Saturday, November 13, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894
The best loved literary figure of his time as much for his personality as for his authorship of Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson was born today in Edinburgh on 13 November 1850. He described his childhood in detail in his autobiographical essays and vividly recalled its emotions and pleasures in A Child's Garden of Verses (1885). Kidnapped was chosen by the Edinburgh City of Literature as their first "One City, One Book" title.

He wanted to become a writer at an early age; he compromised to study Law (instead of engineering at University of Edinburgh, as his family had been involved in building lighthouses for years). He was admitted Advocate in 1875 but never practiced. During these years he rebelled against the conventions of respectable Edinburgh society and there were bitter quarrels with his father (a devout Presbyterian) about religion.

In 1873 he met the critic Prof. Sidney Colvin who became his lifelong friend and literary mentor. With Colvin's help he began to achieve a reputation with his essays and short stories (collected in Virginibus Puerisque, (1881) and New Arabian Nights, 1882). Another close friendship was formed with poet and critic WE Henley, writing 4 unsuccessful plays (including Deacon Brodie, 1880).

The closest friend of his youth was his painter cousin RAM (Bob) Stevenson, and he spent much time with him in France. His early travels were undertaken so that he could write books about them. A Wand Voyage (1878) described a canoe journey, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1878; a classic account of the city whose climate he hated but which always haunted his imagination).

In the art colony of Grez (1876) he fell in love with Fanny Vandegrift Osboume, an American 10 years older than himself who was estranged from her husband. She returned to California in 1878 for divorce. In 1879 Stevenson followed, travelling cheaply by immigrant ship, then by train across America, recording his experiences in Amateur Emigrant (1895) and Across the Plans (1892). The hardships of the journey and the poverty wrecked his health and he suffered the first of the haemorrhages which plagued the rest of his life.

Stevenson and Fanny were married in May 1880, following a telegram from his father assuring them of financial support. They returned to Edinburgh. Stevenson's illness, diagnosed as tuberculosis, meant that he spent much time in bed, his life undoubtedly prolonged by Fanny's nursing. The next 7 years were spent in the vain search for health: two summer in Scotland, 2 winters in Davos, Switzerland, 18 months in the South of France, then Bournemouth for 3 years One rainy summer afternoon, Stevenson painted a map of an imaginary island to entertain his new stepson, and in a single month, he wrote his first great novel, Treasure Island(1883). He wrote it in Braemar (1882), one of the best children's stories. It's been in print for over 125 years.

He's also the author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885), about a scientist who invents a chemical that changes his personality from a mild-mannered gentleman to a savage criminal. Wider recognition came with this allegorical thriller on the dual nature of man, and then Kidnapped (1886) a skilful evocation of 18th century Scotland. He then produced The Black Arrow (1888), an historical potboiler for children. Stevenson made no claim to be a major poet, but Underwoods (1897) showed him to be graceful and original in both English and Scots. He developed a warm and lasting friendship with Henry James.

At the death of his father, the family traveled to America, spending the winter 1887/8 at Saranac Lake, Adirondacks. He wrote a series of essays and began his tragic novel The Master of Ballantrae (1889) set in 18P century Scotland and America. In June 1888 they chartered a yacht and sailed from San Francisco to the South Seas, describing the journeys in South Seas (1896), and The Wrecker (1892). The climate suited, he regained some health for outdoor activity so they settled in Samoa in 1890. However, Fanny had mental health issues and he overworked himself to earn money needed to maintain the estate.

Catriona (1894), the sequel to Kidnapped, was followed by work on the unfinished St Ives (1897) both set largely in Edinburgh during the Napoleonic wars. He was working at the height of his mature powers on his unfinished masterpiece Weir of Hermiston (1896), set in early 19th century Edinburgh and the Lammermuirs, its main character based on Robert MacQueen, Lord Braxfield, when he died suddenly and unexpectedly of cerebral haemorrhage on 3 December 1894.

The romantic legend created by sentimental admirers has helped obscure the recognition of Stevenson as a serious writer, and academic critics have largely ignored or patronized him. Those readers exploring beyond the popular works that made him famous will find a wealth of 'good things'.

The Works: Tusitala Edition, 3 5 vols. 1923 –4; Collected Poems, ed JA Smith, 1971.
Life. G Balfour, 1901; Voyage to Windward JC Furnas, 1952; RLS A Life Study, J. Calder, 1980.
Check out for additional information and titles.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 – 31 January 1606), belonged to a group of Roman Catholic restorationists from England who planned the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Their aim was to displace Protestant rule by blowing up the Houses of Parliament while King James VI and I and the entire Protestant court, and even most of the Catholic aristocracy and nobility were inside. The conspirators saw this as a necessary reaction to the systematic discrimination against English Catholics.
The Gunpowder Plot was led by Robert Catesby, but Fawkes was put in charge of its execution. He was arrested a few hours before the planned explosion, during a search of the cellars underneath Parliament in the early hours of 5 November prompted by the receipt of an anonymous warning letter. This search is still performed over 400 years later before the opening Parliament. The conspirators were executed.

Guy Fawkes Night (or "bonfire night"), held on 5 November in the United Kingdom and some parts of the Commonwealth, is a commemoration of the plot, during which an effigy of Fawkes is burned, often accompanied by a fireworks display. The word "guy", meaning "man" or "person", is derived from his name.

In 18th-century England, it became a tradition for children to display a grotesque effigy of Fawkes, termed a "guy", as part of the Bonfire Night celebration. As part of the tradition, they would often stand on streetcorners begging for "a penny for the guy". The "guy" would be burned on a bonfire at the end of the evening. As a consequence, "guy" came to mean a man of odd appearance. Subsequently, in American English, "guy" lost any pejorative connotation, becoming a simple reference for any man.
Antonia Fraser's 1996 book The Gunpowder Plot is excellent!
There is also some fun/excellent poetry concerning this event, a tradition that continues to today.

B McIver (2004, in progress)

Remember, remember
The 5th of November,
For Gunpowder, Treason and Plot......
Guy Fawkes, the offender,
Tried on evidence slender,
Was sent to the dungeon to rot.

His aim? To be sender
Of the message: "Surrender!
"King James and his troops will be shot!
"That Protestent bender
"Is doubtful of Gender,
"And the True King cannot be a Scot!"

But the erstwhile offender
To jailors was rendered,
And here are the orders they got:
"His body dismember
Then throw on the embers
Of a fire stoked up, burning hot."

So this 5th of November,
While in joy you remember,
By burning the effigy's bot;
The price you may render
To be "freedom's defender",
Is to burn in Hell if you're caught!

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Hallows Mas, All Hallows Eve (Hallowe'en)

Today is All Saints Day, the morning after the night before!
Halloween is one of the oldest CELTIC holidays (the festival of Samhain, original spelling Samuin, meaning end of the summer or light) in the Western European tradition. It is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year". The ancient Celts believed that the border between life and death became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits, ghosts, faeries, and goblins (both good and bad) to pass through. The family's ancestors were honoured and invited home (with food and wine at the doorstep) while harmful spirits were warded off by the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces. Halloween is not celebrated in all countries and regions of the world.

Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. Black and orange are the traditional Halloween colors and represent the darkness of night and the color of bonfires, autumn leaves, and jack-o'-lanterns. In traditional Celtic Halloween festivals, large turnips or rutabagas were hollowed out, carved with faces, and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits. In North America pumpkins are carved being available and much larger, easier to carve.

The name 'Halloween' and many of its present-day traditions have been expanded on from the British traditions with contemporary North American (USA and Canada) ingenuity. The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even ("evening"), that is, the night before All_Saints/All Hallows Day (November 1st). Up through the early 20th century, the spelling "Hallowe'en" was frequently used, eliding the "v" and shortening the word.

American historian Ruth Edna Kelley wrote the first history in the US; The Book of Hallowe'en (1919), and references souling in the chapter Hallowe'en in America; "The taste in Hallowe'en festivities now is to study old traditions, and hold a Scotch party, using Robert Burns poem Hallowe'en as a guide; or to go a-souling as the English used."

Imagery of Halloween is derived from many sources, including national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as Frankenstein or Dracula), and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein (1931 film) and The Mummy (1932 film), and local harvests (corn husks, pumpkins, scarecrows, straw, etc.)

Trick-or-treating is part of the celebration for children. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats (mostly candy but sometimes money, often for UNICEF, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word "trick" refers to a (generally idle) "threat" to create mischief on the homeowners if no treat is given. The child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn their treats. In some parts of Scotland children still go guising (this is normally on Guy Fawkes Night, 5 November.

Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after monsters such as ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Over time, the costume selection included popular characters from fiction, celebrities, presidents, athletes, and archetypes such as ninjas and princesses. Costuming became popular for US Halloween parties in the early 20th century, as often for adults as for children. The first mass-produced Halloween costumes appeared in stores in the 1930s. Ghost stories and horror films are common fixtures at Halloween parties. Halloween-themed television series and specials are commonly aired at the end of October; new horror films are often released theatrically to take advantage of the Halloween atmosphere.

Some games traditionally played at Halloween include divination. A traditional Scottish form of divining one's future spouse is to carve an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one's shoulder. The peel will land in the shape of the first letter of the future spouse's name (I always wondered if it was first or last name). You would also twist the core of an apple a, b c, d, e, f, etc, revealing the letter of the future spouse's name. Unmarried women sat in a darkened room, gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, hoping to see the face of their future husband. Viewing was not without risk; if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear.

Halloween also coincides with the apple harvest. At one time, candy or caramel apples were commonly given to children, but the practice rapidly waned in the 1970s. One custom that persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays, the purchase) of barmbrack, a light fruitcake, into which a plain ring, a coin and other charms are placed before baking. The person who receives the ring will find their true love in the ensuing year, similar to the traditional king cake at the festival of Epiphany.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Deanna Raybourn

There is a Silent Series (on the Moor, in the Sanctuary, etc) that I have found charming. Another stand alone book was an easy summer read. I adored the bookstore sign that said "vampire free zone", and am mostly avoiding those tales. THIS last book though was delightful - historical mystery from Edinburgh to Transylvania, an unexpected romance with period descriptions. Will have to comment more! Devoured it in 2 hours.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

What a difference a book makes. I haven't been terribly fond of her previous books, but absolutely loved this one. Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitizer in 2008, and was a book I thought to get to eventually (I still haven't forgotten the previous minister tale, although not for the right reasons Abide with me). However, Olive is an incredibly complex book - I can't describe it as a Maine or NE book, it is more deeply perceptive into the human condition/narrative. There are 14 different people/stories in this book, with Olive involved in all of them. She is fiercely proud of her heritage (10th generation American, from Scotland as indentured servants) but I think of this as more a generational book (specific voice / era or small town (anywhere)) than Yankee. Perhaps I don't feel Yankees are so intensely lonely, alone, full of loss all lives full of quiet grief. I read it curiously, not heart wrenching - as layers of character were revealed. I admired Olive for her relentless views, although that was some time coming (your introduction to her charming husband colours your initial impression, as is her point). Everyone has a different perception of people, relationships are all complex, but need to change with time, place and with the relationship as well. She was a fierce math teacher, but remembered by all fairly. (Ok, not by her son!). Her one concern at 77 was her daily exercise - the 6 mile walk, to exclude people, but that it was exercise that would make her live longer - only if she could die quickly, and not in a home lingering, like Henry). Her quest to learn, to grow, to understand. Not just within her community, but into the bigger picture. (I absolutely adore her comments/opinions of Bush in the White House). "Bad things happen. Where have you been?" - do not make excuses.

a few haunts : Rebecca "This can't be my life."

When I read a review that said it was a "penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers, ...with sweeping descriptions of lush Maine landscape - I can't believe we read the same book. It is the people in here that are absolutely fascinating, their grappling with their lives and unexpectedly intersecting lives and those impacts that will stay with you for weeks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

2010 Reading List

I am travelling for a period, and finally getting time to look through the diary, check the emails, look over the lists, sort out my paper life! As it happens, with the invention of the iphone and built in camera, I have used the camera to take snapshots of books I want to read. In the last week, in various bookstores (Vermont has 55 wonderful used bookstores, and LOTS of libraries which are having summer book sales - and yes I am shipping books home out of the luggage) I have photographed a number of books: the list looks like this:
Julie Orringer The Invisible bridge
Georgette Heyer Duplicate death
Where the wild things are
Tinkers Paul Harding
AMS Double Comfort Safari Club
J. Maarten Troost Lost on Planet China
Eva Rice The lost art of keeping secrets
John McPhee Giving good weight
Archer Mayor Price of Malice
Rusty Dewees Scrawlins
Images of America, Caledonia county VT
Marina Fiorato The Botticelli secret
Juliet Gael Romancing Miss Bronte
Tana French Faithful Place

Yes I have read a couple of these years ago, but revisiting is also fun, sometimes in a different format (dvd or audio). Sometimes it is the republication cover that attracts attention and reminds you what a wonderful book that was. Or reminds you of where you were when you read it.

That plus another list, means I have alot to catch up on! But I have actually read a few books lately, and listened to a couple more travelling the back roads of Vermont. I am typing this in the Stowe Public Library, where I was a patron 25 years ago. I read through their entire collection of books on tape (and it was cassette tape then!) during my commute to Burlington, or to Huntington (Camel's Hump research site). This was where I learned to listen to children's books on tapes and can still recite some of the wonderful lines by incredible voices (and people!). And here I listened to hours of poetry, especially Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, as well as radio programmes, that connected me again with my parents "the shadow knows!". This is a wonderful library, and community, and state. Tomorrow I head to Montpelier for two of my favourite bookstores: Rivendell and Bear Pond Books. With a couple of PO mailing boxes in hand.... ;-)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Taking Liberties, Diana Norman

I am trying to read all of her novels - just hard to find them.
This was published 2003? the ppbk edition I had anyway. (She is also the author of the Mistress of Death series which I love). She is a journalist, now novelist because she loves historical detail. Reviews of all her books are excellent. There is so much detail, you can reread these books. There are nuances and great detail, but galloping reads as well.
My heart broke for the woman in this story - married at 18 within the aristocratic England; incredible descriptions of family, duty, life. She never forgave her parents for her marriage yet accepted her duty. The arrival of her son was her deepest joy and worst hurt as her husband removed all joy and and beat out all happiness. But she finds herself free at 39 with his death. Only to have her son and his wife cripple her (financially) - and yet she gives her son what he needs, clinging to his wife for support and affection. BUT she escapes by 'visits' - and the arrival of a letter that awakens the dream of the only happy time in her life when she was 13/14.
Then comes the crusade to save the 'boy', to help a friend, to have an adventure and 'live'. She falls in love, what a magical relationship that is. What astounding characters/people. (a slave is given his freedom, and gives it back to save the cause - prisoner exchange. the second woman Makepeace - so very different, so alike and the tale that combines the two lives, making a social history). Profound on so many levels.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

City of Light by Lauren Belfer

City of Light by Lauren Belfer was published in 1999 - and I am sorry I missed it!! this was a tremendous book. Factually historical, wonderful romance tale, interesting plot, mystery and story, excellent writing for a great read. Takes place in Buffalo NY in the early 1900s, you will feel right at home after reading Devil in the White City. Some similarities, but much more intricate story, much more academic. This does involve academic life, but also the electrifying of cities and houses (and businesses). The revelations and secrets were fairly obvious to me, but the facts on Niagara falls, electricity, girls schools, power struggles in class, society and between male/female is ever present. I read this one because I had heard of her newest book, which wasn't available from the library yet.
So why is this a Celtic read?? The opening, and closing will grab you.
"I am lucky: I know what people say about me. To some I am a bluestocking: a woman too intellectual to find a husband. To others I am an old maid, though I do not consider myself old and I am no maiden." "Self knowledge as the greeks might say, the only knowledge worth having." Louisa Barrett 1909.
I will be looking for her latest fiction, to be sure. (A Fierce Radiance, 2010)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon

I just downloaded this book onto my Kindle, but hope I can read it on the iPad! I had taken the book out of the library for the second time (to check something that I remembered) and decided it was well past time to get my own copy. The Kindle was to be for non-fiction, so it was perfect; except that for browsing it is so much easier to use the iPad.
That said, I must once again highly recommend this book! It is about the Pilgrims coming to America (although they don't get here until past the halfway mark of the book!) but not about the "pilgrims" - it is about the events that led to their coming, on both sides of the Atlantic. It also has numerous new sources/information and analysis that I think alot of geneologists and history buffs will be very enthusiast about. I was fascinated by the detail, although other reviewers seem to think this is distracting. (I devoured the book in April when I saw it in Chicago, then reread parts as a Library book, as I have Mayflower at home as well, plus several other history books. I then went to the Amazon site to purchase it, and saw quite a few reviews. Having been down the path of painstakingly creating an historical timeline, I understood both his excitement and the detail of this book, which some of the reviewers failed to see. This IS a book I would have liked to have had in my hands, my own copy. I am only too aware of my groaning bookshelves, as I seriously have to order a couple Kindle it was).
Bunker is to be commended for finding this information/fact checking/delving into ancient historical documents and giving us a better understanding of how our nation developed. This is not dry history! His writing style made the reading a pleasure. So many people have only a vague understanding of Thanksgiving, let alone Pilgrims, Puritans and economics! In this age of soundbytes, footnotes are forgotten. His are present, relevant and insightful. Read every one!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Erin Hart, Irish mystery series

I was introduced to a new author Erin Hart, partly because her books are Irish/celtic, partly because the latest one takes place in MN and partly because she has a beautiful way with language. I love this quote: The celts speak in riddles, hinting at things, leaving much to be understood (Poseidonius, Greek Ethanographer of 1st century BC).
These are the Nora Gavin (american pathologist) and Cormac Maguire (Irish archeologist) award winning series that take place primarily in bogs, in Ireland. Haunted Grounds was the first (2003) then Lake of Sorrows (2005) then False Mermaid (2010). The first novel is based on a true story (she first heard of in 1986 when visiting) of finding a severed head of a woman with red hair (probably from the 1650s Cromwell era) in 1955 - she was able to speak to the people involved! She wanted to create a story because so little could be learned of the girl. The haunting descriptions are theirs as well as family experience (her husband is Paddy Orien). "the past is not buried, but lives and breaths" - e.g. peat.
They really need to be read in order, but there's only three (and she is a slow writer, so you are lucky to catch up now!).

Her favourite authors are PD James, Dorothy Sayers, with Elizabeth George and Umbretto Eco in the mix. She would also like to take AS Byatt to lunch at WAFrost. She is currently reading Geraldine Brooks People of the Book as her next novel will involve an ancient manuscript! These remind me a bit of Sharyn McCrumb, whose appalachian series I adore (for Nora Bonesteel), with that local flavour, myth/folklore/historic detail. Some gothic suspense, similar to Mary Stewart (I always wished she had written more novels about the same people). And the chilling forensic details are reminscent of Kathy Reichs and Simon Beckett. Softer story, with rather tumultous love affair, maturing, but with issues.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer Beach Reads

Light summer reads are always in demand, especially when they relate to bibliophiles. A new series by Kate Carlisle: Homicide in Hardcover (2009), then If Books could kill (2010) are funny, witty, humourous while providing some interesting commentary on communes, book restoration, wine country, book dealers and general family politics.
Brooklyn Wainwright is a dedicated book restorer in San Francisco - you will find many personal details as the author has lived a lot of this life (see her website This is not the People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks), but there are a couple of passages where she is completely lost in her work and the beauty of ancient texts.
This can barely be classified as a celt read, except that the new 'love interest' is Derek Stone, an english security man, who she finds irresistable, as well as 'hot', to say nothing of his 'accent'. Yes, so much of this is farfetched (a Continental GT Bentley?), a teary reunion just before the murder, an unknown daughter, an inheritance of outrageous proportions, etc. First class tickets to the Edinburgh Book Festival (next book), where another of her fiances (she had three so far) is found murdered. .... Hardcover was nominated for an RT first mystery award. Praise from many other 'serial' authors is all positive.

Summer Beach Reads is also the next topic for prizes by the Friends' Bookstore/Blog (see their blog for details this week). AND there will be a reading contest, for adults, of any and all books read this summer. Yes, I am excluded, so you will have a chance to win... ;-)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

John Connolly, The Whisperers

Even the title has sent shivers straight down my spine. John Connolly has a new book coming out in July!! I can hardly wait. If you haven't read any, start with the beginning, keep all the lights on and prepare yourself for a wild ride. These really ARE thrillers, the writing is exceptional, the places and events all too real. The Whisperers (July 2010) continues the mystery series with PI Charlie Parker, in Maine. This is a series I prefer to read in order as the characters have history, which gradually unfold.
He manages to combine mystery/thriller/suspense with horror/supernatural in a very literary way (I see the Irish connection clearly). And if you have missed his children's books - they are simply excellent. Not necessarily for the faint of heart, but with a wicked sense of humour, a splash of realism and a sense of 'what if' that astounds. I re-read these, whereas I cannot the Parker series. (The realism will last my lifetime!)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Art of the Bookstore

There are a number of 'art' books lately - have been enjoying the Art of coversation (Catherine Blyth) although it is like 'preaching to the converted' for me. But just came across the Art of the Bookstore by Gibbs M Smith in one of my older Bas Bleu book catalogues. (I keep them to read through in case Imissed something the first time!) Smith was a publisher for 40 years and also an artist. This book has 40 of his vibrant oil paintings of independent booksellers, including City Lights in San Fran, Strand Book Store in NYC, Cottage Bookshop in Glen Arbor MI. Now I have to buy this book and visit each and every one (if I haven't already!). There are essays describing each store and its mission, and I hope some of the atmosphere that is in each painting. This looks like a charming book!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Glassblower of Murano Marina Fiorato

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato (2008)
This is a debut novel, with a lot of personal detail (the author is also half-venetian and a graduate of Oxford University. So many of the details are perfect. The history is wonderful and it is a very romantic story. A double story, present day and in 1681 with an ancestor. He who 'defected' to Paris to create the mirrors of Versailles. Both stories are poignant, intriguing, interesting and page turners. All in all, a charming book. The reading group guide at the end of the paperback is also definitely worth reading, and adds more dimensions both to the author, the story and the history. Not the details of The Historian, The Plague Tales, The Owl Killers, but a great read for summer.

Soulless Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger (2009)
An Alexia Tarabotti novel of the Parasol Protectorate
(the next is called Changeless, May 2010)
I haven't stopped laughing. Although I was just told the next book is already out and the last page is a cliffhanger (this to the tune of screams that how can she wait 6 months to know what happens?)
I especially loved that she acknowleged, with profound thanks, that her parents rewarded good behaviour with trips to the bookstore. Well done!
This was a combination of Amelia Peabody and Sookie Stackhouse (Elizabeth Peters and Charlaine Harris) with Amanda Quick thrown in for good measure.
Alexia is of course an English spinster, but she has no soul and an Italian father. But then she is attacked by a vampire, "breaking all standards of social etiquette." This is VICTORIAN England, complete with Queen, but vampires, werewolves, etc in London.
There is of course a love interest, Lord Maccon (appalling, messy, gorgeous, and of course a werewolf). This makes for unexpected social gatherings and courtship. The Woolsy Castle Alpha! ('But so rude! and that after eating my three best chickens.")
My first summer beach read, with its sequel the second! AND you never know where you are going to find 'bluestockings' - Alexia is labelled as one!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, tales of murder, madness and obsession. By David Grann (2010).

Find the book just for the Sherlock Holmes story. Wonderful details, interesting stories (uneven book though with the variety of stories(12)/writing). Truly was fascinated by Holmes, Green, Doyle and the obsessive nature of so many people involved with Sherlock! I was saddened that Sherlock drove Jeremy Brett to pyschiatric treatment though - I still think he is the definitive Holmes.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rhapsody in Green Beverly Nichols

The Garden wit and wisdom of Beverly Nichols ed by Roy C Dicks. (2009)
"welcome hilarity to the all-too-serious literature of gardening" NYTimes.
"master of hyperbolic understatement"
Drawings by William McLaren (and these are a charming part of the book!)

"One doesn't read gardening advertisements in moments of cooler judgment. One reads them in an ecstasy of unquestioning faith. That is why everybody should buy shares in seed firms"

It is too short a book! 128 pages of delight, of memories, of enchanting descriptions laced with wry wit. You keep turning the pages for the plant details, the lovely word photographs and the skewered individuals/gardeners!
I also have to email quotes to various people: Neil for the heathers, Gail for English Gardens, Janet to thank her for this delightful christmas present and to share with her garden, Ursula as she will enjoy the wit, Anita....the list becomes dozens of people!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

BBC News, Elliott Prize

The BBC just announced the short list for the Desmond Elliott Prize, which includes Ali Smith's Girl with Glass Feet. This was a magical, well written tale that I read, recommended by Gail Harris. It is not expected to win, but please read!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ariana Franklin

One day later and I just finished reading Grave Goods, the next (third) book in the Mistress of the Art of Death, the electrifying story of Adelia Aguilar in the reign of Henry II. Her child is four years old, she is still in love with her Bishop, learning/ understanding the cost of love, defying the constraints of church and state, and struggling to stay alive in wicked times. I loved the element of King Arthur in this tale, the holy place of Glastonbury, the description of Wells, places I know so dear. There is always terror in her novels, the beheadings, the traps, the thievery, the rapes, plunder and pillage. Just living in those times (I itch with every flea, bedbug and mite).
Then discovered she has written a number of other books under her name of Diana Norman, wife of Barry Norman, which rings bells as the wonderful film critic for the BBC! So I don't have to just read these novels, I can hunt for her other, earlier works.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ariana Franklin, Mistress of the Art of Death series

I just finished reading The Serpent's Tale, which I was thrilled to discover was a sequel to the Mistress of the Art of Death (Ariana Franklin). And then when I looked up the author discovered that there are TWO more in this series and can't wait to read the rest. The intricate characters, more so with continuation through time and historical events, the accuracy of medieval English life, gritty, horrific, seemingly endless frozen mud, the food (ghastly to outrageous) which compares with the class. The outrages of court, church and society (Adelia struggling to be accepted at a doctor, in a land that will not even allow her to think, mere woman that she is) and the men who so underestimate her. But her thoughts are fascinating, her machinations to stay alive, and live with herself, her child, with her everchanging beliefs and humanity.
I am on the lookout for the Grave Goods and A murderous procession. Rather bloody brilliant.
This reminds me of the Medicus series, such that I will have to tell another friend to read this too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Anne Perry, The Sheen on the Silk

Anne Perry, The Sheen on the Silk
This is an interesting book, similar to the Ariana Franklin books I have just finished reading. It is however all Perry - intricate plot, complex characters, intrigue, incredible detail and wonderful historic setting. Constantinople and Constantine 1100s. A girl who masquerades as a physician to restore her twin brother's name/reputation. A girl with a complicated past, uncertain present and nearly no future. Constantine is equally fascinating, leaving one wondering if he did indeed realise how corrupt he had become, and the implications of his power designs. And all those lost souls.

Friday, May 7, 2010

David Hume

Today is the birthday (May 7, 1711) of Scottish Philosopher David Hume, born in Edinburgh.

One of Hume's important contributions was his philosophy, which was presented in his book "A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) and still a college textbook of Introductory Philosophy classes. (although please note that it was a failed publication!).

David Hume said "reading and sauntering and lounging and dosing, which I call thinking, is my supreme Happiness". I loved the line that he was a great cook but a better eater!

I have been reading quite a bit about his colleague Adam Smith lately, he of the economics fame during the Enlightenment phase. (esp PJ O'Rourke's On the wealth of nations, and James Buchan The Authentic Adam Smith). I started Buchan's Crowded with Genius, Edinburgh's Englightenment a couple of years ago. It is excellent, and interesting to read too. And has opened up more historical nonfiction books (and biography) for me to peruse.

Still trying to figure out why this will not cut and paste from the Note I wrote on the facebook site. sigh.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Canadian Authors

I have been asked (quite often) who are my favourite authors (in a particular genre).
So here are a list of some of the Canadians! It is quite humbling to know how many authors I have missed, yet to read, will never get to.
Margaret Atwood Payback (and so much more)
Roberston Davies Deptford Trilogy, Rebel Angels (and everything)
Alistair McLeod No Great Mischief plus every short story
Gil Adamson the Outlander
Dave Duncan science fiction start with the Guilded Chain
Thomas Costain history
Don Coles Forests of Medieval Worlds (poetry)
WP Kinsella Shoeless Joe
Robert Service wonderful poetry
Lucy Maud Montgomery Anne of Green Gables
Ralph Connor Man from Glengarry
William Gibson Neuromancer
Grey Owl
Graeme Gibson
Carol Shields Stone Diary, Bio of Jane Austen
Paul Quarrington Whale Music
Greg Wilson Children's books and programming tomes

As you can see there are many more. Enjoy, send me YOUR favourites.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Vanora Bennett, The Queen's lover

I just finished reading the new Vanora Bennett: The Queen's lover. This is about pre-tudor England, Henry V. The story revolves around Catherine de Valois (daughter of Charles VI) - who is raised to be Queen (similar to many other Catherines). She is married to Henry as part of a treaty, and fulfils her duty. She camps with him (with mud mud and more mud) on his campaign trail through France, then arrives into England, with 'cold mud'. The descriptions of her travels, meeting various people, her inner thoughts .... are fascinating. Watching her mature, and go through the cycles that all women do (how is it your mother is always right?) and seeing the whole picture, while grasping at love too. AND the first six Henry's were NOT Tudors, but her second son, with Owain (this Queen's lover) has a son who becomes Henry VII, first tudor king of England.
I would love to have Bennett write the sequel - e.g. what happens during the War of the Roses, her thoughts on the beheading of Owain, and Henry's victory (Catherine and Owain's grandson) over all of them.
It was always convoluted history, but it is FASCINATING in Bennett's writing hands. AND Owain was Welsh, hence the celt connection.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Beltane, May Day

I cannot seem to paste my previous script here, so please see the Friends of the Rochester Public Library blog, for that posting on Beltane. Sorry!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rumer Godden

Our book group just read Black Narcissus, and watched the film (as this is a Literature into Film group). The discussion was outstanding today as we all tried to relate the roles of missionaries, religion, cultural divides, class systems, and the environment into this book. The author was also absolutely fascinating; she won the Whitbread in 1974 for her Children's literature, was awarded an OBE, lived in England, India, Scotland during the course of her 90 years (d 1998). You might remember her novel 'In this house of Brede'. It was an extraordinary life, well lived, and oft written about. The movie was particularly excellent; a BBC production of her children's book, plus a documentary about her life are also well worth watching. Make sure you see the 'extras' on the dvds!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth day

From the Writer's Almanac and the Composer's Almanac: written and produced by Garrison Keillor:

Today is Earth Day. And it's also the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day — held on this day in 1970 and widely considered to the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Earth Day's founder was a senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson. His goal was to force environmental issues onto the national agenda. Before 1970, stories about the environment were almost never reported. One Earth Day organizer said that back then, "Environment was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news."

In 1969, an oil pipe ruptured just off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, causing 200,000 gallons of crude oil to burst forth and then slowly leak out and spread over an 800-square-mile slick. It took 11 days to plug the hole. The oil poisoned seals and dolphins, whose corpses washed up onto California beaches, and it killed thousands of seabirds as well. Senator Nelson visited the site of the enormous ecological disaster and was outraged that nobody in Washington seemed to be concerned about the great devastation to the natural environment. And then he realized that many people simply didn't really know.

So he proposed a national "teach-in," an event to take place on universities campuses around the nation, one that would educate the public, raise awareness on environmental issues, and make politicians pay attention to these things, so that they would make laws to protect the environment in order to, as he said, "stem the tide of environmental disaster."

He saw how successful the anti-war protestors were at getting media coverage — and therefore, making politicians take notice — and he decided to base his campaign for environmental awareness on their model. He also hoped to infuse the same student anti-war energy into the environmental cause. He proposed setting aside one day a year as a national day of observance about environmental problems. The New York Times picked up the story in late September 1969, a great boon to the grassroots organizers of the campaign, who had no Internet to spread the word.

At first, Senator Nelson called it National Environment Teach-In Day, but his friend, a New York advertising executive suggested "Earth Day," especially catchy since it rhymes with "birthday," and that's what the press began to call it. Historian Adam Rome has called Earth Day the "most famous unknown event in modern American history."

About 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. They gathered at assemblies in high school gyms, at university plazas, in suburban city parks. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Gaylord Nelson had graduated from law school, people met up at 4:45 a.m. for an "Earth Service," where, according to one report, they "greeted the sunrise with a Sanskrit invocation and read together from Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Thoreau, and the Bible." Girl Scouts distributed pamphlets that Wisconsin grad students had written, which gave household tips for helping to preserve the environment. Tens of thousands met up in Philadelphia's Fairmont Park — and stayed there for days — and 100,000 streamed into Fifth Avenue in New York City. People celebrated spring weather and gave impassioned political speeches about environmental issues.

Though unstructured and somewhat incohesive, Earth Day was hugely successful. Environmental issues found a prominent place on the political agenda. Earth Day in April 1970 helped lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of that year (the EPA was created December 2, 1970), as well as to the passage of legislation like the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

oday is Earth Day -- an annual event started in 1970 by then-Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin as an environmental teach-in.

Senator Nelson wasn't the only one concerned back then, either: the Czech-born composer Karel Husa had noticed dead fish floating on a lake located near a power plant. "The plant was producing hot thermal pollution which in turn killed all those fish," Husa recalled. "In addition, I noticed more beer cans in the water and algae in greater quantities."

A wind band commission provided Husa with an opportunity to create a work he called "Apotheosis of This Earth." In explaining its title, Husa wrote:

"Man's brutal possession and misuse of nature's beauty -- if continued at today's reckless speed -- can only lead to catastrophe. The composer hopes that the destruction of this beautiful earth can be stopped, so that the tragedy of destruction -- musically projected here in the second movement -- and the desolation of its aftermath -- the 'Postscript' of this work -- can exist only as fantasy, never to become reality."

"Apotheosis of this Earth" was commissioned by the Michigan School Band and Orchestral Association, and its premiere performance took place on April 1, 1970, with Husa himself conducting the University of Michigan Symphony Band at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. It proved a powerful piece of music.

"As the 'Postscript' finished," recalled the composer, "I saw that the students in the band were somehow moved -- there were even some tears."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

John Muir, Earth Day

Today was the birthday of John Muir, scottish writer and american activist for nature (founder of Sierra Club). Celebrate earth day by reading one of his books - they lovingly detail and describe nature, as many of us will never see it, in all it's reality. Better than television! I have previously written about the nonfiction work that won the Pulitzer last year by Donald Worster: A passion for nature: life of John Muir. Absolutely excellent authorship. This years' Pulitzers were just published today as well. Busy reading time ahead!

Activist and writer Bill McKibben has written several pertinent books e.g.
The end of nature, the age of missing information and latest Eaarth. I also liked the list of books he recommended reading recently: Collected essays by Wendell Berry, Desert Solitaire Edward Abbey, Richart Nelson Heart and Blood, Gary Snyder Practice of the Wild, Lester Brown Plan B and Terry Tempest Williams Refuge. These are all powerful voices with brilliant prose.

Tomorrow is Earth day - a very important day for reflection for also for activism. Remember Emerson and Thoreau in the course of your day, and then do something to help Mother Nature.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


In celebration of Beltane, a celtic festival marking the height of spring, I have been perusing bookstores in Chicago, looking for new authors and new books. Have a lovely list that I am starting and will share soon. But today I listened to The English nightingale: virtuoso recorder music from the renaissance to romantic: piers adams and howard beach....stunning stunning performance of amazing music. Tomorrow is Shakespeare (Taming of the Shrew) AND lecture/conversation at the Chicago Public Library by Peter Carey.
We all celebrate the return of warmth and the sun but Chicago must have a million tulips to do it with. Even if the blossoms are 3 weeks ahead of their scheduled festival. Earth Day is this week too, global warming has never been more contested. The Celts had a greater respect for nature that we might heed.

SJ Parrish, Heresy

SJ Parris Heresy 2010 Pen name of Stephanie Merritt (fabulous writer from Britain; journalist for Guardian and and Observer. She has also written the Dangerous Book for Boys and Bones of the Hills). This novel Heresy is based on the life of scientist Giordani Bruno in Oxford in 1583 and is a FABULOUS historical thriller, entertaining whodunit. Factual details, and vivid, intense characters; - haunting sense of place. One description was Brother Cadfael meets Voldemort - it was enough to make me open the cover!

Monday, April 19, 2010

ebooks, iPad, New Yorker

Jane Austen: how Jane Austen conquered the world. Claire Harman

OK all you Janeites!! there is a new (ish) biography that it utterly fascinating!
Jane's Fame by Claire Harman (2009) How Jane Austen conquered the world. Well written, interesting critique, well researched, such that I am in search of her other three books now too. How did I miss the one on Robert Louis Stevenson??

Paraphrasing some of the pages: "two hundred years and tens of thousands of books on Austen later... her fame and readership continue to grow." the Dawn of Janeism was around 1870 with Margaret Oliphant. In 2007 Pride and Prejudice was voted the book the UK couldn't do without (the Bible was 6th)...Til then Jane was as an author "a critic's novelist - highly spoke of and little read" in the 1830s-60s. Many people liked that there were no letters, no private information of either her or Shakespeare to keep the mystery and make the work itself more important...

Enjoy reading, and then peruse the footnotes, the biography, and be inspired again.

Jane Austen: how Claire Harman

OK all you Janeites!! there is a new (ish) biography that it utterly fascinating! Jane's Fame by Claire Harman (2009) How Jane Austen conquered the world. Well written, interesting critique, well researched, such that I am in search of her other three books now too. How did I miss the one on Robert Louis Stevenson?? Paraphrasing "two hundred years and tens of thousands of books on Austen later... her fame and readership continue to grow." the Dawn of janeism was around 1870 with Margaret Oliphant. In 2007 Pride and Prejudice was voted the book the UK couldn't do without (the bible was 6th)...Til then Jane was an author "a critic's novelist - highly spoke of and little read" in the 1830s-60s. Many people liked that there were no letters, no private information of either her or Shakespeare to keep the mystery and make the work more important'... enjoy reading, and then peruse the footnotes, the biography, and be inspired again.

Favourite British authors

Just to update the blog, which I have neglected while working on other blogs!
Spur of the moment 15 authors....(OK, it is more than 15, in three minutes!) (But I already have the next batch of 15 too!)
Dorothy Sayers
Ian Rankin
Kate Atkinson
Dorothy Dunnett
AL Kennedy
Clifford Hanley
John Connolly
Susan Hill
Kate Morton
Anne Perry
Alexander McCall Smith
Antonia Fraser
Mary Stewart
Andrew Greig
Liz Lochhead
Roger Deakin
Elly Griffiths
Craig Fergusson