Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Of the Moment

It’s officially summer! There is much reading to be celebrated, especially after our blackberry winter: this is a delightful weather term for the unexpected late May snowstorms that occasionally plague northern climates. I won't forget our 17 inches of snow on May 2nd this year for awhile. But blackberry winter is also the title of a wonderful song by Hilary Kole, which inspired the book by Sarah Jio.

As many of you know I love to recommend Sarah Jio’s books, especially perfect for summer reads.

Blackberry Winter takes place in Seattle in 1935 and the present with two snowstorms separated by nearly a century on the 2nd May. During the first snowstorm a child is kidnapped and never found although his mother relentlessly searches. Decades later after another storm, a reporter Claire Aldridge awakens to a similar snow and is asked to write a story on the unsolved abduction. She investigates with unexpected family consequences. Claire herself is undergoing a difficult time with the premature death of her child and estrangement of her husband.

There is a gentle mystery with interesting character development and an uplifting resolution of family threads. I enjoyed the historical details and found the lives of the present day families moving.  Illustrating the power of hope and dreams, this is a heartfelt and engaging novel, perfect for that lazy summer weekend. Don't miss her newest novel The Last Camellia.


Every child deserved a taste of cake, even poor ones.

…just one button remained. At 5 cents apiece, it seemed frivilous to think of replacing the ones that had gone missing.

Seattle seems to have an insatiable appetite for condos and Starbucks

His life was like a tragic novel missing the final chapter, a beautiful one. We’d found it, dusted it off, and now it was time to read it.

Your heart never forgets your mother.

Friday, June 14, 2013


Seraphina (2012) This is a marvelous debut YA science fiction/fantasy novel by Rachel Hartman which has received numerous awards including:
Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel
Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada)
Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK)
Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (UK)

If you thought there was nothing new to say about dragons, here is a beautifully intricately, crafted new kingdom, Goredd, where humans and dragons have tentatively, coexisted for nearly 4 decades. Dragons attend court in human shape as ambassadors, and are noted for their rational, mathematical minds which makes them attractive to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, tensions increase when a member of the royal family is murdered in suspiciously draconian fashion.

Seraphina Dombegh fears both humans and dragons. An unusually gifted court musician, she is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queens Guard, the perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they uncover a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina must protect her own secret, the reason for her musical gift. For Phina is half dragon and half human and totally unforgettable.

This heroine’s struggle, coming of age, is one readers will remember long after they’ve closed the book. The original world (new dragonlore), fun, fascinating and complex characters also demand the sequel to be written soon! I was captivated by the story, entranced by the beautiful, evocative writing. It was a pleasure to reread sections – a delight to return to highlighted passages (thank you kindle for the ease of nondestructive highlighting!). I found myself wishing I had had this book as a teenager with its strong characters, depth of story, creative thinking and interesting example.

There is a wonderful glossary of terms and a cast of characters (examples:)
Binou – breton bagpipes
Aurochs - extinct European cattle wild
Quine – 4 sheets of parchment (medieval paper)
Saarantrai - Dragons in human form

The main character is Seraphina Dombagh, often called Phina
Claude is her father and human
Orma is mentor and uncle and dragon
Prince Lucian Kiggs – is Princess Laurel’s bastard, and fiance to Princess Glisselda
Kiggs is also Captain of the Queen’s Guards
Viridius is the court composer

Most of these quotes are from the first half of the book: the pages flew and I was so absorbed in the story I didn’t interrupt it with anything. Magic quickly overtakes the reader.

Dragons have no souls and must wear a bell in human form unless they are scholars. They have silver blood, no beards, a peculiar smell not normally detected by humans. ...They have sulphurous breath.

The Music…was the answer to a question I had never asked, the way to fill the dread emptiness into which I had been born.

Superstitious fakery or not, the psalter’s message was clear: the truth may not be told. Here is an acceptable lie.

My love of music eventually lured me from the safety of my father’s house, propelling me into the city and the royal court…I did not understand that I carried loneliness before me on a plate, and that music would be the light, illuminating me from behind.

They needed heaven’s peace. I knew little of Saints, but I knew about sorrow and about music as sorrow’s surest balm. That was comfort I could give. There are melodies that speak as eloquently as words, that flow logically and inevitably from a single, pure emotion.

Her Uncle Orma had…the scholar’s exemption from the bell, so few people ever realised he was a dragon. He had his quirks certainly: he never laughed; he had little comprehension of fashion, manners, or art; he had a taste for difficult mathematics and fabrics that didn’t itch.

“…dispensing with any greeting. Dragons never see the point.”

I barely noticed loneliness anymore; it was my normal condition by necessity if not by nature.

I was half lawyer; I always noticed the loopholes.

It was good to see a dragon’s teeth. A dragon with his mouth closed was far more likely to be working up a flame. That seemed completely obvious.

Under the white winter sky the dragons looked rusty, a disappointing color for so fabled a species, but I soon realised their shades were subtle. The right slant of sunlight brought out an irridescent sheen in their scales; they shimmered with rich underhues, from purple to gold.

I had practicing to do, a book on Zibou sinus-song I’d been dying to read.

The borderlands of madness used to have much sterner signage around them than they do now.

Speculus, the longest night of the year, as the saying goes: when the days lengthen, the cold strengthens.

Once I had ceased to be terrified, I was awed….pipes fitted in neat rows, making a palisade fortress of chanters; it looked like the unnatural offspring of a bagpipe and a …. A dragon.

There was no music on the stand; surely no music had yet been written for this monstrosity. Was this cacophony his own composition? I suspected it was. It was brilliant, the way a thunderstorm across the moors or a raging torrent is brilliant insofar as a force of nature may be said to have genius. (the megaharmonium – or organ!)

He released the last chord like a boulder off a trebuchet (medieval catapult)

We were friends; he just didn’t know it yet. He had a nose like a compass needle; it pointed with purpose.

Viridius planned to rehearse us within an inch of our lives.

There is danger in humanity. Do not lose yourself to the wet brain. Tempted by the chemical intoxication of emotion, dragons forget what they are.

I’d had more than my share of beautiful today. Tomorrow I’d give some back, restore and replenish the world.

4.5 stars (5 if the sequel comes soon!)
Read as an ebook from the Library, must purchase for my own library (done!).

Read on:If you liked Graceling, Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, you will love this.
If you like the dragons of Eragon (Christopher Paolini), His Majesty’s Dragons (Naomi Novik).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book of the Moment - Letter from Skye

June 2013
The Bookmore Cottage

Dear Gentle Reader,

Summer is almost upon us and I am not sure what happened to spring. I somehow didn’t have enough time to read with all the gardening, travelling and packing, to say nothing of shoveling unexpected May snow. But planes are perfect places to read, so I have always loved summer travel. Cars invite audiobooks across miles. And of course, the chaise lounge on the back deck can take you so many places. Last week I ended up in Scotland, alternating between present day, WWI and WWII.

Letters from Skye is the charming debut novel by Jessica Brockmole. Dear Reader, you will love this beautiful portrayal of old fashioned love in the time of war, the nuances of letter writing, the captivating period detail, and the two cultures (American and Scottish) which will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

Through these letters, I met a new friend that I think you will also adore, the lovely Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn from the island of Skye. Her letters sparkle with her love of countryside, youth, family, her fears and dreams and her compass. I felt the same sea breezes, gazed at the stormy seas, despaired for days and years, questioned my own journey and just so enjoyed her erudite company. The letters of her daughter Margarite, her American friend and lover David Graham, along with various family memebers reveal secrets, friendships, bravery and trials, but as with the very nature of letters leave some experiences to the reader’s imagination. There was a satisfying resolution which celebrated joy, something worth remembering in turbulent times. “I have never stopped loving you.”

I have always been a letter writer, an anomaly/anachronism more so with the passing to the electronic age. The graceful correspondence makes for easy reading and is punctuated with lovely humour, wit and passion. I loved the development of the realistic characters (I have a number of Scottish friends I recognised instantly) over the years but also through the eyes of other family members. I enjoyed being reminded of my Grandmother’s time, and also reminding me of how grateful I am to live in this time. And of course, I want to go back home to Scotland now.

Most Sincerely,

A British Bluestocking

PS  Be sure to Read on to:
Yes it has been compared with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), but it reminds me more of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Julia Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo, The Tortoise, or her Pigeon Pie Mystery and Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simon (see previous reviews!).

“Like any whose blood runs tartan, I adore W.S…. his poetry really does a fine job of capturing Scotland in all of her changeable moods.”

“ All a person really needs to get them through the vagaries of life are the Bible and W.S. (both of them).”

“I like a good western too and reading things like Zane Grey when I want to take a break from ‘literature’.”

“Our world has already vanished," he said. "I can’t get it back, but I’ll sure as hell try to keep the rest from going to pieces.”

“The night was so pregnant, so poignant, one of those Scottish nights that make you understand why some still believe in spirits and wee folk.”

“Did you know that your eyes are the exact brown-green of the Scottish hills in wintertime?”

Read as an ARC
4 stars for a delightful summer read
Published July 9th 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Hermit in the Garden

From Imperil Rome to Ornamental Gnome by Gordon Campbell
Oxford University Press (October 2012, recently on book tour in the USA)

Campbell is a noted historian, distinguished Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester and has an impressive list of literature, art and history books authored and edited. (I thoroughly recommend his book “The story of the King James Bible”)

This is a magnificent historical account of Hermits, Hermitages and English Garden design, especially Georgian. Hermitages have recently enjoyed a minor renaissance recently, with old ones restored, new ones built and even job offers with increased tourism. I think the popularity of hobbits might have helped too. Although he claims that gnomes are a logical evolution of the hermit they are still banned at Chelsea Flower show! “Garden hermits evolved from antiquated druids and eventually declined into the garden gnome.” He illustrates four types of hermitages- religious, secular or court, Elizabethan and earlier British hermits (he often states English hermits, while showing them in Scotland and Ireland). Many early garden hermitages were in southern Europe, Italy, France from the 1400s, although the first might have been at the Roman villa of Hadrian. Campbell also recounts the fascinating history of hermitages in Spain.

But the heyday of Hermitages was arguably in 18th century Britain where grand garden designs brought follies into the landscape. Follies often included hermitages with or without hermits (not religious but secular). Britain has had hermits since pilgrims of Christianity, but I was astonished at the list of 750 cells and names of 650 hermits in the 1800s (Rotha Mary Clay). These were places of contemplation, which allowed “pleasurable melancholy” and deep thought, sometimes following a retreat after personal crisis. Hermits have been romanticised but in actual fact the austere living conditions were primitive at best – and sometimes had required conditions of not cutting hair or nails (for up to 7 years). Not all hermitages were spartan. They were also fads/fashionable as recounted by nobility (hermit and lady hermit) “pretending to be peasants” enjoying the simple life. The OED defines simple life as ‘doing without servants and luxuries’! The affinity for nature and solitude had a quite different expression in America with Muir, Thoreau and Emerson. NB. The plantation home of Pres. Andrew Jackson nr Nashville is called the Hermitage, but refers to the original log buildings. I had over 25% of the book highlighted with interesting facts (and “oh” moments).

I found the descriptions both beautiful and tragic, for so many gardens and hermitages lost over the centuries.  I have space in my garden: gnomes need not apply.

Appendix has a list of interesting hermitages, several I have visited: Dunkeld, Dalkeith park, Craigieburn, Taymouth castle
Some good illustrations, mostly black and white photos and drawings in my e-copy (contents say 63 color plates, 304 pp)
Bibliography and List of Hermitages in the World (country and county)
Now I must visit the Ermitage at Arleshein, Switzerland – it sounds idyllic and has the last surviving ornamental hermit.

Read on to (preferably in your garden)
Edith Wharton (short story) Hermit and the Wild Woman
Tom Stoppard Arcadia
Seamus Heaney (1984) poem The Hermit

Read as an ARC
4.5 stars

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Beach Reads - NonFiction


It is time for beach reads again, although I read anything and everything over the summer. I am really looking forward to a chance to read, having spent months packing, sorting, pitching and moving. Well, I have continued to read, but haven't had a chance to write, yet so want to share some wonderful reads. Hopefully that will happen over the next month or two.
I have a list of authors I follow antcipating their next book, that I simply must read. Locate that sun umbrella, the chaise lounge, the iced tea and then lose myself in another world. Sometimes it is a place (Paris, London, Yellowstone), sometimes it is a person (Shakespeare, memoirs, presidents), sometimes it is a time (medieval Scotland, Puritan New England, the 1960s) and sometimes it is a taste (single malts, organic foods, what to eat next). Entertaining, educational and edifying, these authors never fail me.

Nonfiction writers

Heavily weighted towards history and natural history.

A. Peter Ackroyd, Margaret Atwood (Payback), Stephen Ambrose

B. Nick Bunker, Bill Bryson, Geraldine Brooks, Iain Banks, Alan Bennett

C. Rachel Carson, AJ Cronin, Winston Churchill, William Cronon

D. Bernard DeVoto, Michael Dirda, Richard Dawkins, John Gregory Dunne

E. Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Edward

F. William Fiennes, Niall Fergusson, David Hackett Fischer, Shelby Foote

G. AAGill, A Greig, Stephen Jay Gould, Doris Kearns Goodwin

H. Edward Hoagland, Tony Horwitz, William Least Heat-Moon, Bernd Heinrich, Stephen Hawkins

I. Ian Frazer

J. PD James, Clive James

K. Verlyn Klinkenborg, Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Kennedy Jr, Tracy Kidder

L. Louise Leaman, Robert Leckie, Aldo Leopold

M. David McCullouch, John McPhee, John Muir, Farley Mowat, William Manchester

N. Stephen Nelson, Cynthia Ne
O. Edna OBrien
P. Michael Pollan, Nancy Pearl, Annie Proulx

R. Oliver Rackham, Tim Russert, Teddy Roosevelt

S. Marjori Santani Persepolis, Simon Schama, Ernest Thompson Seton, Arthur Schlessinger, Jr., TC Smout

T. Studs Terkel, Thoreau, Alisdair Taylor,

U. Robert Utley

V. Voltaire
W. Patricia Wells, Simon Winchester, Daniel Worster