Monday, February 7, 2011

Mystery Alaska

Sometimes it's fun to judge a book by its cover. I enjoy perusing the library shelves and finding a book that I've never heard of and if the title & cover look interesting, I check it out. I've found some real gems by doing this. One of my new favorites is Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity series. I'm forcing myself to ration them but it's very difficult - because they're so good!

The protagonist in most of the Aunt Dimity stories is American Lori Shepherd. She inherits a journal through which Aunt Dimity communicates from the spirit world. Lori, her family, and her neighbors in the small English town of Finch solve mysteries - from blackmail, to missing relatives, to (gasp!) murder! The characters in the series are endearing and although each novel can stand on its own (I read the last one first, actually) it is more fun to read the books in publication order and watch the characters develop.

Each book is usually under 250 pages and is a very quick read. The plot lines are never very complicated and the language is approachable. However, to merely say that they are 'simple' stories doesn't really do them justice. The story flows effortlessly, which takes a competent writer, and the situations/locations are well-researched and beautifully described. It's like eating a delicious meal - the skill of the cook is often belied by the simplicity of the menu.

Speaking of menus, a fun thing about the Aunt Dimity series is that each book has a recipe at the end of a dish that appeared in the story - usually a dessert. I'm very interested in trying some of them!

Here's the first - a recipe for oatmeal cookies which reappear throughout several of the books:

Beth's Oatmeal Cookies (as seen in Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity series)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Makes approximately 6 dozen cookies.

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
2 jumbo eggs
5 tablespoons raisin water (see below)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raisins
2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

In small saucepan, combine raisins with water and bring to boil;
lower heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
When cool, reserve 5 tablespoons raising water, then drain raisins in colander. 
In large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and raisin water
and mix well. Blend dry ingredients into creamed mixture. Add nuts if desired.
Add raisins and combine well. 
Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto greased baking sheets.
Bake 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown and firm on top when touched
with your finger. Cool on wire racks.

Another one of the characters in the series that is very dear to me - so dear, in fact that I'm trying to make one of my own - is Reginald. Reginald is a pink flannel rabbit. Nancy Atherton herself has commented on Reginald and his popularity - "When I first wrote Aunt Dimity's Death, an early reader (who shall remain nameless) exclaimed: 'Why on earth would a thirty-year-old woman talk to a stuffed animal? No one will believe it. Get rid of the rabbit.' Seldom in literary history has there been a more dimwitted observation. Reginald, Lori Shepherd's powder-pink flannel bunny, has gone on to become one of the best-loved characters in the series." And I have to agree! As a girl who has several stuffed friends who are beloved, and who have moved with me to Alaska, I think that there are many of us who can identify with Lori and Reginald. Throughout the series, perhaps in response to that "one reader" Atherton respectfully introduces us to many other people who have a special stuffed animal.

Last night's Aunt Dimity, (Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea), had some very menacing moments. Although it didn't help me go to sleep, I certainly appreciated Atherton keeping me on my toes and avoiding the pitfall of formulaic writing. Today I'll read the last of the ones I have - Aunt Dimity Goes West, and then Wednesday I'll check out another three. I'm very excited, but what's more exciting is that the newest Aunt Dimity comes out this month! On February 17th, Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree will be available! So, I don't feel too badly about reading them voraciously - as long as Nancy Atherton keeps writing!

For more information on the author or these wonderful books - visit her website here.

1 comment:

  1. I have a few days off and this series sounds like just the thing for reading on a snowy day. Even better news: available on the kindle! Thanks for sharing.