Sunday, December 6, 2009

Book Report: Innocent Trator

Alison Weir is a biographer and historian who writes about Tudor and Elizabethan history. One reviewer wrote : "Alison Weir writes compellingly. Her art is such that the reader is swept along by the story, scarcely noticing how very complicated that story is." (The Literary Review) She's written non-fiction and historical fiction. She's considered a popular historian. In her own words:

History belongs to us all, and it can be accessed by us all. And if writing it in a way that is accessible and entertaining, as well as conscientiously researched, can be described as popular, then, yes, I am a popular historian, and am happy to be one. History is full of wonderful stories and amazing characters. I feel very privileged to be able to bring them to life in both my non-fiction books and my novels.

The most recent book by Ms. Weir that I've read is Innocent Traitor, the story of Lady Jane Grey. Written in a collective journal form, we start at Jane's birth and follow her path to the Tower of London and her death. Jane Grey's mother was the niece of Henry VIII putting her in line for the crown. After Henry VIII died, his son Edward became king. History records suggest that both Edward and Jane were born in the same month. Her mother, hoping to groom her as the next king's wife, was cruel, abusive and domineering. Jane took refuge in her books. She was one of the most educated women of her time. She studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, contemporary languages and theology.

Innocent Traitor is Weir's first novel. She writes her story from the viewpoints of the key people in this saga. We hear from Jane's nurse, King Henry, her mother, Prince Edward, Mary the King's daughter, Elizabeth, and members of the King's privy council. As the story unwinds, Weir pulls us into some kind of relationship with this young lady who becomes a pawn for power-hungry parents and assorted nobility. By the end of the book, our heartstrings are wrapped around the almost 17 year old who becomes a political and religious martyr. (Wikipedia has a nice, short biography of this "Nine Days Queen.")

I have to be honest, though I was pulled into the story, I didn't like the writing style for this book. It's a cross between an omniscient view point and personal recollections. From my
perspective, it doesn't work too well. A four year old can't have the same kind of thought patterns as an uneducated cook.

That being said, I still like Alison Weir's writing and will continue to check out her books from the library.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ultimate Frisbee

I love having people in my house. Even before we had children I had dreams of filling my home with lots of people. Having my tables full of happy, talkative people is a treat! Last month I was happy to host the Gustavus Adolphus College's Ultimate teams (men's & women's) who were in Northfield for the Exit 69 tournament. (This is the exit off the interstate for our fair city.)

Ultimate (officially dropping the "Frisbee" part of the name for copywrite reasons), a seeming cross between rugby and soccer, was proposed by Joel Silver as a joke to his Student Council in a small school in New Jersey in 1967. Little did he know that over 40 years later it would exceed it's "after school, pick up game" status and become an internationally played sport with college and city leagues all over the country. (Wikipedia and The Ultimate Handbook sites have lots of good information on the sport.)



Ultimate players are a fun group of kids. They seem to be a pretty free-spirited and independent group. While they enjoy playing a team sport,they're not overly competitive or as structured as "official" collegiate sports. During the frisbee match itself, the players rule themselves. Rather than engage a referee they collaboratively keep the game fair.


Following is exerpted from a listing of rules of the game in the section titled, "Spirit of the Game:"

Ultimate has traditionally relied upon a spirit of sportsmanship
which places the responsibility for fair play on the

player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the
expense of the bond of mutual respect between players,
adherence
to the agreed upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.
Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate adverse
conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting of
opposing players, dangerous aggression, intentional fouling,
or other "win-at-all-costs" behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players.


By the time the team gets to my house, they've played a number of games and are hot and tired (or chilled and tired, depending on the weather). The past two years have been cold and rainy; a warm house, hot showers and comfort food "hit the spot." I had 2 huge pots of soup, fresh bread and salad ready for them. As a team, they assigned freshman to help with clean up (if only they knew how much I had done before they even arrived!)







When my other son's team from Lawrence University came two and three years ago, they hunkered down for the evening all over the house. Some studied, some played poker using little kids' toys for chips, a few messed around on the piano, and a handful fell asleep on various couches. My younger children watched and were intrigued by this kind of young adult "slumber party." Most of the Gustavus crew preferred tents and campfires at a nearby county park.

On Sunday afternoon I was able to catch some of my son's game. They're a great group and I look forward to next year's tournament.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pickled Beets

This year my garden blessed me with a hefty crop of beets. Unfortunately, my family is not too crazy about beets. I tried adding them to a grilled mixture of vegetables (potatoes, rutabaga, carrots and onions). Not a winner. I cooked a small amount and served it as a side dish. Another loser. I briefly toyed with cooking up a big pot of borscht but knew my family wouldn't go for that either.

What is it about beets that is so troublesome for the kids? I wonder if the bright red-purple color leads them to think that it will have a sweet candy flavor. Possibly the disappointment is too great.

My solution? Pickled beets! My grandmother, Olina Tamina Thompson Olson, used to can quart after quart of these sweet, red pickles and I loved them. (My sister reminds me that she definitely didn't.) That sweet/sour/spicy flavor always makes me think of Grandma's house. Going down into her cellar-like basement to retrieve a quart for our "light supper" was always a bit of an adventure.

I haven't made pickles since helping my mother almost 30 years ago. What did I have to lose? It's not like my family was carefully guarding my harvest of beets, making sure I didn't make any mistakes. (they probably were hoping that this would turn out badly and end up in the compost heap and not on the dinner table.)

Here's the recipe that I found on-line. I added shelled, hard-boiled eggs as per the recipe. I thought they looked kind of cool arranged on the plate. My husband's comment: "Now this is weird."







Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Report: Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser

In a captivating story of this enigmatic woman we see a princess, a widowed queen, a reigning queen and an imprisoned queen. Written by Lady Antonia Fraser (and this link) of Scotland, this biography, infused with passion and compassion, reads more like a novel of love and intrigue. Although this book is considered "popular history," as opposed to an academic resource, Ms. Fraser draws her facts and details from primary sources. In her forward she writes that she "wished to test for [herself] the truth or falsehood of the many legends" that surround Mary Queen of Scots. As one reviewer of the book said, "It needs to be read carefully as it contains multitudinous views and insights into this remarkable woman."

Mary, the only child of James V, King of Scotland, was sent at the young age of 6 to her mother's family in France to be raised and groomed to marry the next king of France, Francis. Widowed at age 17, she returns to Scotland where her courtly refinement clashes with her brusque, crude kinsman.

Beautiful, brilliant, charming, and courageous, she would have had a long and successful reign except for 2 issues: 1) she didn't understand her Scotsmen; and 2) her impulsive heart led her to unwisely choose a husband. Caught in a web of feuding and fickle noblemen made worse by a philandering and ambitious husband, Mary seeks the aid of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Though the women never meet, their tense relationship exhibits sisterly devotion, scheming intrigues, fear and jealousy.

Lady Fraser is obviously sympathetic to the nature and circumstances of Mary, Queen of Scots. Setting Mary "in the context of the age in which she lived," she has written "with the single objective of showing with as much accuracy as is possible in the light of what modern research what Mary Queen of Scots must have been like as a person." Her copious research and affection are evident in every page.

As a high school student, I didn't really care for history. It was taught in the traditional manner as a succession of dates, people and miscellaneous facts. As a homeschooling mom, I fell in love the people, places and events that have become "history." As a family, we have read aloud biographies, historical fiction and books by writers who were passionate about their topics. Their enthusiasm was contagious. As a result, I often find myself diving into a period of history or a geopolitical topic. Currently, the reign of the Tudor family has my attention. Who knows what will come after that .....

A Few of My Favorite Things

Now that I've shared what a marvel I am at soups, I thought I'd pass on three of my favorites.

Baked Potato Soup
5 # potatoes, scrubbed and baked
Bake at 350 for 1 - 1 1/2 hours
2 leeks
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 # carrots
12 - 16 oz. frozen corn
1 - 2 T. olive oil
2 cans broth (vegetable for vegetarians and chicken for non-vegetarians)
2 cans evaporated milk
1 pt. sour cream
1 T. parsley
1 T. chives
1 t. dill
2 t. salt
8 oz. cream cheese, softened


Scrub potatoes and prick them 2 - 3 times. Place them on center rack of the oven. Bake the potatoes at 350 for 1 - 2 hours.

While the potatoes are cooling, elevate the oven temperature to 400. Quarter and thinly slice leeks; mince the garlic; thinly slice the carrots. Toss with the olive oil, place in a shallow pan and place in the oven. Stir every 15 minutes for 1 hours.

Cut the slightly cooled potatoes into large pieces. Add potatoes, roasted leek mixture, broth, and canned milk to a large pot.

Mix herbs with the sour cream and add to the pot. (If the herbs are fresh, blend them with the sour cream in a food processor.) Slowly heat the soup to almost boiling. Allow it to cool. (As it sets, the seasonings develop with the potatoes.)

After the soup has cooled, add 1 - 2 cups broth to the softened cream cheese. Mix well. Add this mixture to the pot of soup and reheat.



Italian Tortellini Soup
3 # hamburger
2 small onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 can spaghetti sauce
1 large can tomato puree
2 cans beef broth
1 T. beef bouillon
2 cups dice carrots
2 cups cut up green beans
3 packages of frozen tortellini
2 t. Italian seasoning
(or a mixture of oregano, basil & parsley)

Brown the hamburger. Drain the fat. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic to the meat and saute. In a very large pot, add the spaghetti sauce, broth, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and seasonings.
Add the meat mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil; add bouillon and vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are done.
In another pot, cook the tortellini according to directions. After drained, add to the soup pot.



Fresh Tomato / Basil Soup

(with fresh tomatoes)
about 2 dozen fresh tomatoes
1 T. oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/ 2 cup fresh basil
2 T. fresh oregano
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. sugar

A note about cooking the tomatoes:
Some people don't like the seeds in tomatoes. If this is the case, cook down the tomatoes and then put them through a sieve.
Your result will be a tomato puree.

If you want a chunky soup, peel and dice the tomatoes and cook them down for about 30 - 45 minutes at a medium to low temperature.
Don't put it through a sieve.

After the tomatoes are cooked to your preferences, set aside. In another pan, saute the onions and garlic in 1 T. olive oil.

Add all but 1 cup of cooked tomatoes to the sauteed vegetables. In a blender or food processor add the remaining tomatoes and the herbs. Blend well. Heat to almost boiling and add the salt and sugar.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Soup Goddess

I love making soups.

Soups are an excellent venue for various ingredients: meats, spices, liquids, herbs and vegetables. I've never made the same soup twice. In other words, each pot of soup is a fresh creation. Every time it's a different combination for that never-before-tasted bowl of soup. Experimenting with seasonings and fresh ingredients takes time; time makes the best soup!

When I serve soup at the dinner table, I'm usually the first one to comment on how good it tastes. My children like soup and almost always ask for a second helping, but I'm my biggest fan. The more time and experimentation involved in a particular pot of soup, the more I enjoy the product. We had guests one day and the wife commented, "You really love making soups, don't you?" When I asked "Why?" she responded that she could tell how my much my family was enjoying the meal.

One of our family's favorite soups is what I call "Magic Soup." Much like Stone Soup, I feel as if I produce a great soup from water alone. OK, I add turkey bones and fat, a few onions and carrots and simmer it almost forever. The result is a rich turkey broth begging homemade noodles.

As much as I love soup, I rarely order it when we eat out. Most restaurant soups are from mixes or come completely pre-made. (If I wanted to open a can and add water, I'd do that at home.) I did however, have an excellent bowl of Tomato/Basil/Feta Soup at St. Peter's Food Coop.

My track record as a soup maker is pretty good. I've learned a thing or two over the years. If you add pasta to your soup don't let it sit for too long. Pasta continues to absorb liquid, especially just cooked pasta in hot soup. Rutabaga adds a sweet-like flavor that doesn't mesh with well in soups. (Believe me, I've tried.)



As far as I can remember, I've only had one disaster with a soup. I bought a mix at a gift shop at the North Shore for a beer cheese soup. I added the right amounts of milk and beer and IT WAS TERRIBLE! Most unfortunately, it was an evening when my son had invited 2 friends from school for dinner. My family and guests sat politely stiffing their hot soup and taking only the smallest sips of the stuff. I finally took my first spoonful, I almost spit it out. Our guests, though very polite, looked relieved when I whisked the bowls off the table and brought out the bread and peanut butter.

Even the popcorn meant to jauntily float on top of the soup couldn't redeem it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Family Weekend, Part 2

We have a lot of fun at our Family Weekend. We laugh a lot and enjoy being with one another. We swim as much as possible, eat a great breakfast provided by the hotel, and order pizza. Playing a game of family Bingo with a bed-load of prizes is the highlight of our Saturday night together. The past couple of years we've had free tickets to the Adventureland Park (you can see my post about my awesome ride experience at my other blog) . This year we decided to add sharing "gag gifts" with our siblings.












Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Our Family Weekend

Years ago my parents started a great annual event for the grandchildren: Cousins Camp. For 7 days in the summer, the older cousins gathered at Gramma and Grampa Olson's house in Des Moines. My mom was a grade school teacher and has always had multiple activities and craft ideas up her sleeves. She planned activities, outings and meals around themes for the day. This week was a highlight for the kids (and for the parents who had a small reprieve from the demands of parenting.)


About 5 years ago, they discontinued the current form of Cousin's Camp and replaced it with the Family Weekend. Renting pool-side rooms and suites at a hotel, all the u, in-laws and grandchildren gathered for 2 days and 2 nights of fun and family bonding. These have become great opportunities for us to spend more focussed time with our extended family members whom we don't see often enough. The younger cousins love hanging out with their "very cool" teenage cousins. As adults, we chat and tease and occaisionally throw one another in the pool.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Even the Smallest Victories Should be Celebrated!

Some people climb mountains; others perform brain surgery. People make million dollar deals for corporations or run for Senate seats or save children from burning buildings. Every day men, women and children accomplish incredible things. Media coverage shares these victories so that the whole world can celebrate anothers accomplishments.

Me? I got my toilet clean. And I'm really quite happy and proud of myself. This toilet has been a homemaker's thorn in my flesh. Since we bought the house, this bathroom fixture has had layer upon layer of hard water scum and crud. I've scrubbed and tried all kinds of cleaners.

But today was a day for miracles! God's grace was on me. That which was gross is now sparkling clean. God is indeed good to me!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Defeat of Jesse James Days

Every year our small community celebrates a bank raid gone bad.

Most communities have some kind of annual celebration. In Northfield, we host the "Defeat of Jesse James Days" the second weekend in September. As the story goes Jesse James (a bankrobbing outlaw) came with his gang into town with the intention of robbing our fair city's bank. Joseph Lee Heywood refused to open the safe; a towns person alerted those on the Main Street; the gang had been drinking and were not in top form. As a result, Heywood was shot, a gunfight erupted on the Main Street killing a gang member, some of the James gang were captured and the gang broke up. Therefore, we emphasize the "Defeat" part.

I've always enjoyed this weekend. Though we're really Midwestern farmers, for 3 - 4 days we act like we're from the Wild West. When you go downtown, you see lots of cowboy attire. Bridge Square (a small section in the middle of town with a monument and fountain) is filled with food vendors. We went there a couple of times and ate roasted corn on the cob, cheese curds, lemonade, corn dogs, funnel cakes and dippin' dots (tiny frozen balls of ice cream).

Other highlights of the weekend are an Artist's Walk along the river, an arts and crafts sale at Central Park, a rodeo, an old car show, re-enactments of the bank raid, a kiddie parade, Bingo, a beer garden with various bands and the Grand Parade to close out the weekend.

As I said, I like this weekend. The weather is usually good and it's a nice way to finish up the summer. After these few days, the town of Northfield is ready to settle down to the rigors and schedule of the fresh school year.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Borders Books, Half Price Books & Lake Harriet,

After a hurried morning of packing, errands, and wrapping up loose ends, we headed up to the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area. Our family has a thing for book stores. So, these spots were high on our list. Ryan had a gift card for Borders/ Walden Books that he wanted to spend. And of course, Half Price is an especial favorite.






Our evening was spent at the Lake Harriet band shell listening to instrumental and vocal jazz. The evening was warm, but not muggy; people were swimming, having picnics, eating ice cream and swing dancing. A great way to spend a summer night.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What to do in the Twin Cities?

With 5 of our children gone, we decided to take the 2 youngest kids for a short mini-vacation in the Twin Cities. We found a Country Inn hotel with not only continental breakfast and a pool, but also a slide. To help our planning, we googled "Things to do in Minneapolis" and found a number of helpful sites.

We set aside 3 days and 3 nights and decided to fill about half the time with activities. The rest of our time we wanted to spend just hanging out at the pool or in front of the TV. (We don't have cable at home, so those multitudinous channels were quite a treat.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

If you're looking for a light, encouraging book as a good summer read, have I got the book for you! The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, by Terry Ryan. Ms. Ryan, the sixth of Evelyn Ryan's ten children wrote this biography about her amazing mother who writes jingles, poems, and 25-words-or-less compositions. She wins hundreds of contests that save her family from destitution.






In the 1950's and 1960's, "contesting" drew a surprisingly large number of housewives who used the small to large prizes to supplement their family incomes. Beginning with the roadside Burma Shave rhymes, Evelyn's contesting career required her word skills, wit, and originality. "Luck" she always said, "has nothing to do with it." (p. 22) She developed an elaborate system for filing food labels, collecting entry forms, and varying the names on the forms (variation on her name, her children's names, even fictitious names.)

A magnificent competitor, Evelyn won cash rewards, shopping sprees, automobiles, trips to Europe, gold watches, TVs, radios, a fridge AND a freezer, a washer-dryer, and a host of smaller prizes which she squirreled away in her "Closet" for that proverbial rainy day. Who knows? Someone just might need one of the 3 pairs of Arthur Murray dance shoes.

The poignancy of the story is not in the many wins by this clever, indefatigable woman, but that her humor and joy are sustained in a difficult situation. We can all agree that the task of raising 10 children on a single income is daunting. Evelyn's husband, Kelly, was the source of the growing tension in the family. Kelly Ryan's "problem drinking," dark angry moods, and resentment over his wife's success often brought the family to the edge of eviction and poverty. As the years progressed, less of his paycheck came home and his violence increased.


Suze Orman writes her forward to the book:

"How could such a woman show her children that live is not cruel, but bountiful? How could she possibly keep them, all 10 of them, afloat, much less teach them abundance, grace, and courage in the face of grinding poverty and adversity? ... Richness of spirit can dwell in the most desolate places and it pervades Evelyn's household like a healing balm." (p. 11, 13)


One reviewer of the book became an instant fan of Evelyn's and called her the "goddess in a girdle."

Not only do I highly recommend the book, but the movie by the same name is also a "winner." Starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson, this film is an accurate representation of the book.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Favorite Cookbook

When I married my husband, I married into an extensive library. Among his books, was the cookbook, The More with Less Cookbook, written by Doris Janzen Longacre. Mrs. Longacre is a Mennonite with a degree in home economics who has served in this capacity in Vietnam and Indonesia. She writes in her preface:

At it's best, [the book] tells us that Mennonites -- a people who care about the hungry -- are on a search. We are looking for ways to live more simply and joyfully, ways that grow out of our tradition but take their shape from living faith and the demands of our hungry world.

As a young bride I read the first section of the book on hunger, overspending, overeating, and overcomplicating our lives. Before any recipes are given, the author shares her wisdom regarding nutrition and healthy diets. She throws in nutritional charts along with pithy sayings from Mennonite grandmothers.

My favorite part of the book, naturally, is the more than 260 pages of recipes. I learned how to bake bread, cook lentils, make a white sauce, and prepare our favorite freezer jam. I pull it out for the quiche recipe, waffles using cottage cheese and a rich oatmeal cake recipe used often for birthdays. Many pages are tagged with Post-It notes, the cover and table of contents are missing, and food spills have caused a couple of pages to stick together. One writer commented that this is her "scratch and sniff" cookbook for all of its use and subsequent spills.

In my mind, this is the kind of no-nonsense cookbook that all moms should have. I also have some of those let's-doctor-up-a-Kraft-food-product cooking magazines, but they don't teach you how to cook like this book does.

Here's my one of my favorite recipes from this book:

OATMEAL CAKE
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine and let stand 20 minutes:
1 cup quick oatmeal
1 1/4 cup boiling water

Cream toghether until fluffy:
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla

Add oatmeal mixture. Beat well.

Sift together:
1 1/2 cup flour
1 t. soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon

Add to creamed mixture and beat well. Pour into greased and floured 9 x 13" cake pan. Bake 35 minutes or until tests done.

Coconut Topping:
Combine:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup margarine or butter
1/4 cup cream or mile
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup coconut
Spread on hot cake and broil 2 - 4 minutes until brown and bubbly. Watch very closely.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

All Purpose Quiche

Not all of my family loves quiche, but they will all eat it without complaining. (which is pretty good considering my family of 9!) Quiche works for me because 1) I can add a variety of ingredients (veggies, meats, etc) and 2) I take a short cut by using pre-made pie crusts.

My original, before variations, recipe comes from the More-with-Less cookbook. Here's my recipe:

All Purpose Quiche
1 9" pie crust (I use Pillsbury's pre-made crusts)
3 eggs
2 cups milk/dairy products (at least half of it should be milk)
1 cup sauteed veggies/ meat/ etc.
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Line the pie plate with the crust. Fold under the edges. Cover the bottom of the crust with the extra ingredients. Top with shredded cheese. Mix eggs, dairy products and seasonings; pour into crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. The quiche will be done when the crust is brown and a knife comes out of the center clean. Let it cool 5 minutes before serving.

This last week I made a quiche with Swiss chard, onions, garlic, and sharp cheddar cheese. I also made one with tomatoes, broccoli, bacon and Swiss cheese. We have a lot of vegetables ready in the garden, so I anticipate more quiches this summer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book Report: The Yellow Mask


"Masterpieces of menace, mystery and terror by the world's greatest writer of romantic suspense."



"Here is the essence of gothic romance, menace and suspense by the master of the macabre -- Wilkie Collins."


Comments taken from the jacket of The Yellow Mask, these are pretty big promises for a collection of 3 short stories by the Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins, a writer who was a friend of Charles Dickens. In our day of CGI and special effects we may be too jaded to be terrified by this "chilling collection of sinister tales." In his day, however, Collins was a writer you didn't want to read alone in a big, dark, lonely house on a stormy night.

"The Yellow Mask" is a story of a sculptor, a hussy, a naive seamstress, a nobleman and a well-intentioned priest in 16th century Italy. The hussy is treacherous; the seamstress is "good and virtuous;" the sculptor is changeable and irresolute. At the quintessential masked ball a spectre of the dead wife appears. Hence, the mystery and suspense.

"Miss Bertha and the Yankee" reads as statements in a trial in the early 1800's. Opening for the defense is Miss Bertha Laroche of Nettlegrove Hall. The trial reveals the story of a pretty, rich, single woman and two handsome men -- an English captain and an American traveler. Both men love her and their schemes bring out the best and the worst of their characters.

"A Plot in Private Life" is a mystery told from the perspective of a man in service to a wealthy widow who marries a "hare-brained, headlong, penniless young gentleman of variable temper." This brief story of jealousy and infidelity involves a detective, a witchy woman from the tropics and a trek over the Scottish highlands. Does the dried blood on the nightgown point to foul play or misunderstanding?

I was introduced to Wilkie Collins in a college class on Victorian novels. He's written a number of novels, of which The Moonstone and The Woman in White are my favorites. His books are well-crafted and peopled with many interesting characters. Like all mysteries, the twists, turns and resolutions are carefully manipulated. That's why it's fiction!

I don't know if you can find this particular book of short stories. I picked it up at a used book store.