Stuff and Nonsense: May 2013


Belinda Goes to Bath by Marion Chesney

Marion Chesney's romances always confuse me because I feel they should be older than they are. Belinda Goes to Bath, for example, was published in 1991! Looking at the rather unfortunate cover art, I was expecting something from the 70s or early 80s.

His cheekbones & jaw are ridiculous

Wish I'd read this edition!

Belinda Goes to Bath is the second in Chesney's The Travelling Matchmaker series. While I have not read the first novel, Emily Goes to Exeter, I don't feel I missed anything as Belinda is fairly self-explanatory.

Miss Hannah Pym, once a housekeeper but now a lady of independent means, travels via stagecoach to "The Bath" in search of new experiences. She hopes her companions will be interesting ... and is not disappointed for she shares her coach with a seemingly mismatched miserable married couple as well as an outspoken (and not-classically-beautiful-but-compelling) heiress and her dour companion. And the coachman is a drunkard who falls asleep and dumps the coach into a river. In the middle of winter, no less. Luckily, they all find themselves rescued by a marquess ... And that's when Miss Hannah Pym proves her name as the Travelling Matchmaker.

Belinda Goes to Bath is a comfortable sort of historical romance -- quite predictable but still pleasant. The kind of novel you don't need to give your full attention in order to follow or enjoy.

Belinda Goes to Bath by Marion Chesney (St. Martin's Press, 1991)


Top 10 Tuesday: Light & Fun

This week’s Top 10 Tuesday is a freebie, so I'm going back in time to May 7, to the list of light reads I forgot to post then. These are my repeat reads, the novels I go back to when nothing else suits and my brain is full of fidgets and cynicism.

  1. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  2. Angels by Marian Keyes
  3. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
  4. Chi's Sweet Home by Kanata Konami (any volume will do)
  5. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
  6. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
  7. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (or pretty much any Watch novel)
  8. The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig (or, really, any of the first three Pink Carnation novels)
  9. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  10. The Princess Bride by William Goldman


The Roses of Elizabeth Park

Elizabeth Park, America's oldest municipal rose garden, is one of my favorite places to visit in the summer as its gardens are both beautiful and welcoming. Indeed, The Husband and I have passed many a happy hour on a sunny bench amidst the roses, watching small children romp and obsessive photographers fidget. No surprise then that I immediately snatched up The Roses of Elizabeth Park when I chanced upon it at my library. The spring has been a cool, wet, gloomy one and I desperately needed what this book could offer -- page after page of beautiful summer roses.

The Roses of Elizabeth Park is very much something you'd want to leave on your coffee table to browse through with a nice mug of tea and a rose catalog. If you're going to do that, though, it would probably a good idea to set a budget first as reading this book made me positively itch to dig up our entire side yard and turn it into a beautiful rose garden with arches and gazebo.

The Roses of Elizabeth Park starts begins with a brief explanation of how Elizabeth Park came to be -- how the land came to be bequeathed to the City of Hartford, how the garden was first designed and later extended, and how it continues to exist thanks to the City and The Friends of Elizabeth Park. This introduction is then followed by page after exquisite page of roses. If I had to pick a favorite, I think 'Camaieux' would be my choice but that's today. Tomorrow it might well be 'Orange Triumph.' And 'La Reine' the day after that.

Peppermint Roses

Raspberry & White Against the Sky

Roses & Arches

(Elizabeth Park isn't just roses -- there are also beautiful perennial, herb, rock, and annual gardens).

The Roses of Elizabeth Park by Alice Prescott Whyte (Blurb, 2009)


The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

We've been watching the BBC Sherlock Holmes reboot, Sherlock, and are a divided household. I have mixed feelings regarding the reboot and found "The Hounds of Baskerville" episode to be especially frustrating, but The Husband really seemed to like the first series as a whole and did not spend any of the Hound episode with his hands over his eyes going "no, no, no" ... unlike me who would have been better served by watching it from behind the couch.

In a blatant attempt to alter The Husband's opinion, I gave him a beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classics Edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but he was not interested in the novel and the poor volume has sat, unloved, on our bookcase every since. Having fond memories of the novel, I picked it up while I was sick with the Terrible Ear Infection of 2013 and all the things I had brought home from the library failed to please ... it was nearly as much fun as I remembered.

It’s wall-to-wall Watson. Obviously, Sherlock's there, in the background, solving the shit out of the mystery of the Hound and the previous Sir Baskerville's murder, but it’s Watson telling the story and doing the "official" detecting. And, yes, Watson goes a little bit wrong in his deductions, but that’s no surprise because there's a lot going on in this little novel and it's frequently hard to see the essential mystery for all the extra window dressing – a woman sobbing in the night, creepy Neolithic ruins, a deadly bog, secretive servants, an escaped killer at-large on the moor, and the spectral hound. Truly, it's a wonder Watson doesn't get it more wrong. And, anyway, it's easy for Holmes to see the truth as he’s well outside the story in classic "disinterested observer" mode. Or maybe I just want to cut Watson some slack because he’s always been my favorite of the duo.

This Penguin Clothbound Classics Edition comes with an introduction and extensive endnotes by Editor Christopher Frayling. Those who don't read a lot of "old-timey" English literature, or are really interested in the differences between the films and movies, or simply want to know how much of the tale Doyle got wrong, will probably enjoy the endnotes. I started skipping endnotes when I realized they were actually distracting me from the story as I would flip to the end of the novel to read one endnote and then read an entire page of them!

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2009)


Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite Covers

"They" say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I do all the time. No matter what a blurb may say, if the cover makes me go "meh," then I'm unlikely to pick up the book. I've even been known to search my library system's catalogs for different editions of the same book -- looking for the cover that "spoke" to me best.

Happily, this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is "Top Ten Favorite Book Covers Of Books I've Read," so I get to show off what I think are a few particularly nice or meaningful covers.

Archangel: I bought this book because of the cover. I was not keen on the story -- sci-fi with angels -- but my eyes kept being drawn back to that Borders shelf over and over again. I couldn't stop trying to puzzle out the meaning of the cover. Was she holding an egg or the world in her hand? Was the angel supposed to look menacing? What was going on with her clothes? Was she being raptured out of them? (Of course, I lovedlovedloved Archangel when I finally read it).

Bride of The Water God: All the covers in this series are exquisite pieces of eye candy. Indeed, I keep buying them because they are so pretty ... but I've only actually read the first two!

Chi's Sweet Home: And all the covers in this series are just squeetastically adorabs.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate: The vining paper-cut design of plants and animals framing net-wielding Callie nicely touches on her discovery of nature/science/her self. Also, it's all very pretty. I have a print of the cover hanging in my office, I love it that much.

Beauty Queens: The lipstick bandoleer says it all. (Unfortunately, it always makes me want to sing "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini").

The Knife of Never Letting Go: The running figures. The bloody twilight. The pale, nonsensical graffiti. The scratchy title font. It all shouted "read me!"

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: I love the way the coats and hats snuggled up next to each other on the coat stand as if they are kissing. Such a sweetly simple image and so well-suited to the story.

Marcelo in the Real World: The starry sky, the tree house, the people holding hands, the way the so much is done in silhouette, the splashes of orange -- I love everything about this cover.

Sabriel: The creepy shadow-thing reaching out from behind the sensibly dressed fantasy girl with the sword and bandoleer. The way her blue tabard becomes waves of water. Her belt buckle. Très awesome.

Sorcery and Cecilia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot: The blue pot just jumps out and the script overlay is a nice nod to the epistolary nature of the novel (as is the quill pen). The Regency ladies leave no doubt about what time this story. In all, it's true to the story without giving anything away.


Mrs Whippy by Cecelia Ahern

I find that the rules of ice-cream tasting are the same for most things in life. To experience true flavours and true feelings you need to pay attention to your senses. How do things look? How do things smells? How do things feel when you touch them or they touch you? How do they taste? And, very importantly, what memories do they leave you with?

I'd wanted to read Cecelia Ahern’s Mrs. Whippy for a while now, but couldn't find it at a library near me ... but then my public library started developing an ESL/literacy collection and one of the first volumes added was Mrs. Whippy! Mrs. Whippy is part of Gemma Media's Open Door Series of low-literacy novellas. Each novella, written by "known" Irish authors, is less than a hundred pages long, making them perfectly bite-sized reads.

In the case of Mrs. Whippy, delicious bite-sized reads.

Recently separated from her husband, who left her for "a twenty-three-year-old Russian lap dancer the size of a broomstick," middle-aged mum Emelda feels trapped in a downward spiral. Her sons, taking cues from their heel of a dad, act up and ignore her. Her best friend is too wrapped up in the affair she's having to offer Emelda any support. The only bright spot in her life comes from ice cream so it should be no surprise that thee arrival, one fated Monday, of Mr. Whippy's ice cream van into Emelda's neighborhood should herald great change.

The back cover blurb would suggest Mrs. Whippy is a romance and, while I admit there is a distinct possibility Emelda and Mr. Whippy will have a relationship, I would say this novel is much more about suffrage and self-empowerment. Emelda learns to put herself forward, to defend herself against the slights and condescension of others, to see the future as a thing of wonderful possibility ... and maybe that will lead her to romance.

Mrs. Whippy by Cecelia Ahern (Gemma Media, 2010)


Not Improv Challenge: Cinnamon & Not Sugar

When I saw April's Improv Challenge ingredients were cinnamon and sugar, I immediately knew I wanted to do something with that bundle of cinnamon sticks lurking in the back of the spice cabinet. I also knew I wanted to use maple syrup or honey, as refined sugar is something I'm using less and less of. I figured maple syrup would be fine, as participants are allowed to make substitutions due to dietary restrictions, but then I actually read the monthly email ...
You can use cinnamon in any form: ground, whole, extract, baking chips. Sugar
forms: white, powdered, brown, cane juice. I think we will save honey,
maple syrup, and other sweeteners for other challenges.
Erk. As I'd already made my dish and had no time to make another, I give you my Not Improv Challenge recipe, "Breakfast Barley."

Raspberries & Barley for Breakfast

I've been toying around with the idea of eating other grains for breakfast ... mostly because I have a cupboard full of random grains, but also because even the most delicious oatmeal gets a little boring after a while.  I'd seen recipes for quinoa and barley "rice" puddings, so I guessed what I wanted could be done.

In the end, I went with quick-cooking barley and prepared it mostly by following the directions on the back of the box. Coconut milk for water, of course, because I wanted delicious creaminess and I didn't see why I needed to bring the liquid to boil before adding the barley, so threw them into the pot together.

I think the dish turned out pretty well. Creamy, nutty, slightly sweet, and very filling. (The Husband, however, took one look at it and said "that looks horrible" so ymmv).
Breakfast Barley
Serves 3

1 cup quick-cooking barley [Mother's]
13.6 oz can coconut milk [Thai Kitchen]
Water, as needed
⅛ tsp salt
1-inch cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed [Bob's Red Mill]
1 Tbsp maple syrup
Fresh raspberries, as desired

Dump the coconut milk into a two-cup measuring cup and whisk it about until the solids are reincorporated. Add enough water to equal 2 cups. Add to saucepan with barley, cinnamon stick, and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer, stirring regularly to prevent sticking, for 10 minutes or until barley looks creamy, but not all liquid has been absorbed.

Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in maple syrup and flaxmeal. Let sit 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. Taste. Add more maple syrup, if desired.

Portion into bowls. Serve topped with raspberries and, if desired, grated cinnamon and more maple syrup.


Top 10 Tuesday: Tough Subjects

It's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by Broke and The Bookish and this week we're talking about tough subjects. While I recommend the novels I've listed below, they certainly weren't easy reads and I doubt I'll ever bring myself re-read any of them ... which is fine, because they're all still in my head, haunting me at the most unlikely times.
  1. Beloved by Toni Morrison (racism, abuse, rape)
  2. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga (rape, PTSD)
  3. Flying in Place by Susan Palwick (incest, rape)
  4. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (kidnapping, abuse, rape)
  5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (rape)
  6. The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon (attempted suicide, depression)
  7. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (racism, abuse, rape)
  8. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (eating disorders)
I’m sure I’ve read more than eight books on tough subjects, but I’m having a difficult time thinking up two more and I don’t really want to go back through my old entries looking for things that make me skeeved/sad/angry, because life is short and I've resolved to start reading what pleases me most. No more critically acclaimed graphic novels about rape or hate crimes, no more deep angsty novels about depression and suicide. Let's focus on happy sparkly unicorns and cupcakes. Or magical space-time adventures based on the most improbable science. Either will suffice.


The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Theological Grotesque by H.G. Wells

I know I had never read The Island of Doctor Moreau before and yet so much of the story was familiar to me. The mysterious island. The mad scientist. The alcoholic assistant. The Beast Men. Familiar tropes, all. And yet, for all the familiar-feeling, the story remains surprisingly weird and unsettling. Is it a critique of late Victorian society? A critique of institutionalized religion? A cautionary tale of what happens when scientific development outpaces moral progress?

Yes, yes, and yes. It’s all those things and a ripping good yarn.

ON February the First 1887, the Lady Vain was lost by collision with a derelict when about the latitude 1° S. and longitude 107° W.

Edward Prendick, former biology student of Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog," etc), is shipwrecked, rather whimsically saved, and then nearly made castaway again when Montgomery, his indifferent savior, initially refuses him landfall on a remote South Pacific island. Prendick is grateful Montgomery eventually takes pity on him -- until he realizes the horrors the island contains. Moreau, the notorious vivisectionist driven from England eleven years before after terrible scandal, seeks to surgically alter animals into humans by removing the pain of animality. And it’s not going terribly well.

These creatures of mine seemed strange and uncanny to you so soon as you began to observe them; but to me, just after I make them, they seem to be indisputably human beings. It's afterwards, as I observe them, that the persuasion fades. First one animal trait, then another, creeps to the surface and stares out at me. But I will conquer yet! Each time I dip a living creature into the bath of burning pain, I say, 'This time I will burn out all the animal; this time I will make a rational creature of my own!' After all, what is ten years? Men have been a hundred thousand in the making." He thought darkly. "But I am drawing near the fastness. This puma of mine—” After a silence, "And they revert. As soon as my hand is taken from them the beast begins to creep back, begins to assert itself again." Another long silence.

Moreau gives his animals the flawed form of men, is surprised when function doesn’t follow form, and abandons his imperfect creations to live as best they can on the island. He’s a remorseless monster that makes my flesh crawl … but it is Montgomery who makes me rage. He is the one who goes down amongst the Beast Men and treats them as people. They had been beasts and now they are not, but still less than men. Left to their own devices, they might attain some kind of stability and happiness over their short life-spans, but instead they must continuously struggle with the humanity pressed upon them by The Law.

"I am the Sayer of the Law," said the grey figure. "Here come all that be new to learn the Law. I sit in the darkness and say the Law."
"It is even so,” said one of the beasts in the doorway.
"Evil are the punishments of those who break the Law. None escape."
"None escape," said the Beast Folk, glancing furtively at one another.
"None, none," said the Ape-man,—“none escape. See! I did a little thing, a wrong thing, once. I jabbered, jabbered, stopped talking. None could understand. I am burnt, branded in the hand. He is great. He is good!"
"None escape," said the grey creature in the corner.
"None escape," said the Beast People, looking askance at one another.

Mind you, I’m unclear how much of The Law is the Beast People’s mutilation of missionary morality and how much has been deliberately encouraged by Moreau and Montgomery’s need to control the Beast People. Regardless, the Beast People certainly believe in it. And why shouldn’t they? The House of Pain, The Master, and The Other with the Whip are very present in their lives.

But, regardless of how Montgomery may actually feel toward the Beast People, he is also the man who destroys their “humanity.” It is he, greedy fool, who wants rabbits brought to the island so that he and Moreau might eat the meat forbidden to the Beast People and it is he who teaches "his man" how to skin and cook a rabbit. (Umm … what? Tentative hold on humanized beasts? Terrified the taste of meat will revert them back to pure beastliness? Don’t remind them about delicious meat. And if you must bring meat to the island and confuse everyone, don’t add alcohol to the mix).

The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Theological Grotesque by H.G. Wells (Penguin English Library, 2012)


Wordless Wednesday: Downtown

Downtown Hartford

Downtown Hartford
Both taken with my phone, because I never think to bring my "real" camera with me.


The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance by H.G. Wells

I have to admit that The War of the Worlds is the only H.G. Wells novel I am familiar with and it's been so long since I read it that my brain's probably making up half of what I remember. I don't really go for old-time science fiction -- the "science" (and the sexism! classism! racism!) tends to make me irritable -- but I happen to seriously ❤ H.G. from Warehouse 13 and so thought I should try to read some more H.G. Wells. (I know this makes no sense at all, but my reasons for picking up a novel seldom do make any kind of sense).

Anyway, I picked up The Penguin English Library Editions of The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Time Machine from The Book Depository (along with a bunch of other books I didn't really "need," but who buys books based on need? Boringly sensible people, that's who and I'll have none of that here, thank you). The Invisible Man arrived first and so that's what I read first.

The stranger came early in February, one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down, walking as it seemed from Bramblehurst railway station, and carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand.

As an albino junior scientist lacking a name or sufficient funds, academic and social standing has rendered Griffin metaphorically invisible. Griffin seems all right with that -- he seeks greatness in scientific mastery and thinks he finds it with the discovery of true, physical invisibility. First he makes a rag invisible, then a cat (all but the claws and backs of its eyes, poor puss), and then ... himself.

Initially, invisibly gives Griffin a great sense of power and superiority, but he quickly realizes just how hard it is to be invisible in London. It was fine to be metaphorically invisible when it was his choice (more-or-less), but the limitations of this unending physical invisibility are maddening.

"Before I made this mad experiment I had dreamt of a thousand advantages. That afternoon it seemed all disappointment. I went over the heads of the things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they are got. Ambition—what is the good of pride of place when you cannot appear there?"

Griffin flees to the countryside where he initially seeks to cure himself, but eventually determines to use his invisibility as a weapon of terror. He will bend rural society to his will and force it to serve him as he sees fit. He feels no remorse and revulsion at his choices and is, indeed, quite monstrous in his attitude toward others.

Reading The Invisible Man, I was initially in danger of sympathizing with Griffin -- the moody, bandaged man who just wanted to conduct experiments without his land lady and her friends nosing about. When he burgled the vicarage and tried to avoid arrest, I thought surely he would realize his folly… and then he fell into company with that pathetic tramp, Marvel. Griffin's cruel tyranny over the tramp is indefensible and firmly moves Griffin from possibly-sympathetic antihero to Total Asshole in a few short pages.

And so, when the crowd overwhelmed Griffin and finally took him down, while I was admittedly disquieted by the violence of their actions ("And there was no shouting after Kemp's cry—only a sound of blows and feet and a heavy breathing … Then suddenly a wild scream of 'Mercy! Mercy!' that died down swiftly to a sound like choking"), I was also relieved.

(I really want to re-read Frankenstein now, as it’s seems like such an antidote to The Invisible Man -- Frankenstein isolates himself from humanity in order to work terrible science, but when faced with the repercussions of his actions, reacts with contrition. Griffin also initially isolates himself, but is never contrite -- seeing only the end goal of his experiments and not their costs to others).

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance by H.G. Wells (Penguin English Library, 2012)


Deconstructed Chicken Kabobs

This dish was inspired by The Gracious Pantry's Clean Eating Chicken Kabobs, but I was too lazy to locate my kabob sticks or even assemble quite the same ingredients Tiffany used. Anyway, I think these deconstructed kabobs came out really well and I'm sure the real recipe will be awesome when I finally make it. (If you haven't visited The Gracious Pantry before, I recommend you get yourself over there right away as it's wall-to-wall with fabulous recipes).

Chicken & Veg

Deconstructed Chicken Kabobs

1 lb chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1½-inch lengths
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
Juice of half a lemon
Zest of half a lemon
2 Tbsp Penzeys Greek seasoning (salt, garlic, lemon, black pepper, oregano, marjoram)
2 Tbsp olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a big storage bowl and refrigerate all day.

Dump bowl out onto a jelly roll pan and bake at 400F° for about 15 minutes. Flip oven to broil and cook for 10-15 minutes more or until chicken and vegetables are browned.

Wordless Wednesday: Cat ❤s Ironing Board

Furry Ironing Board
Now I know why my ironing board is always covered in a fine layer of fur.