I don’t know about you, but for the six weeks or so, I’ve been craving comfort foods and comfort reads. Instead of trying new, adventurous, nutritious recipes, I’ve been digging out old recipe cards and calling family members to see if they remember that one thing Grandma made when we were kids. Similarly, I haven’t had the mental space to crack open dark, angsty, or overly technical reads that I might normally be up for. There’s enough to worry about in the real world, so instead my reading time, especially at the end of the day, is focused on charming classics that I’ve loved for years.
As I’m guessing is the case for many of you, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES is the first book of that sort that comes to mind for me. So if you love Anne and you’d like something similar, this post and the follow-up next Friday are for you! Next week I’ll share well-known books you really ought to read if you haven’t already, but this week is a deeper dive into lesser-known Anne Shirley-esque reads. Some of the author names will likely be familiar, but these particular books fly under the radar when compared with the popularity of the Green Gables series. Nevertheless, they all feature smart, lovable heroines finding their way through girlhood and teenage life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Just like the treats I’ve been making from old family recipes, these books are sweet, familiar, and mood-lifting, just what we need in the middle of a global pandemic.
This is my go-to read when I need a pick-me-up. LITTLE WOMEN might officially be my favorite book, but I think I read An Old-Fashioned Girl more often, especially since it’s short enough to finish in an evening or two. This sweet story of a country girl visiting her glamorous city friends might be a little heavy-handed in its moralizing, but isn’t that part of its charm? Best of all, its main character, Polly, combines some of the best characteristics of the four March sisters. She’s kind and hardworking and tries hard to be good, but she has enough weaknesses and quirks to make her lovable. And then there’s Tom, a mischievous, good-hearted, boyish boy who’s sure to win your heart.
Though I didn’t grow up reading this book, the Hale Center Theater’s delightful two-person musical production last year left me charmed and deeply contented in a way only my favorite childhood reads can. I read the book a short while later and discovered that my favorite aspects of the play – Jerusha’s personality and the clever dialogue – came directly from the book. But just ignore the existence of the Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron movie musical from the fifties – there’s no horrifyingly large age gap to worry about here.At the beginning of the story, Jerusha Abbot, the oldest orphan in the John Greer Home, has few prospects in life. Fortunately, an anonymous benefactor, whom Jerusha dubs “Daddy Long Legs,” decides to fund her further education. Jerusha heads off to a women’s college, where she writes Daddy Long Legs regular letters about her experiences. Witty, observant, and romantic, Jerusha’s a character loveable enough to rival Anne Shirley. And if you like Daddy Long Legs, be sure to read DEAR ENEMY too, just be prepared for a few casually positive references to eugenics that are jarring to read today.
Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote several other books and series beyond Anne of Green Gables, and this is my favorite of them. In The Blue Castle, Valancy Stirling has grown up in a rigidly strict home with domineering and often cruel family members. She’s always been quiet and submissive, willing to go along with her family’s claim that she’s unattractive and destined for mediocrity. When she receives a letter making her feel like time’s running out, Valancy throws caution to the wind and goes after exactly what – and who – she wants in her life.
Even if you don’t recognize the title of the Betsy-Tacy series, you’ve heard of it before if you’ve ever watched you’ve got mail. Based on the author’s girlhood, this series follows Betsy Ray and her best friend Tacy from the age of five all the way through early adulthood. Feel free to read them all in order, but know that the early books are aimed at younger readers. If you’re wanting the Anne of Green Gables vibe, I’d recommend starting with Heaven to Betsy, which takes place during Betsy’s freshman year of high school in the early 1900s. Betsy and her friends feel so much like a person you could actually know, and it’s especially fun to see how much of what we still associate with middle class American teenage life started more than a century ago.
Part of the joy of L.M. Montgomery’s books is her vivid descriptions of the beautiful, natural world, and that’s one of the most appealing aspects of The Girl of the Limberlost too. Gene Stratton-Porter was a naturalist as well as a novelist, which becomes abundantly clear in this book and its companion novels, FRECKLES and LADDIE. Protagonist Elnora Comstock has grown up poor and neglected by her widowed mother, who was emotionally destroyed when her husband died the day Elnora was born. Elnora begins high school uncomfortable and awkward, but through her own good nature, friendliness, and hard work selling the insect and plant specimens she collects from the Limberlost Swamp, she finds a place for herself in her community and in her family.
Yes, this is by THAT Julie Andrews. In addition to two memoirs, Andrews has written several books for children, and Mandy is a particular delight. Mandy is a ten-year-old girl who feels lost in the world until she discovers a deserted cottage in the woods near the English orphanage where she lives. Throughout most of the year, she sneaks away to the cottage, gradually beautifying it and making it her own. Though this book is more recently written than the others on the list and isn’t set in a specified time period, it’s lush descriptions of nature, sweet storyline, and winning heroine make it a natural fit for any Anne Shirley fan.
Did you know that authentic sourdough bread can be great for diabetics, those with gluten sensitivities, and makes the nutrients in wheat more available to the body? When I decided to start baking bread this way, I had no idea it came with a host of health benefits. The benefit that caught my attention? Free yeast for life! One day at work I came across this book, The Art Of Baking With Natural Yeast, and decided to try it. At first I really struggled getting results that resembled bread more than a brick, but after lots of research and baking I can now make a loaf worth sharing!
These four books are the best I have found about baking with an authentic sourdough starter and should contain all the information you need to make delicious bread as well as crackers, pancakes, pizza, muffins, and more! (Natural yeast, sourdough starter, levain, and wild yeast are basically all terms for the same thing.)
This has easy to understand instructions for how to take care of your starter, which is what I like best about it. It also discusses the health benefits, and has different kinds of recipes for the starter. I also like that it comes from a home baker perspective, not a professional baker perspective.
This is more of a cookbook than an instruction book, but it has a large variety of recipes including specialty breads, crackers, pasta, waffles, muffins, and more. It also has more info on caring for a starter.
I like this one because it gets really in depth with the bread making process and what effects different variables have at different stages, and discusses convenient baking schedules. While the book primarily includes breads made with commercial yeast, Part 3 has five chapters about baking with levain.
Robertson’s book also gives an extensive look at the bread making process and different variables, and is full of instructional photographs. Unlike Forkish’s book, this one is specifically focused on levain breads and has a broader range of recipes.
Some of the tips I’ve learned that have had the biggest impact on my bread are these: folding dough is a thousand times easier than kneading and is more effective for less effort; measure your ingredients by weight, not by volume; whole wheat flour needs more water than white flour, especially if you grind your own; temperature directly impacts how long it takes the dough to rise; if you over-proof your dough on the first rise it is impossible to shape; how much time has passed since you last fed/refreshed your yeast starter has a huge impact on flavor; and it’s okay if it takes a lot of trying to get that perfect loaf!
Confession – I first drafted this blog post months ago when the world was a very different place. I planned to write a post about coping with travel envy as I anticipated the influx of “perfect” vacation photos from my social media friends. I was expecting to see Instagrams of people at Disneyland or the beach or in Europe and be frustrated to be going to work every day. Little did I know that I (like many of you) would be feeling so incredibly desperate for some normalcy and an escape.
Even though no one’s going anywhere anytime soon, reading a book is the perfect thing to transport you to a destination and help you feel like you’re on vacation. Here are some recommendations of what to read if you need an escape.
Lottie is certain that her long-time boyfriend Richard is finally going to propose. But when his big announcement is that they are going to use their frequent flyer miles and take a trip instead, Lottie has had enough. Just then, her old flame Ben reappears and reminds her that they agreed to get married if they were both still single at thirty. The two rush into marriage and jet off to the Greek island where they first met to celebrate their honeymoon – with Lottie’s sister Fliss, and Ben’s business partner Declan following after to sabotage the marriage. Everything you love about a good Sophie Kinsella book in a fabulous Greek setting, this book is bound to take your mind off things.
Escapist reads don’t necessarily need to be uplifting, and this literary thriller is proof of that. In 2004, Ann and Wade live in near isolation in the mountains of northern Idaho. Wade is showing early signs of dementia that allow him to finally forget about his haunting past: his first wife, Jenny, murdered their young daughter and has spent years in prison. The couple’s other daughter, June, ran into the woods and was never seen again. Ann spends her days caring for Wade and trying to piece together the decades-old family history. If you’re looking for a light, happy read then look elsewhere. But this haunting, heartbreaking story is beautifully told and the sparse mountainous setting is rendered so authentically that readers will feel transported.
We’re partial to stories about librarians around here, so this fictional story inspired by the Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky is especially appealing to us. Raised to be a proper Englishwoman, Alice Wright is starry-eyed when she meets and marries the handsome American Bennett Van Cleve – hoping that in America she’ll finally be free. Instead, she finds that in America she is restricted by a set of social rules she doesn’t understand. When volunteers are requested to start a traveling library, Alice jumps at the chance and is introduced to Margery – a fiercely independent woman who leads the group. Part dramatic historical fiction and part sweeping romance, this story brings Kentucky to life with lush descriptions of the Appalachian Mountains.
In Chicago in the 1920s, Hadley Richardson falls in love with the charming, young, Ernest Hemingway. The two lovers marry and move to Paris to indulge in the glamorous lifestyle of American ex-patriates in this golden age. Though it is quickly made apparent that this marriage is doomed (primarily because it is inspired by the actual true story of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage), Hadley is an impressive character willing to give up her own comforts and desires in order to support her husband’s promising literary career. In this story, Ernest Hemingway is pushed to the background (no easy feat) and Hadley and Jazz Age Paris are pushed to the forefront, bringing the city to life with unflinching honesty.
Every member of the Post family is eager to escape Manhattan for Mallorca. Franny and Jim; their daughter Sylvia, a recent high-school graduate; their son Bobby, along with his girlfriend Carmen; and Franny’s best friend, Charles, and his husband Lawrence, all have their own secrets as they settle into the idyllic Spanish island for two weeks. Anyone who has ever been on a crowded family vacation will recognize the inevitable drama and humor as secrets come to light and tensions rise. The perfectly sun-soaked setting feels familiar and realistic – the next best thing to being in Mallorca.
I love Robin Hood. The story of the man who steals from the rich to give to the poor has interested me ever since I first saw the Disney animated adaptation. Since then, I have constantly been on the search for books that allow me to be on the adventure with Robin, have chat with Little John, or simply plot a scheme against the Sheriff of Nottingham.And it seems that I am not the only person who is caught up at the idea of this noble thief. There are countless retellings, adaptations, or folktales written about Robin Hood. This list is a very small scrapping of what is out there, and although I haven’t read them all, each promises to include you in an epic adventure.
For me, at least, it’s impossible to talk about Robin Hood without talking about Howard Plye. This work is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. It tells the story of Robin Hood, from the meeting of Little John to how the famous outlaw dies. The prose is lyrical and poetic and it was actually written as a children’s book so it’s perfect for all ages!
The first of a five book series, this book hugs the line between middle grade and young adult. Rosemary is the daughter of Robin Hood, a famous thief that she has never met, and a healer named Celandine. When he mother dies, Rosemary disguises herself as a boy and goes out into the depth and perils of Sherwood Forest to find her father.
This novel attempts to adapt the legend of Robin Hood with the perspective of contemporary writing and, while it includes all the famous characters (Little John, Much, Friar Tuck, Marian and Alan-a-dale), the story focuses much more on Mariam, who is an accomplished archer in Robin’s troupe.
Lawhead sets his Robin Hood epic in a world full of Celtic mythology and political intrigue. Hood creates a new protagonist, Bran ap Brychan, and set him on a great adventure. He flees the kingdom of Elfael after his father is killed and leads a band of thieves as they try to battle the Normans in order to take back the kingdom.
This graphic novel asks the question, “How did Robin of Loxley become Robin Hood?” With vivid color and incredible illustrations, this story places its reader within an England under the Sheriff of Nottingham’s control. Within the haunted Sherwood forest, a rogue rises up to become an outlaw.
Donald’s retelling of the Robin Hood legends does not focus on the legendary outlaw himself but rather on young Alan Dale. This name should ring a bell for any Robin Hood fan. Outlaw tells the story of how Alan Dale was forced to leave his family, join a group of thieves, and question whether can trust the bloodthirsty leader, Robin Hood.