not have a garden and is not allowed to pick any flowers in private gardens. Along comes a young woman with the power to make Betty happy and find her own path to happiness along the way. This is a sweet story that though moral, is fun to read. I liked Betty's enthusiasm for flowers and how it all turned out. This is my second favorite story in the volume.

The final story A Happy Birthday is a forgettable, boring story of an old woman's birthday and the happiness being with her family brings her. There is a bit of racist content but the boys were influenced by Barnum's circus so it's not really the author's fault because that's what boys did back then.

This collection is a must have for any Louisa May Alcott fan. As of Christmas 2014, The Barrow Bookstore in Concord had one early edition left on the shelf and one first edition pristine volume containing "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" and other stories.