9 October 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

It's my birthday today and there will be cake!  

My husband and I have taken some time off work to enjoy the autumnal bliss of crisp mornings, fiery red maple trees and orange pumpkins.  Today we're off to Toronto to visit two historical homes in the heart of downtown and root for the Blue Jays in a lively pub!

The Birthday Feast by Peggy Angus

6 October 2015

By Special Request

I knew Jennifer was writing a book because it started coming up in conversation...after we talked about the weather, what we've been up to lately, and anything else.  A couple of weeks ago we talked about so many things that Jennifer forgot all about her books at the circulation counter and left without them.  A quick phone call home and she was back in no time with a sheepish grin.

 Recently, Jennifer asked if I would attend the launch party for her new book at A Different Drummer.  I was thrilled!  This independent bookshop has a charming location in one of our city's historic homes near Lake Ontario.  The previous owner has retired and moved on but thankfully a new owner has taken up the torch and made the shop even better.

The bookshop was heaving with people from Jennifer's writing group, friends, neighbours, and a few of us from the library.  There was green punch and she even found time leading up to Sunday's event to bake jam-filled peanut butter cookies in the shape of a speech bubble.  They were SO delicious that it came as no surprise when one of the questions from the audience was a request for the recipe.

 Jennifer signed my book and made me feel special on HER big day.

'Jelly Miles would rather be playing video games with his best friend P.B. than preparing for a speech competition.  In fact, he'd rather be doing just about anything else.  So he's as surprised as anyone that he's taking this year's competition seriously.  As first, it's for the awesome prize.  But when the competition turns ugly, Jelly realizes it's his chance to finally get the last word with the class know-it-all.  With his reputation, self-respect and the friendship he values most on the line, can Jelly find the courage to get up in front of the whole school and show his true self?

Laugh-out-loud funny, Speechless is about standing up to bullying, knowing who your friends are and finding your own unique voice.'

I haven't had a chance to read Jennifer's book just yet but the early buzz is so positive and I am thrilled for her!

2 October 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1830 - 86

'I am going to learn to make bread to-morrow.  So you may imagine me with my sleeves rolled up, mixing flour, milk, saleratus, etc., with a deal of grace.  I advise you if you don't know how to make the staff of life to learn with dispatch.'


Baking Bread by Helen Allingham, 19th Century

29 September 2015

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Our wrap-up discussion doesn't take place until Friday but if early comments from my colleagues are anything to go by...Fingersmith has been a massive success.  One day last week I was on my way home when another member of the group passed me in the doorway...'Oh my god!' she said as she grabbed my arm.  She had read the book in three days and was stopping by to pick up anything she could get her hands on by Waters.  Introducing someone to an author that had such an impact is so satisfying but I have to say, I'm not surprised.

From the very beginning of Fingersmith, the reader is placed in the midst of beggars and thieves in Victorian London's Borough area.  The house Susan Trinder has grown up in carries more than a whiff of damp and Charley Wag, the resident dog.  The matron of those four walls is Mrs. Sucksby who earns a small income by taking in abandoned babies and then selling them on.  To make her job easy, the babies are dosed with an opiate, which isn't always an exact science, with sometimes devastating results.  Then again, infant mortality is far from rare.

Susan has always been treated by Mrs. Sucksby as something of a cut above.  Her hands are fairly unchafed, her hair is brushed to a sheen, and her clothes are decent.  With the introduction of a villainous character called 'Gentleman' we learn there's a reason behind the effort.  Over forty miles away, in a depressing manor called Briar, another young lady lives with her uncle.  Her name is Maud.  These two seventeen year-old girls with completely different lives will be drawn together in a scheme so depraved, and yet so brilliantly orchestrated, that readers are never quite sure who they can trust.    

One of the many aspects of Waters' writing that I find so appealing is her ability to educate without making me feel as though her research is being exhibited.  A quick mention of arsenic being used in the dyeing process, and its dire effect, was something I learned about this summer in an exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum called Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present.

"'Hi!  Hi!' says Mrs Sucksby.  'Miss Lilly is a lady!  I want her spoke to like one.  You put that lip in.'  Dainty has begun to put.  'That's better.  Miss Lilly, how about we take the gown off and try the green and silver?  Only a touch of arsenic in that green - won't harm you at all, so long as you keep from sweating too hard in the bodice.'"

I also came across something called 'bloaters' that sent me straight to Google...it's a lightly-smoked herring.  Maud's uncle gifts her with a book called The Curtain Drawn Up which turns out to be a bit of Victorian porn, published in 1919.  It also tells you something about what drives Maud's uncle and the atmosphere at his country pile.  I also discovered that Mrs. Sucksby's house on Lant Street - is a street once occupied by Charles Dickens and another literary landmark to add to my next trip to London.

Because this is a book of twists and turns, it's impossible to mention anything more about the plot without spoiling the suspense for future readers.  Friday night with my book group is going to be full of rousing discussion and so liberating for finally being able to talk openly about characters' motives, wrong-doings, and perseverance.  There's a section of the book that is set in an asylum so I'm counting on an emotional discussion about the ease with which men could dispatch women to such vile institutions.

Fingersmith is highly recommended!