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Review: The Circular Staircase, by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Pages: 209Original date of publication: 1908My edition: 2009 (Barnes and Noble) Why I decided to read: it was on a list of 100 best mysteries of the 20th centuryHow I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, May 2010The plot of The Circular Staircase is, like the staircase of the title, rather roundabout. There are a lot of elements in this novel—murder, embezzlement, robbery, and arson, just t name a few of the crimes perpetrated by the characters in this book. Rachel Innes is a rather prickly middle-aged spinster and the aunt of Gertrude and Halsey. After renting a house in the countryside one summer, in which ghosts are said to live, a man is shot dead at the foot of the house’s circular staircase. The dead man is the son of the owner of the house, and he and Jack Bailey (a friend of Halsey’s who also happens to be engaged to Getrude) may or may not have been involved in a bank scandal. Rachel, who claims that the detecting gene is in her blood, spends the course of the novel pursuing c…

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday! Because of Memorial Day Weekend, it definitely doesn’t feel like the end of the weekend, so we’ve got another day to go! I'm not complaining, since it promises to be 90 degrees out here tomorrow. The month is essentially over, so I figured I might as well do my reading wrap-up for May now. Here’s what I read:How Did You Get This Number, by Sloane CrosleyStill Missing, by Beth GutcheonThe Reckoning, by Cynthia Harrod-EaglesThe Tulip Virus, by Danielle HermansA London Child of the 1870s, by Molly HughesLegacy, by Susan KayEvery Last One, by Anna QuindlenThe Circular Staircase, by Mary Roberts RinehartAirs Above the Ground, by Mary StewartShadow Princess, by Indu SundaresanNo Angel, by Penny VincenziThey Were Sisters by Dorothy WhippleFlapper, by Joshua ZeitzI read 13 books this month, so basically the same amount as last month. I read more nonfiction this month as well. My favorite books this month were easily They Were Sisters (Dorothy Whipple is always a sure thing w…

Review: Still Missing, by Beth Gutcheon

Pages: 374 Original date of publication: 1981My edition: 2010 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: it’s a Persephone; what else can I say?How I acquired my copy: Persephone website, April 2010When I heard that Persephone would be reprinting this one, I was both excited and apprehensive at the same time. On one hand, the plot sounded interesting; on the other, it’s completely different from what Persephone usually publishes. One day, Susan Selky sends her almost-seven-year-old son Alex off to school. He disappears, seemingly without trace, and the following nine months, while Susan, her ex, the police, and many others conduct a manhunt for Alex. The novel contains a pretty strong statement about a mother’s long-lasting hope and belief that her son is still alive somewhere, and not dead, as many people fear.There’s also a pretty strong statement here about how well we really know the people around us: our neighbors, and the people we let into our homes. The strength of this book lies not…

Booking Through Thursday: What's on the bedside table (and other places)

What books do you have next to your bed right now? How about other places in the house? What are you reading?Literally on my bedside table right now are The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet (I’m steeling myself to read the second book in it, but I’ll wait to do so after Memorial Day weekend). I also have review copies of Indu Sundaresan’s Shadow Princess and Sloane Crosley’s How Did You Get This Number, both books that I’ve read and written reviews for, and which I need to reshelve at some point when I’m not feeling lazy. In the bookcase next to my bed, I have about a hundred books to read (a full list can be seen here). A few of these are review copies (including a LTER book that I need to get around to reading and reviewing sometime soon), but this upcoming weekend, with the holiday and all, I really only feel like reading fun stuff. I’m thinking some Mary Stewart, or Elizabeth Chadwick, especially To Defy a King. Currently, though, I’m reading the 15th book in the Morland Dynasty series…

Review: The Tulip Virus, by Danielle Hermans

Pages: 278Original date of publication: 2008 (in Dutch)My edition: 2010 (Minotaur)Why I decided to read: a blogger mentioned this a while ago and I decided to try it for myselfHow I acquired my copy: from the library, April 2010The premise of The Tulip Virus centers around the tulip craze of the 1630s. The 1636 murder of a tulip trader in Alkmaar is contrasted with the murder of Dutchman Frank Schoeller in modern-day London. Alec Schoeller, the nephew of the man murdered in the present day, arrives at his uncle’s home to find him dying.His uncle gives him a book—a catalogue of tulips from the last great auction before the tulip bubble burst in 1637. Alec’s search for his uncle’s killer leads him into the dangerous world of tulip trading. The differences between Science and religion are sharply drawn in this story of greed. The mystery of the novel sort of fizzles out—the motive for murder is clear from the beginnings, even if the jacket copy doesn’t give it away. The author’s grasp of…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday asks you to:--Grab your current read--Let the book open to a random page--Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from—that way people can have some great recommendations if hey like the teaser you’re given!“All the Duke’s close attendants were aware of the change in their master. Alencon, the rake, the cynic, the irrepressible little egotist, was behaving like a schoolboy in love for the first time.”--From Legacy, by Susan Kay

Review: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, by CW Gortner

Pages: 397Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 210 (Ballantine)Why I decided to read: I read and loved The Last Queen last yearHow I acquired my copy: LTERI’ve been looking forward to reading The Confessions of Catherine de Medici ever since reading CW Gortner’s other book, The Last Queen, last spring. I think it’s difficult for an author to have a strong second novel follow up on the first, but Gortner rally pulls it off with his novel about Catherine de Medici—a queen who in and of herself was a complicated woman. She’s an intriguing woman however—a member of one of the foremost families in Europe, she was alternately a duchess, dauphine, queen, queen mother, and regent. And yet, she was maligned as a witch, accused of masterminding the Bartholomew’s Day massacre among other things.Writing from the point of view of someone as famous as Catherine is, is tricky. On one hand, there’s a wealth of information out there on her; on the other, the trick lies in bringing Catherine t…

The Sunday Salon: BEA and chunksters

I’m rather jealous of those of you that are going to BEA—but I have work, so going is out of the question. I miss the days when BEA was held on the weekend and I lived in New York. I went once a few years ago, before I started blogging and when I did an internship with a literary agent. It was all very overwhelming, but a lot of fun. I’ve been really into reading chunksters lately, for some reason. This week I finished No Angel, by Penny Vincenzi, the first in a trilogy set in early-2oth century England. The author is rather fond of the “in the nick of time” school of writing (as in, Celia and Oliver are all about to go on the Titanic, but one of the kids gets sick… and nobody tells Celia... but then the son does... just in the nick of time). Still, it was a very easy read. Currently I’m reading some more historical fiction: Legacy, by Susan Kay, a novel about Elizabeth I. It’s excellent. I don’t know what it is about chunskters, but I’ve really been gravitating towards them. There’s …

Friday Finds

I’ve added much to the TBR list recently! What I’ve listed here is stuff that’s come into my house within the past few weeks—I have no self control!I recently discovered Virago books, so I apent a part of last weekend on ebay, looking to see what I could find. I walked away with:Frost in May, by Antonia WhiteInvitation to the Waltz, by Rosamond LehmannThe Rising Tide, by Molly KeaneAnd then I added about a dozen more Viragos to my wish list…Then this week I received a review copy of Great Maria, a reprint of the novel by Cecelia Holland. I enjoyed Jerusalem, so I jumped at the chance to read and review this one. I also received Juliet, by Anne Fortier, based around the Romeo and Juliet Legend. This is my LTER books from last month, so I need to get to reading it soon. Other purchases from the past couple of weeks:Lots of Dorothy SayersSome more books in the Morland Dynasty seriesShinju, by Laura Joh RowlandNightingale Wood, by Stella GibbonsBritannia Mews, by Margery SharpSo, the mont…

Review: Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen

Pages: 295Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010 (Random House)Why I decided to read: heard about it through a Shelf Awareness adHow I acquired my copy: review copy from the Amazon Vine Program, March 2010The first hundred pages or so of this book are devoted to describing how ordinary Mary Beth Latham’s life is. The first few pages or so, she describes a day in her ordinary life. She’s the wife of an eye doctor, mother of three children, living in a pretty ordinary (there’s that word again!) town, vaguely located in New England. Then that major act of violence occurs that we’re promised in the book blurb, and her life changes drastically. For the first half of the book, as Mary Beth describes her life, you start to get comfortable with the characters and Mary Beth’s rather bland life. Then, unexpectedly, things change. The novel is not so much about what actually happens as what you do afterwards. After something truly horrific happens, how do you cope? Several of the cha…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday asks you to:--Grab your current read--Let the book open to a random page--Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from—that way people can have some great recommendations if hey like the teaser you’re given!“There were several raids on the coast in early 1915, but the first air attack on London was not until the early summer. Celia had seen them, had watched, awed as zeppelins hung high over London, their great cigar shapes caught in the searchlights.”--From No Angel, by Penny Vincenzi

Review: Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet I: Sunrise in the West, by Edith Pargeter

Pages: 186Original date of publication: 1974My edition: 2010 (Sourcebooks)Why I decided to read: it had been recommended to me a long time agoHow I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisherI’m reading The Brothers of Gwynedd for a sort of book club that the publicist at Sourcebooks is sponsoring—we’re reading one book from the quartet for four months, writing a review, and then discussing the book at various book bloggers’ blogs. I’m very glad that things have been spread out this way, otherwise, I think I’d get burned out over this book very quickly—I’ve only completed the first 200 pages or so, but already I feel as though I’m running a marathon with it!Sunrise in the West is the first book in the quartet. From what I’ve read so far, it promises to be slow going—the book opens with not a lot of action, just a number of details on the narrator’s (Samson) background, as well as that of the house of Gwynedd. This part of the book takes places from roughly the 1220s up through th…

Review: Jerusalem, by Cecelia Holland

Pages: 405Original date of publication: 1996My edition: 1997 (Forge)Why I decided to read: heard about it through Historical Fiction OnlineHow I acquired my copy: Amazon, March 2010Jerusalem is a story of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land in the 1180s. The story centers around Rannulf Fitzwilliam, a Norman knight who, like many of the Templars, has a Past and has come East to do penance. The story is set in and around Jerusalem and Damascus, as the King of Jerusalem struggles to keep the monarchy intact, even as the Saracens threaten to attack from without. Rannulf isn’t exactly a likeable character—I didn’t like him much, and he wasn’t much liked by his comrades. He’s stoic, almost to the point of coldness, and so he doesn’t often show emotion—and when he does, it almost seems forced. For example, take Rannulf’s attraction to Sibylla—I’m not sure that he’s in love with her so much as in lust, given his past behavior. I liked Stephen a whole lot better, struggling as he does with t…

The Sunday Salon

It’s been a good reading week here: I finished Still Missing, by Beth Gutcheon, last Sunday afternoon, and then I read The Circular Staircase, by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Her mysteries were bestsellers in the United States in the early 20th century, and she’s been called the American Agatha Christie. Judging from The Circular Staircase, her books are readable, but not high-quality literature—probably why they were bestsellers in the first place! Afterwards I read some nonfiction: Flapper, by Joshua Zeitz (a general social history of the 1920s flapper in the United States) and How Did You Get This Number, by Sloane Crosley. I read and enjoyed her first collection of essays, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, two years ago and loved it, so I was excited to receive a copy of this from the publisher.And it more than lives up to her first book, so I enjoyed it immensely.I’m sort of vacillating between what I want to read now: I have Bedlam: The Further Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte out from…

Review: Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy Sayers

Pages: 279Original date of publication: 1926My edition: 1995 (Harper)Why I decided to read: had a hankering for more Dorothy Sayers one morningHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2010Clouds of Witness is one of Dorothy Sayers’s earlier Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. It’s definitely not as good as Murder Must Advertise, or The Nine Tailors, but it certainly shows some promise. Having just spent time abroad in Corsica, Lord Peter Wimsey returns to find that his brother Gerald, the Duke of Denver, has been accused of the murder of one of his houseguests at Riddlesdale Lodge, a house rented for the hunting season. The murdered man was Lord Peter and the Duke’s brother-in-law-to-be—so Lord Peter intervenes in what promises to be a sticky mess. It turns out that a lot of people are guilty of a lot of things, and it’s up to Wimsey to sort things out. What I love about this book is that you know who didn’t do it—the fun is in figuring out who did.This book (the second Sayers wrote about L…

Review: The Royal Griffin, by Juliet Dymoke

Pages: 278Original date of publication: 1978My edition: 1978 (ACE)Why I decided to read: an interest in the Plantagenets led me to pick this upHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, February 2010The Royal Griffin is the story of Eleanor of England (youngest daughter of King John and sister of Henry III) and her second husband, Simon de Montfort, the baron who helped shape the parliamentarian history of England. The story covers the life of Eleanor from her first marriage in 1224 to William Marshal, eldest son of the famous William Marshal, goes up through Simon de Montfort’s attempt to take the throne, ending nearly at the end of Eleanor’s life, when she became a nun. It’s a huge period of time to cover, and Dymoke does jump over periods of time in order to cover the major action of Eleanor and Simon’s lives. For example, at one moment Eleanor is giving birth to their eldest son, Henry; next thing you know he and his siblings are teenagers! In some ways this harms the novel, because ther…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday asks you to:--Grab your current read--Let the book open to a random page--Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from—that way people can have some great recommendations if hey like the teaser you’re given!“Shortly after their marriage, the celebrity couple paid a visit to Princeton, where a university official with unspeakably bad judgment appointed them official chaperones at a weekend house party. Scott traumatized the impressionable undergraduates by introducing Zelda as his ‘mistress’ and ended the sojourn badly hung over and with a black eye.”--From Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celerity, and the Women Who Made America Modern, by Joshua Zeitz (he’s describing the antics of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald!)

Review: The Campaigners, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Pages: 580Original date of publication: 1990My edition: 2006 (Sphere)Why I decided to read: it’s a continuation of the Morland seriesHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, September 2009#14: Spring-summer 1815; covers the Battle of WaterlooAs Napoleon’s reign comes to its inevitable end and the allied troops converge for a last, decisive battle, the beau monde of English society gather in Brussels, essentially creating their own little society there, complete with cricket matches and balls and coming out parties. Lucy and Heloise, now respectable matrons, take Rosamund and Sophie there for their coming out, as James Morland (back in England) attempts to deal with the devastating loss of his daughter, Fanny. In Brussels, Rosamund deals with her feelings for Marcus, and Sophie falls in love with a French major. It seems that the only man not in uniform is Bobbie, Earl of Chelmsford. This is a very strong addition to the series, again, with some very strong characters and character developm…

The Sunday Salon

This past week I participated in and enjoyed immensely Persephone Reading Week, hosted by Verity and Claire. I readThey Were Sisters and A London Child of the 1870s; loved the former and was interested in but didn’t love the latter. I’m now about a third of the way through one of Persephone’s newest books, Still Missing, which is readily available in the US from Harper. So why did I pay about $4 for shipping from the UK? Need I answer that question?I learned, through the Spring/Summer 2010 Persephone Biannually that arrived at my house yesterday, that the other of Persephone’s Spring titles, Dimanche and Other Stories, was also reprinted by Vintage here in the US this past week (the image above has been reproduced on the US cover as well as that of the Biannually). So it looks as though the Irene Nemirovsky revival continues... I also found to my delight that an excerpt of my review of The Carlyles at Home was spotlighted in the Biannually!Book shopping continued this week, with the p…

Review: A London Child of the 1870s, by Molly Hughes

Pages: 173Original date of publication: 1934My edition: 2008 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: browsing on the Persephone websiteHow I acquired my copy: from the Lamb’s Conduit Street shop, September 2009A London Child of the 1870s is a collection of remembrances of the author’s life, living in suburban London in the 1870s. Molly Hughes, nee Thomas, was born in 1866 and grew up in the company of four older brothers.The whole tone of the book is very nostalgic, a kind of “what had been” about Hughes’s early life, looking back on it fifty years on, sometimes comparing “then with “now.” And the book is very sentimental in many places, the author fudging a bit at the end the circumstances of her father's death. And yet it’s a very, very funny collection of remembrances, covering everything from trips to Cornwall to visit relatives to what was read on Sundays when no “fun” books were allowed (“Again and again I turned to something entitled The Dark Journey, only to find that it was an…

Review: They Were Sisters, by Dorothy Whipple

Pages: 455 Original date of publication: 1943My edition: 2007 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: browsing on Persephone’s websiteHow I acquired my copy: From the LCS shop, September 2009“….they were sisters and loved each other, no matter how deeply the circumstances of their lives seemed to divide them.” (p. 138). This is the story of three sisters, as different as three people could ever be. Charlotte marries Geoffrey, who’s not good enough for her; Vera marries Brian, she she’s not good enough for; and Lucy, the eldest of the three Field sisters, marries a man with whom she’s completely compatible. They each lie separate lives in separate parts of the country, but what brings them together, as the quote above shows, is their love for one another—and the children, who are visibly affected by the breakdown of two marriages. Happiness—the having or not having of it—is a strong theme in this book.This novel had a strong impact on me. Geoffrey’s abusive behavior towards Charlotte never…

Persephone Reading Week Update

I finished They Were Sisters yesterday, and thought it was excellent (review to come). I'm now about halfway through A London Child of the 1870s (originally published in 1934 as A London Child of the Seventies). This is the first in series of books that continues with A London Girl of the 1880s and A London Home in the 1890s, though this of course is the only one that Persephone has published. The picture above is of the house the family lived in (borrowed from the Persephone website). It's a short memoir about Molly Hughes's experience growing up in a middle-class family in North Islington with four brothers. While I'm not totally taken with it (it has a "way back then" kind of feeling to it), I'm finding that it's a fascinating look at middle-class life during the high Victorian period. It's also very funny. I should finish it today and have a review posted soon.

Review: The Young Pretenders, by Edith Henrietta Fowler

Pages: 231Original date of publication: 1895My edition: 2007 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: browsing on Persephone’s websiteHow I acquired my copy: the Persephone bookshop, LCS London, September 2009The Young Pretenders is the story of two children, Babs and Teddy—or, more aptly, it’s about Babs, a five-year-old living in late Victorian London. Covering the space of about a year, the story follows Babs and her adventures living in London with Uncle Charley and Aunt Eleanor, while her father and mother are in India (collectively referred to as “Father-and-Mother-in-Inja.” Babs is no ordinary child, and she certainly defies the old maxim of “children should be seen and not heard.”Babs is a little girl who’s unprepossessing in personal experience, but more than makes up for it in personality. I don’t I’ve ever come across a more engaging character in fiction in a very long time. Babs is constantly described as “merry,” and so she is, unhampered as she is by the same kinds of cares th…

Spotlight on a Persephone author: Dorothy Whipple

I’ve decided to take a break from my reading during Persephone Reading Week and talk about one of my favorite Persephone authors—Dorothy Whipple, whose book, They Were Sisters, I'm reading right now. I’ve only read two of her books—The Priory and Someone at a Distance, both reviewed on this site, and I’ve loved both of them. Dorothy Whipple, the daughter of an architect and one of eight children, was born in 1893, inBlackburn, Lancashire.She became a secretary in the Education office, where she met her husband, Alfred Whipple.After her marriage in 1917, Dorothy concentrated on her writing career; her first novel, Young Anne, was published by Jonathan Cape in 1927, though she'd had stories published before this. Whipple died in 1966 in Blackburn.Whipple is far and away one of Persephone’s most popular authors; they’ve reprinted Someone at a Distance (in 1999), They Knew Mr. Knight (2000), The Priory (2003),They Were Sisters (2005), The Closed Door and Other Stories (2007), and

Oooh, this is bad....

Yesterday I arrived home to find a package lying on my doorstep. It was in one of those bubble mailers that bookdepository uses, had a British stamp, and it was a hardcover book… so I got a bit excited, thinking it was Elizabeth Chadwick’s new book, somehow come early. My hopes were raised... and then...I opened the package to discover it’s a copy of one of Meira Chand’s books, which had me exceedingly puzzled for a moment… until I read the packaging and discovered that it was meant for one of the people I live with! Oh, the disappointment I felt! What a cruel trick. This waiting is killing me... it's May finally, can I please have my copy of To Defy a King arrive already?My moment of supreme disappointment was alleviated somewhat by the fact that also in the mail were two packages from Persephone: Still Missing and Dimanche and Other Stories, just in time for Persephone Reading Weeek…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday asks you to: --Grab your current read--Let the book open to a random page-Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from—that way people can have some great recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!“Geoffrey turned swiftly and seized a book from a table. Clenching his teeth, he hurled it at the angry boy, by Stephen dodged it.”--From They Were Sisters, by Dorothy Whipple (p. 160)

Persephone Reading Week: Beginnings

Persephone Reading Week has begun! Two years ago, in an effort to become better read, I started reading from the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list—of which Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day is one. I bought a Classics edition of the book at a Borders near where I worked at the time, during my lunch break. That led me to purchase The Priory online (though Amazon, so it didn’t come with one of their lovely bookmarks). Later, on a trip to London in September, I went to the Lamb’s Conduit Street shop, where I bought half a dozen more. For Christmas I received a Persephone subscription, and so every month a lovely Persephone arrives on my doorstep!
I’ve just started reading Dorothy Whipple’s They Were Sisters, so I don’t have much to report just yet. I read The Young Pretenders last week, and I’ll have a review of it up at some point this week. Until I’ve made progress in my reading, here are some links to other Persephone books I’ve reviewed on this blog:No. 2: Mariana, by Monica Dickens…

The Sunday Salon

What I read in April:Gildenford, by Valerie Anand (4 stars)The Royal Griffin, by Juliet Dymoke (3.5 stars)The Young Pretenders, by Edith Henrietta Fowler (4.5 stars)The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, by CW Gortner (4.5 stars)The Campaigners, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (4 stars)Jerusalem, by Cecelia Holland (4 stars)The Expendable Man, by Dorothy Hughes (4 stars)My Fair Lazy, by Jen Lancaster (4.5 stars)The Peacock and the Pearl, by Jennifer Lang (3 stars)Spooky Little Girl, by Laurie Notaro (3.5 stars)The Brothers of Gwynedd: Sunrise in the West, by Edith Pargeter (2.5 stars)Mistress of Rome, by Kate Quinn (2 stars)Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L. Sayers (4 stars)I read a number of really great books this month; among my favorites were The Young Pretenders and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. Unfortunately there were a few duds in the mix, but in all it was a solid reading month. This past month I received a review copy of Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen, through the Amazon…

Review: My Fair Lazy, by Jen Lancaster

Pages: 371Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010 (NAL)Why I decided to read: Jen Lancaster is one of my favorite authorsHow I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisherI’ve been reading Jen Lancaster’s books for a while now—since after her second book, Bright Lights, Big Ass was published, actually—and she never fails to entertain her readers. I’ve been following her through her now-famous experience at losing her job and taking up temp work; bad neighbors; and her efforts at weight loss, and she’s truly not afraid to put herself out there. Her last book before this one wasn’t her best however, so I was pleased to discover that with My Fair Lazy, Jen Lancaster has returned to true form. My Fair Lazy is a collection of essays about Lancaster’s addiction to reality TV and how she made a conscientious effort to change her habits by becoming more cultured-visiting the theatre, for example; or eating cuisine beyond her old standard of hamburgers, French fries, and orange …