Friday, October 19, 2012

Books to Capture Your Interest

I was born in a forest even darker and more tangled than this one -in the Schwarzwald with its valleys deep as scars. My valley was so steep and narrow we called it the Hollental, valley of hell. Enclosed by precipitous hills, it got very little sunlight. Bruised clouds shrouded the sun in the morning of November,1911,when I closed the coffin lid on my mother's face. I had just turned sixteen.
page 1 from the book Summit Avenue  by Mary Sharratt
What makes good writing and compels you to read? Each one of us has different reasons for our book choices. 
My interest was piqued with the title Summit Avenue  and author Mary Sharratt for several reasons. The author recently was in the Twin Cities to promote her newest book Illuminations.  It is a story about Hilldegarrd of Bingen, a 12th century nun. She was considered an early feminist for her time and was officially canonized this year by Pope Benedict. Canonization is Catholicism's highest honor. It came as a surprise announcement since Pope Benedict XVI is quite conservative and a non-feminist. Mary Sharratt is a former Minnesota native who lives in Germany. 
Summit Avenue was Sharratt's debut novel in 2000. The title refers to a street in the historical section of St. Paul, Minnesota where homes are mansions of grand splendor. The story is compelling, moving and written in lyrical prose. The novel begins shortly before Word War I. Kathrin, a sixteen year old girl, immigrates to St. Paul Minnesota to live with her cousin Lotte. She gets a job in a flour mill in Minneapolis. The story is told in the 1st person and gives insight into America's shift from Old World to New World values and people's attitudes toward World War I.
Kathrin comes from a region noted for its fairy tales. And these type of tales become a  subtext for the story. Kathrin faces daunting challenges throughout the story. She is befriended by Violet, a wealthy lady who invites Kathrin to live in her mansion on Summit Avenue. Her job is to translate German fairy tales to English. It is a unique story of self-fullment, soul searching and about women loving women, a topic rarely addressed at that particular time period. 
I really enjoyed Sharratt's writing style and looking forward to reading her new book.  
An added note: You do not need to be a Minnesotan to enjoy the story from Summit Avenue. 
On a totally different plane of reading is The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March.
How could I resist such a title when I so admire the work of Meryl Streep in the movies. Plus the back book cover advertised if you like The Jane Austen Book Club Series and The Friday Night Knitting Club Series this would be a book you'd enjoy. Reading this novel certainly was a departure from the Sharratt books which were more heavy-weight reading.  But sometimes light-weight beachy type books like this fill a niche in our reading.
March crafted an enjoyable story that centered around three cousins who reunite at their aunt/mother's Inn in coastal Maine. The story deals with some serious issues of single parenthood, terminal illness and infidelity. As the summer progresses the women converge at the Inn to watch Meryl Steep movies. The movies exist mostly as a framework for the  women's discussions showing the parallels between their lives and the movies.  
With all this reading I worked up an appetite. How can one resist a holiday cupcake?
  Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Halloween Sprinkles
Chocolate Cupcake or Cake Batter (13 x 9) 
makes 2-1/2 dozen
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tsp. soda 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp.salt
  • 1 cup hot coffee
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  •  optional; chopped nuts and 2 TB. Kahlua
  • Preheat oven 350
  • Combine sugar, oil, eggs and beat till fluffy texture
  • Add in rest of ingredients
  • In each cupcake holder add 1/2  cup batter
  • Bake 15 minutes
Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 TB. butter (softened)
  • 1- 3 oz. package cream cheese softened
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • milk-2 %
  • Start out with adding 1/3 cup milk to frosting ingredients
  • Beat till correct frosting consistency-only add extra milk drops at a time 

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