More Than You Wanted To Know About Me

I read a blog post recently debating whether or not personal posts should be included on book blogs.  People seemed to come down strongly on one side or the other.  Either they wanted book posts and nothing but book posts or they enjoyed the posts that let them get a glimpse into the personality behind the blog.  I am firmly in the personality behind the blog club. I like to read about books but I am also insatiably curious about people.  I like to know a little about their lives, their interests beyond books, where they live, their favorite dessert.  You can call it nosy, I call it...well, if I am honest, I guess I would have to call it nosy too.

In the unlikely event that some of you are just as curious about me as I am about you, I am going to provide a random collection of harmless facts about me and my life.  I think I did something like this when I first started blogging but since I had about two readers at the time I feel pretty safe in doing it again.  So, here goes.

  • If I absolutely had to pick a favorite author it would be Jane Austen. That is an agonizing decision though and even writing that makes me feel as if I am being disloyal to all my other favorites.  
  • I firmly believe that organized sports are an invention of the devil. 
  • So is squash.
  • I have never dyed my hair.  The grey hair that is starting to appear might change that, especially if my kids continue to point out how it is increasing. 
  • Blue is my favorite color.
  • I can't sing. 
  • Or dance. I have no sense of rhythm at all.
  • I am also totally incapable of identifying the artist responsible for a piece of music. I can love it and have listened to it for years but don't ask me who sings it. I can guarantee I won't know.
  • I have an ongoing obsession with Myers-Briggs personality tests. (INFJ if you are curious.)
  • Tea over coffee.
  • Chocolate is the nectar of the gods.
  • I hate confrontation. But I am getting better about speaking up when necessary. 
  • I am not really a crier. Except when I am angry, which is really frustrating. 
  • I don't completely trust people who don't like to read.
  • I make a really good pizza.
  • And cookies.
  • Fudge ripple is my favorite ice cream.  Add some caramel sauce and you have perfection in a bowl.
  • I am convinced that somewhere out there is the perfect purse that will work for all occasions.  I am still searching for it. In the meantime, I own way too many not-quite-perfect purses.
  • England is my favorite place to go on vacation.
  • I love the beach and find it very relaxing but I am frequently overwhelmed by the sheer number of people on the beaches.  
  • Actually, I am frequently overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in life. 
  • I dislike small talk. But I also hate those fake intense conversations some people have. Just converse, people. Let the conversation take you where it will. 
  • I worry too much.  
  • I don't have the brain for chess.  My husband doesn't have the brain for Scrabble.  We have settled on cribbage. 
  • My daughter has been taking horseback riding lessons and now I think I would like to learn too. That is a dream for the future, though. 
  • I am not a huge TV watcher. I drive my husband crazy because I keep recording shows and then I never get around to watching them. 
  • I really don't like alcohol.
  • I can't whistle.
  • I love the sound of water--streams, rivers, the ocean.  So relaxing and peaceful.
  • Autumn is my favorite time of year. Crisp, cool air, blue skies, colorful leaves. I love it all.
  • I really, really dislike being hot. Summer and I don't get along. 
  • I have a phobia of mice. I once made my husband come home from work to set a trap because I saw a mouse in my closet. He is a very kind man.
  • My first memory is from when I was 9 months old. No one believes me when I tell them that but my mom can verify it. I provided details of the event that she had never told me.
  • My first job was in a newspaper office.  I was in high school. My dad was my boss. 
  • I got married two weeks after I turned twenty. Yes, I know that is very young but yes, I would do it again.
  • We were married ten years before we had our son.
  • Physical books over ebooks. But I love my Kindle for vacation. No more weighing down my suitcase with five million books and still worrying about running out of reading material.
  • Patience is not a virtue I possess.
  • I am a good listener.
  • I love the smell of lilacs in the spring.
So there you have it. Approximately forty not particularly interesting facts about me. But, if you are the nosy type, this should have been right up your alley.

Now, satisfy my curiosity. Provide a few interesting, or not so interesting, facts about you.

Books That Matter

penguin books

I still remember the copy of Alice in Wonderland. It was a paperback, red, with a torn cover.  The cover had a pebbled effect which I thought felt interesting.  I was very small, maybe three or four, and these things mattered.  I had paged through the book often because I liked the pictures and I desperately wanted to know the story that went with them.  I begged and begged my mom to read it aloud but she was a bit reluctant.  She thought, understandably, that it was a little over my head and that I wouldn't have the patience to listen to it.  Finally, I wore her down and she agreed it could be our next read-aloud book.  To be honest, I don't remember much after that.  Did I like Alice and her adventures?  Did it live up to my expectations?  I don't remember.  What I do remember is the wanting, the desperate desire to know the story, the feeling that inside that book was something important.

I think that is what all readers feel.  That books hold secrets, they hold knowledge, they hold stories, and stories matter. Through our lives as readers, there are books that have an impact.  That impact is not always because they are our favorite books or because they are meaningful books that teach us something but because they develop our reading life in some way.  Little Women was another such book for me.  It did become a great favorite but when I stumbled across it on my second-grade teacher's book table all I knew was here was a familiar story.  I was horrified to realize that the copy I owned was a condensed version and I immediately knew that I had to read the whole thing.  I had to argue with my teacher in order to convince her I could read it. This was totally out of character since I was a very shy, quiet child but it was necessary.  I needed that book.  It was the start of a life-long hatred of condensed books and a similarly life-long belief that children should be allowed to read what they want to read.  Little Women also taught me that old books are full of great stories and that big books are worth the trouble.

Sometimes it is not the story that pulls us in but the words.  When I was just a bit older, maybe nine or ten, I pulled a copy of one of Shakespeare's plays off the bookshelf.  I think it was The Taming of the Shrew. I didn't really intend to read it, I was just bored and convinced my mom was never going to get off the phone so I could ask her whatever absolutely necessary question I thought I had.  So I picked up a book.  I knew I wasn't following it all.  I knew parts of the story were going over my head.  But I also knew I liked the rhythm and flow of the language.  I liked the sound of it even though I wasn't completely sure what it meant.  I plowed through the whole thing feeling slightly confused but as if I was on the edge of something amazing.  To be honest, that is still the feeling Shakespeare gives me.  He taught me that words are not simply the vehicle for a story but also a source of beauty in their own right.

Not all of my reading epiphanies occurred in my childhood.  Just a few years ago, I discovered book blogs and, as a result, discovered One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes.  I love that book.  It is lyrical in its writing, the story is quiet but enthralling, and it is set in England.  What more could I ask for?  That one book led me to Persephone Books which led to an expansion of my reading to British authors of the mid-twentieth century.  Authors like Dorothy Whipple, Monica Dickens, Elizabeth Bowen, and Elizabeth Taylor.  Wonderful writers, all of them, but I probably would not have discovered them if I hadn't discovered Mollie Panter-Downes first.

That is the amazing thing about books.  They change us.  And that never ends.  Twenty or thirty years from now I will be able to look back and pinpoint more books that matter to me.  More books that changed who I am as a reader.  More books that I love.

What books have developed you into the reader you are today?

Book Review--Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket

cherry cake and ginger beer

Last month I wrote a post about food in books.  Several people commented and suggested I read Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer.  I immediately went online and ordered a copy, then I completely forgot I had done so.  Yes, I do that a lot.  No, I don't really mind.  It leads to surprise books in my mailbox and I am sure we will all agree that there are few things better than that. When the book arrived I meant to only flip through it for a few minutes. However, I immediately got pulled in and spent a good portion of the rest of the evening driving my family a little crazy with my enthusiastic comments about favorite books and recipes that are included.

I now know how to make pickled limes.  This is important information.  I first read Little Women when I was about seven years old and I have wondered ever since exactly what Amy March's favorite school treat tastes like. Pickled limes sound like such a strange thing.  But, should I be so inclined, I now have a recipe and I can make them myself.

I also have recipes for Marilla's raspberry cordial, Paddington's marmalade buns, and sugar on snow from the Little House books.  Can you imagine how happy this makes me?  There are also recipes taken from many children's books that I am not as familiar with.  I have recently come across several references to the Chalet School books.  I haven't read them but if I want to make an apple cake mentioned in them I can.  Milly-Molly-Mandy also seems to inspire a lot of nostalgia in people.  A recipe for her Little Patty-Pan Sultana Cakes is included.  There are also a lot of recipes from the Famous Five books which makes my daughter very happy.  She is a huge fan and already has plans to search out more from the series when we are in London in a few weeks.

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer is wonderful.  I dare you to read through it without immediately wanting to go into your kitchen and cook.  I also dare you to read it without pulling books from your shelves and rereading favorite excerpts.  We won't even talk about how it has added to my reading list.  I feel a definite need to fill in some gaps in my childhood reading.

I also loved her "Recipe For Hunger" pictured below.  Doesn't it make you happy just to read that?

recipe for hunger

So, go, buy this book.  Just be prepared to gain a few pounds, to spend a lot of hours in your kitchen, and to find it necessary to purchase a few books.  I don't see a problem with any of that, do you?

And, did I mention there is a recipe for the molasses candy featured in Daddy-Long-Legs? I have always wanted to have a taffy pull...

In Defense of Fluff

georgette heyer novels

Well-written literature is a wonderful gift.  There is nothing like closing the cover of a book and knowing you have read something truly great.  Whether, for you, that is a Dickens novel or a modern classic that feeling is unmistakable.

But sometimes you just want to read fluff. A cozy mystery, a Regency romance, a detective novel, chick lit, whatever your fluff of choice is, we all need it sometimes.  But all too often, we feel like we need to apologize for it.  "Well, I wouldn't usually read this but...." or "It was fun for what it is but...."  There is always that "but", that implies that the fluff isn't good enough.

I am writing this in defense of fluff.

I am a firm believer that a bit of chocolate contributes to a well-balanced diet and that a bit of fluff is essential for the well-balanced reader.  We all need to escape sometimes.  We all are tired sometimes.  We all occasionally want to retreat to our childhoods and read old favorites. We need to shut off our brains and read the story and not analyze the writing.  Why do we apologize for that? If cozy mysteries set in an English village full of doddering spinsters and handsome vicars are your thing then read them and preach their wonders from the rooftops.  And please, send them on to me when you are done.  No, they may not be great literature but did the book engage your interest?  Did it pull you into the story?  Most important of all, did you enjoy it?  If you answered yes, then it was worth reading.

There is a difference between poorly written books and fluff.  I have less and less tolerance for poorly written books.  If the writing is too pedestrian and I find myself editing the book as I go I am unlikely to read it.  But that is not fluff.  Fluff is just what it sounds like, light and fun and not too demanding.  And there is a lot of well-written fluff out there.

Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite writers of fluff.  Actually, she is what inspired this post.  I read a review of one of her books--I can't remember where--and the whole thing was a disclaimer.  "I don't read romances"  Yet, the blogger enjoyed it.  And in the comments, everyone else was saying "I don't read romances" yet they were going on to recommend other Heyer novels.  So they do read romances.  They feel it is something to be apologized for.  Just don't.  Don't apologize for reading Heyer and don't ever apologize for reading something you enjoyed.

Because that is why we read. We enjoy it.  Of course, there are a lot of other benefits.  We broaden our horizons, we develop empathy, we learn, but the main reason we read is because we love it. We love books.  We love stories.

Sometimes, the stories we love are fluff and that is perfectly okay.

Preach its wonders from the rooftops.

On Being Alone

woodland path

I love my family, I really do.  My kids are great (when they aren't driving me crazy) and my husband is wonderful.  We have been married for twenty-six years and I would marry him all over again.  But sometimes, just sometimes, when they all walk out of the house in the morning I breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Because I love that hour when I am all by myself in the house, the hour before I have to run around like a mad person and get ready to leave myself.

I love being alone.

I love the silence-no one talking, no one stomping through the house, no one...breathing?  Is that going too far?  There is a different quality to the silence when the house is empty.  Even if everyone is quietly busy there is still the potential for noise and somehow that makes it less quiet.

I love being able to do exactly what I want for a few minutes even if exactly what I want is just to sit on the couch and stare out the window while drinking a cup of tea. There is no one to complain because they ate all the groceries in twenty-four hours. There is no one asking all the "mom" questions. "Where are my gym clothes? What's for dinner?" There is no one for me to nag.  "Clean your room.  Take out the trash.  Do your homework.  Eat your vegetables."

There is just me and the thoughts in my head which sometimes are overwhelming but frequently are just things that get lost in the everyday chaos of life.  It is good to let them bubble to the surface again and feel like I am connecting with me and not just the mom who usually inhabits my body.

I like being alone.

But I also like it when everyone comes home again.  I like it when my house is full of noise and conversation and laughter--I am not such a fan of the bickering but you have to take the complete package.  The thing is, there is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely.  Alone is good.  Alone is enjoying your own company and relishing the peace and quiet.  Lonely is having no one to talk to and feeling overwhelmed by the peace and quiet.

We live in a world where we are seldom alone but we are frequently lonely.  Many of us don't have the communities, the nearby families, and the life-long friendships of past generations.  We can struggle to make connections with people who don't quite "get" us.  We try desperately to align schedules with friends from our past in a frantic bid to not lose complete touch.  We can spend our lives surrounded by people but somehow still feel slightly lonely; not in any soul-destroying, cry-into-your-pillow way.  Just in a quiet "something is missing but I'm okay" type way.

If we are fortunate, we have a family we love, a family that makes us happy.

But sometimes, just sometimes, it is nice when they all go away and it is possible to enjoy being alone.  Because that kind of alone, the few stolen minutes out of a busy life, is not lonely.

Mini Reviews

Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts*

I enjoy the British Library Crime Classics.  The golden age of detective fiction has produced a lot of great mystery novels that have gotten lost over the years.  It is wonderful to see them being reissued.  And the absolutely gorgeous covers don't hurt.  The Mystery in the Channel is a classic locked room mystery with a yacht in place of the locked room.  A steamer comes across a drifting yacht with two bodies on board.  No one else is there.  Who committed the murder and where did they go?  Inspector French is just the man to solve the crime.  This is more puzzle driven than  character-driven but it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Who Pays the Piper? by Patricia Wentworth*

I have read several of Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries and was curious to see what she would do with different characters. Lucas Dale is the new owner of King's Bourne.  He is rich, arrogant, and determined to marry Susan even though she is engaged to someone else.  There are stolen pearls, a bit of blackmail, and then Dale is found murdered in his study.  Susan's fiance threatened to kill him just minutes before.  Is he guilty?  Inspector Lamb and Sergeant Abbott fit all the pieces together.  I liked this quite a bit and will be looking for more books featuring this detecting duo.

Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton

This is a Persephone novel which pretty much guarantees it will be good.  I have yet to read one I haven't enjoyed.  This is one of the domestic novels for which they are so well known.  It follows the lives and fortunes of one family from the 1890s through the next forty years or so.  Martin Lovell is an architect and a theme of building runs through the entire book. This is a quiet book, much more about character development than about plot.  I loved this and will be happy to reread it.

Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse

Sometimes life just requires a Wodehouse novel and this has so many great Wodehouse elements; overbearing women, an obnoxious small boy, a convoluted plot that involves the hero impersonating himself, bungling kidnappers, a butler or two.  Really, what more can you ask for?  Go read it right away and enjoy the Wodehouse wit.  I dare you to not laugh out loud.

The Mystery on the Mississippi by Kathryn Kenny

This is a Trixie Belden mystery.  Did anyone else read the Trixie Belden series when they were young?  I loved them.  I found this on the library free book rack and grabbed it for my daughter.  Of course, I had to read it first just for nostalgia's sake.  It was exactly what I remembered.  If unsupervised groups of young people going off on adventures and solving mysteries that baffle the adults around them are your jam, then this is the book for you.  Now that I think about it, so many books I loved as a child involved kids going off on their own and being involved in hair-raising adventures.  Where were the parents when this was going on?  I remember Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, The Famous Five, The Happy Hollisters.  Oh please, someone tell me you read The Happy Hollisters too.  Pete, Pam, Holly, Ricky, and Sue were always risking life and limb to catch the bad guy and all Mrs. Hollister ever did was smile sweetly and tell them to be home in time for dinner.  I'm not sure The Mystery on the Mississippi is the best of the Trixie Belden series but I didn't really care.  For a short time, I was ten again, imagining myself a member of the Bob-whites, complete with secret whistle and endless adventures.

*This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in return for an honest review.