First Line Friday: The Enchanted April

Welcome to First Line Friday, hosted by Hoarding Books.
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It’s been difficult to focus on reading, sometimes to read at all, in the past few weeks.  I’ve started several books but made no real progress, and what I really want to do is stop everything and just escape into my annual read of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, but there are books I’ve committed to reviewing and I’m afraid I’d end up thinking too much about the current situation rather than the loveliness of an Italian castle in the 1920’s.

Instead, I’ll share an (slightly edited) FLF post from 2018 where I explained that the call of “wisteria and sunshine” ensnares Lotty Wilkins to the point that she approaches a near stranger in her club, and so begins a most languid adventure abroad for four English women who are otherwise trapped by their circumstances.  Away from the pressures of their London lives, and after being joined by the men they left behind, their Enchanted April is, to use Lotty’s words, a “tub of love.”

Here is the (rather long) first line:

Continue reading “First Line Friday: The Enchanted April”

The Edible Reader: Thoughts on Food and Fiction (and a recipe!)

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite some time (I’ve had that title saved for quite a while), and what better time than just after I’ve done a bit of book inspired comfort baking on this self-isolation Saturday?  More about that, and the recipe I cobbled together, later.

Whenever I read a book that mentions food, I find myself wanting to taste the food that is mentioned.  Almost more when it is something I’ve never had, but become instantly curious to try and sometimes even to make (kind of like when I watch what is called here The Great British Baking Show).

secrettohummingbirdcake_thomasnelsonI have a big sweet tooth, and I’ve been wanting to make all manner of old-fashioned layer cakes, especially Southern cakes, for the past few years.  It all began with a book that Thomas Nelson sent to me for review, The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale.  It’s a story of friendship and the highs and lows, and after using up several tissues I was left with a burning curiosity about this cake.  I’d never heard of it, and neither had anyone else I mentioned it to here in Oregon.  It quickly became a favorite, and even a pregnancy craving for one of my nieces, and I still make the Southern Living magazine recipe (available online) from time to time.

sometamegazelle_pymIn a similar vein, I’m always curious to try any manner of classic English stodginess like a Treacle Tart mentioned in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (but not haggis, never haggis, and it’s Scottish anyway), or Cauliflower Cheese after reading my first Barbara Pym novel, Some Tame Gazelle (review). I’ve even purchased The Barbara Pym Cookbook written by Hilary Pym and Honor Wyatt. It’s sitting unused among my cookbooks, but I have hopeful plans for using it as I continue to read Pym’s novels.

arefugeassured_bethanyhouseMany authors are aware that smell is the most evocative sense they can invoke, which explains the hunger that takes over when fresh baked bread is mentioned.  In A Refuge Assured by Jocelyn Green, sent to me for review by Bethany House, all manner of French breads are baked by the lace maker who becomes a refugee of the French Revolution.  It wasn’t long after reading it that I gave in and went to the local patisserie/boulangerie for a hearty Vol au Vent.  Which I am now craving.  Sigh.

I’ve been not-so-subtly teasing this throughout the post, but one of my favorite books of 2019 is also one of the best books I read that year, All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner (which I stalked & pounced on when review copies were offered by Revell). Not far into this novel of small town Michigan during the Vietnam War, the Dutch pastry Banket is mentioned and I immediately had to search online to know more about it.  I love almond flavored desserts (even more than almonds, I enjoy almond flavored things) and in order to taste it I knew I would have to make it myself.  I have been thinking of making it off and on ever since. Today, I finally did.

allmannerofthings_revell

What made me wait so long?  Simple – the cost of almond paste has increased since I last bought it and I decided I would just have to make it, then proceeded to put it off.  It just seemed like a lot of work for my small food processor to finely grind 2 cups of almonds.  But then I had a small epiphany – I could use almond meal, something I’ve purchased from Trader Joe’s in the past.  Then I had another small epiphany – the banket recipes I’d looked at had filling recipes that included almond paste and more of the ingredients already in the almond paste.  Why not, I thought, skip the step of making the almond paste first and just add the two amounts together for those ingredients?  So, using various sources for reference (a vintage Betty Crocker cookbook, and websites allrecipes.com, food.com, solofoods.com, and recipes.howthingswork.com), my shortcut version of Banket was born:

BANKET – Bookworlder Style
Filling:
2C almond meal (or 2C blanched almonds you’ve ground until fine)
2-1/4C sifted confectioners sugar
1 whole egg + 2 egg whites
2-1/4 tsp almond extract
white sugar, for dusting (optional)
Fully mix together the almond meal and sugar in a medium sized bowl.  Stir in the eggs and almond extract until fully blended.  Cover and refrigerate.
Dough:
2C all purpose flour
1C butter, cold
1/2C cold water
Cut the butter into the flour until you reach a crumb-like texture.
Slowly add the cold water, mixing just until it forms a ball.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for approx. 1 hour or until well chilled.
As the dough and filling chill, preheat oven to 450F. Grease cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
Divide the dough & filling into 4 parts each.  When working on a portion, keep the remainder refrigerated.
Roll 1/4 of the dough out into a strip approximately 14 x 3 inches.  Spread 1/4 of the filling down the center of the dough, leaving at least 1/2″ uncovered on each side.
Moisten along one long end of the dough with water then roll towards the wet end.  Seal ends by pinching.
Repeat with the remainder of the dough and filling.
Place the rolls 2″ apart on the cookie sheets, brush with the yolks (dilute the yolks by whisking in 2T of water) & sprinkle with sugar.
Bake 15-20min or until golden.  Can be served sliced, warm or cold.
Optional: Substitute frozen puff pastry (defrosted) for the dough for a quicker, flakier crust.

Not 100% authentic, but then I’m only a smidgen Dutch myself.  This recipe has only been tested once, in my kitchen today, and I’ve been the only taster.  It was worth the effort and I’ll be making it again sometime before the rest of the almond meal reaches it’s use by date.  If you give it a try, or read any of these books, do let me know how you get on.

 

 

Thinking About Library E-Book Etiquette in the middle of the night…now with Bonus Tips!

black tablet computer behind books
Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Pexels.com

With the growing number of library closures, more people may be accessing their library’s online resources, possibly for the first time.  A small, positive effect of devastating times and the current call for social distancing.  E-books are a virus free alternative to physical library books (wondering just how many days it has been since someone licked their finger to turn that page makes me want to shudder). Continue reading “Thinking About Library E-Book Etiquette in the middle of the night…now with Bonus Tips!”

First Line Friday, Book Love for Australia Edition: Walkabout

Welcome to First Line Friday,

hosted by Hoarding Books.

support-australiaThis is the Book Love for Australia edition of First Line Friday,  featuring “a book set within the country or authored by an Aussie to show support for those affected by the brushfires.”  

Walkabout by James Vance Marshall (though actually a collaboration between Marshall, an Australian, and English author Donald G. Payne according to NYRB’s author page) was perhaps the first Australian novel I ever read and I’m so glad it came to mind  just in time for this special edition of First Line Friday.

Here is the description of Walkabout from the NYRB Classics edition:

A plane crashes in the vast Northern Territory of Australia, and the only survivors are two children from Charleston, South Carolina, on their way to visit their uncle in Adelaide. Mary and her younger brother, Peter, set out on foot, lost in the vast, hot Australian outback. They are saved by a chance meeting with an unnamed Aboriginal boy on walkabout. He looks after the two strange white children and shows them how to find food and water in the wilderness, and yet, for all that, Mary is filled with distrust.

On the surface Walkabout is an adventure story, but darker themes lie beneath. Peter’s innocent friendship with the boy met in the desert throws into relief Mary’s half-adult anxieties, and the book as a whole raises questions about what is lost—and may be saved—when different worlds meet. And in reading Marshall’s extraordinary evocations of the beautiful yet forbidding landscape of the Australian desert, perhaps the most striking presence of all in this small, perfect book, we realize that this tale—a deep yet disturbing story in the spirit of Adalbert Stifter’s Rock Crystal and Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica—is also a reckoning with the mysteriously regenerative powers of death.

And here is the first line:

Continue reading “First Line Friday, Book Love for Australia Edition: Walkabout”

First Line Friday: Volition

Welcome to First Line Friday,

hosted by Hoarding Books.

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I’ve recently been wishing that I could find a futuristic mail-order bride story.  Aliens optional, but welcome.  So I’ve been combing (okay, touching and swiping) through my library’s sci-fi ebook offerings in search of some elusive magic combination and sampling indiscriminately only to conclude that what I really want is a futuristic mail order bride story with at least one unapologetically strong Christian main character.  Then along comes an email newsletter from Chautona Havig that announces the recent release of her newest book, Volition, and mentions that it is Science Fiction and has time travel.  Surprised, since I didn’t think she wrote SciFi, but curious, I went over to GoodReads to read the actual book description and I HAD TO HAVE IT!!

Now, I know I haven’t been shy about my preference for mail order bride stories, but have I ever mentioned my (Doctor specific) love for Doctor Who?

Here is the description:

“I should have made that left turn at Tucumcari.”

It’s Doctor Who meets mail-order brides when “rescuers” from the future arrive to save Andi Flanders from a happy life with her loving family and fiancé.

Okay, so they meant to get her suicidal roommate, but hey. Mistakes happen, right?

And as far as Andi’s concerned, they can fix them—by sending her home.

However, when she learns what happens when she disappears from home, Andi has an impossible choice. Stay in the government-controlled futuristic world she despises and never see her family again or return to the twenty-first century and doom an innocent person to death.

Volition— Life and death decisions are so overrated.

And here are the first lines:

Continue reading “First Line Friday: Volition”

First Line Friday: The Grey Chamber

Welcome to First Line Friday,

hosted by Hoarding Books.

Today’s featured quote is taken from a digital galley and may differ from the published text.

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I’m full of hope for this New Year after 5 months of struggling to read anything and one of my current reads is about a young woman in 1887 New York City who is sent to a place where hope dies.  And I’m enjoying it!

Here is the description:

Will Edyth prove her sanity before it is too late?

On Blackwell’s Island, New York, a hospital was built to keep its patients from ever leaving.

With her late parents’ fortune under her uncle’s care until her twenty-fifth birthday in the year 1887, Edyth Foster does not feel pressured to marry or to bow to society’s demands. She freely indulges in eccentric hobbies like fencing and riding her velocipede in her cycling costume about the city for all to see. Finding a loophole in the will, though, her uncle whisks Edyth off to the women’s lunatic asylum just weeks before her birthday. And Edyth fears she will never be found.

At the asylum she meets another inmate, who upon discovering Edyth’s plight, confesses that she is Nellie Bly, an undercover journalist for The World. Will either woman find a way to leave the terrifying island and reclaim her true self?

And here is the first line:

Continue reading “First Line Friday: The Grey Chamber”

First Line Friday: The Red Journal

Welcome to First Line Friday,

hosted by Hoarding Books.

Today’s featured quote is taken from a digital galley and may differ from the published text.

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It seems like ages since I read a book, after the events of August and September sent my record reading year off the rails.  But I’m trying to get back on track and I’ll be reading and reviewing The Red Journal by Deb Elkink soon as part of a review tour with Just Read Tours, so I thought I’d share the first lines for this week’s First Line Friday.

Here is the description:

Flirty globetrotter Sybil badgers her friend Libby to travel along in seeking out the world’s “sacred places”—a monastery in Japan, a mountaintop in Africa, a mosque in Istanbul. Her footloose wandering far from family values costs her more than money.

But Libby can’t afford to travel, and she’s plagued by a different kind of restlessness. Grieving the recent death of the grandmother who raised her in their inner-city Minneapolis tenement now slated for demolition, Libby faces homelessness in both heart and habitation.

When Libby discovers a cryptic message from beyond the grave and an antique ring pointing to a mystery in an inner room of a mansion museum in North Dakota, she sets out on a quest of her own for the meaning of heritage and home.

It isn’t often I run across a novel written in present progressive tense, so I couldn’t stop at just one sentence.  Here are the first lines: Continue reading “First Line Friday: The Red Journal”

Picture Book Spotlight: Monsters Are Afraid of Babies by Nicholas Tana (with a video preview!)

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If you ask me what my favorite childhood picture book was, I will answer Where the Wild Things Are.  And as much as I enjoy sharing Maurice Sendak’s classic with my nieces and nephews, and now my great nieces and nephews, some of them find it too frightening.  So I adore finding new picture books that make monsters less scary.
This picture book hooked me with the title, but the description and the preview video had me smiling.  So when Smith Publicity asked if I would like to share about Monsters Are Afraid of Babies, I just had to say yes.  I think you’ll see why below:
monstersareafraidofbabies

About the Book

The spooky store displays and monster shows are fun this time of year, but sometimes they can lead younger children to be legitimately scared! Show kids there’s nothing to be afraid of this Halloween with the delightful picture book Monsters Are Afraid of Babies by Nicholas Tana, illustrated by Jessica Abbot and Elise Leutwyler.

In this humorous and boldly colorful read, children follow a boy who frightens the creatures in the closet with the help of his baby sister. Tana has created a universally meaningful message that disarms the figures that intimidate us. Monsters Are Afraid of Babies brings new perspective on the unknown, by humanizing those scary invisible creatures.

On a mission to inspire children and adults, Tana is debuting three new fiction titles that will enchant young audiences this fall. The upcoming Monsters Are Afraid of BabiesThe Kingdom of Glee, and The Kitten, The Cat & The Apple will encourage literacy and evoke imagination in readers.

Lovers of Where the Wild Things AreGoosebumps and Pixar’s Monster’s Inc., will tingle with terror reading this spooky story with a relevant sentiment on fear and anxiety. Monsters readers will delight in each page turn, filled with eye-catching artwork and playful rhyme.

A perfect Halloween-time picture book, Monsters Are Afraid of Babies:

  • Makes reading fun with whimsical wordplay and rhyme
  • Features vivid illustrations that will enthrall children
  • Creates meaningful metaphors about xenophobia, anxiety, and facing fear
  • Finds humor in adjusting to “new creatures” in the house

Monsters Are Afraid of Babies is available in hard cover,  ebook, and  audio book through Amazon and other websites and stores where books are sold.

 

First Line Friday: The Mermaid’s Sister and The Gold-Son

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Welcome to First Line Friday,

hosted by Hoarding Books.

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Back in 2015 I described Carrie Anne Noble‘s debut Young Adult fantasy/historical fiction novel, The Mermaid’s Sister, as lying “somewhere in the realm of folklore and fairy tale.”  I suspect her second novel, The Gold-Son, will inhabit similar terrain.

E-books of The Mermaid’s Sister and The Gold-Son are being offered for only 99 cents on Amazon’s US site this month, so I snapped up a copy of The Gold-Son.  I’m hoping to read it very soon.

Here are their first lines: Continue reading “First Line Friday: The Mermaid’s Sister and The Gold-Son”