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Sisterhood Everlasting (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, #5)Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

Fans of Brashares young adult series will definitely want to pick this up – but I’m not sure that they’ll all be happy with it. There are difficult moments and all of the girls (now almost 30) are dealing with different combinations of success and problems. There were a few plot points that felt a little clunky, making this not a great book, but one that will definitely pull in fans.

I wouldn’t give this to younger fans of the original series, but older teens and up – not so much because there’s anything that would be inappropriate, but because the issues the characters are dealing with are slightly more adult. There’s also a definite tear-jerker factor, although it didn’t hit me very hard.

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Here’s a fairly recent Long Distance Kitchen recipe that came from Smitten Kitchen – Rhubarb Streusel Muffins.  It might be a little past rhubarb season now, but it would also be good with other not-too-sweet fruit (or maybe reduce the sugar if you use something sweeter).  The rhubarb chunks in here did end up pretty tangy, although in hindsight I might have sliced it a bit thick.

I didn’t have white whole wheat flour handy, so I followed Deb’s recommendation and used 3/4 cup white flour and  3/4 cup whole wheat flour in the batter.  Streusel is always tasty – this one was fairly crumbly but good.

Being not-too-sweet, these were good at breakfast.  Not a recipe that wowed me, but I’d recommend it.  I accidentally bought twice as much rhubarb as I needed, so not too long after I was looking for another rhubarb recipe and found one in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking for a very similar coffeecake.  The recipe is for Peach Coffeecake (recipe on a very unattractive random website) but includes a rhubarb variation, where you increase the sugar and switch rhubarb for peaches.  This recipe also calls for a whole wheat/all-purpose flour blend and the rest of the ingredients are similar, except for a larger quantity of sugar.  Maybe it’s just my sweet tooth talking, but I thought the tart/sweet balance was a little better here, and it certainly got devoured (and one pan got delivered to some new parents).

Sadly, no pictures of the coffee cake survive.  When rhubarb season rolls around next year, I might try making a combination of these recipes – somewhere in between the two levels of sweetness.

The American HeiressThe American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found the story engrossing – mostly because I was trying to figure out if it would end up as a tragedy or a romance, but also because many of the period details tied in with other things I’ve been reading and *cough* Masterpiece Theatre productions. There were plenty of similarities to The Buccaneers, which I must confess to watching, not reading. Other things tied in with details of Victorian life from At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which I’m currently listening to.

Unfortunately, I never found the characters particularly appealing – we had plenty of insight into Cora’s mind, but I never found her very sympathetic, and neither was Bertha. Ivo remained an enigma for most of the story, and the resolution was a bit tidy. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book and its atmosphere – recommended if you like these kinds of period dramas.

Source: public library

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Somehow I got it into my head that I should go berry picking today.  It was the perfect opportunity – I have the day off since I worked the weekend, the weather is warm but not too hot, and here in Oregon it’s the tail end of the strawberry season and the beginning of raspberry and blueberry season.  I almost went for the strawberries, but couldn’t resist the allure of raspberries – my parents have a few bushes, and raspberries have always been one of those fruits that I eat in small quantities straight from the bush.  I almost never buy them, but I adore them.  Blueberries I can get from the church property, and those might be getting close – they were still green last weekend when we went to check on them.

So, I went to Sauvie Island and picked 6 pounds of raspberries.  It’s definitely the beginning of the season – there were hordes of red berries that weren’t quite ripe, which makes me want to go back in a week or two and load up again – as long as my freezer can take it.  I was single-minded, and trying not to carry extra stuff through the fields, so no photos from the farm.  Although, while I was waiting in line to pay for my loot, a girl from a group of arriving u-pickers snapped a picture of my box of berries, which kind of cracked me up.  They were all wearing cute sundresses, and I would’ve liked to see what they looked like after an hour or two in the sun, crawling halfway into bushes to get at the ripe ones.

So then I came home with my haul and went into a recipe-hunting frenzy.  I threw a bunch in the freezer on a cookie sheet, shifting them into ziploc bags once they hardened up, and right now I’ve got another sheet-full in the freezer – about 10 cups so far.  Some I’ll leave for eating by the handful.  But I also wanted to find a few recipes – those recipes that I always bypass because they call for fresh raspberries and are thusly prohibitively expensive when you haven’t just paid $10.50 for six pounds of raspberries.

I started with a batch of the super-simple raspberry jam from How to Be a Domestic Goddess – you just heat raspberries and sugar separately in the oven, then mix them together and let cool.  Still cooling, so the verdict is out on consistency.  I don’t have canning equipment, and I’ve never really made jam before, so this was a gentle start.

Then I made a chocolate cake.  Yeah, I know, chocolate cake does not feature fresh raspberries.  But I had two goals: I’ve been wanting to try this recipe from Orangette with the perhaps insane thought of maybe baking (and freezing, then defrosting) several for our wedding reception.  I wanted to see how easy it was to execute and how it tasted.  Plus, I love chocolate cake, especially dense fudgy ones.  The second goal was to serve the cake with whipped cream and raspberries – either fresh or in the form of the aforementioned raspberry jam, especially if it ends up slightly runny.  The cake is no thing of beauty, but that’s not the point.

Finally, I made a batch of raspberry sherbet from A Perfect Scoop – raspberries, milk, sugar, and lemon juice.  Sweet, a little tart, and a little creamy.  It’s also super easy (once you’ve picked the raspberries, of course) – you throw everything in the blender and puree it, then strain out the seeds and throw the rest in your ice cream maker (it’s a space-hog, but I do love mine).

And there you have it!  A day completely taken up with raspberries.  Now I just have to clean out the sink and remember what I was going to make for dinner…

Moonpie and IvyMoonpie and Ivy by Barbara O’Connor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an odd little book – odd in that it combines a lovely writing style and strong characterizations with a glum story arc. Pearl has been abandoned by her mother, left at her aunt Ivy’s without a word about when she’ll be back. Pearl is understandably in a bad place because of this, not managing to endear herself to anyone around her and trying on her mother’s bad habits for size. The characters around her are intriguing, with little bits of their past visible and others hidden, like Moonpie, the only other child around.

I kept expecting more of Ivy, though – she takes care of Pearl and is kind to her, but also seems to be keeping herself at a distance (or is it Pearl, telling the story, who’s keeping Ivy at a distance?) Pearl seems to want love and validation from her aunt, but sees it all go to Moonpie, instead. The story is realistic in these regards – no false happy endings – but ultimately a downer.

I could admire a lot of things about the book, but I never quite enjoyed it. I’m not surprised that it’s been something of a shelf sitter here at the library, although I’m sure a better cover would help get it in the hands of kids who want and need stories devoid of sugar-coating.

Source: my public library

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July 2011

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