Sunday, July 8, 2018

Five Things

Is mowing the lawn exercise? Yes! The actual amount of calories burned depends on your weight and the type of mower but this is comforting news. I suspect all my bending to pick up sticks and branches is more valuable fitness-wise than pushing the mower but you never know.
My favorite striped petunias on the front steps
Perhaps this week’s moral lesson is NOT to buy Talenti Gelato unless it is on sale. I was brought up to know better and I am punished for too quickly grabbing a pint of Sea Salt Caramel which, upon arriving home, turned out to be Coffee Chocolate Chip Gelato, a flavor I don’t like. I would like to give it to someone if I could deliver it unmelted.

Newly planted hydrangea
The other night my sister Andrea and I tried to go to my favorite ice cream store, Cabot’s in Newtonville. To our distress, Cabot’s was closed for the 4th of July holiday week!  I don’t begrudge their holiday but I was sad about my peppermint stick deprivation. We went to White Mountain Creamery in Chestnut Hill where the raspberry sorbet fell off my cone (they replaced it with a much smaller portion).

I found a crisp $5 dollar bill on Cambridge Street as I dashed to the Red Line the other day, and hesitated before picking it up. After all, I pick up a stray penny (all the day you’ll have good luck), so why not $500 pennies? I waited a couple minutes in case someone came back to claim it but, really, on a very busy Boston street, someone else would have grabbed it, right?

Gardening is not something I enjoy but I really want to have a beautiful, labor-free garden so I try every summer to plant and cultivate. So far this year I have planted six hydrangeas and killed two and a half.   In the fall, I think I will plant more day lilies as they seem reliable and relatively maintenance free.
This day lily is making its second appearance

Monday, July 2, 2018

Star of the North (Book Review)

Title: Star of the North 
Author: D. B. John
Publication: Crown Publishing, hardcover, 2018
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Jenna’s twin sister disappeared 12 years ago while studying in Korea, devastating the while family.  Jenna has tried to rebuild her life and is a successful academic at Georgetown University when she learns there is a possibility Soo-Min is alive.  Abandoning her career, she joins the CIA in an attempt to learn as much as possible about North Korea and expedite any opportunity to rescue her sister.  Other characters include a North Korean diplomat, Colonel Cho, part of the Pyongyang elite who is sent on a mission to negotiate with the United States – where he meets Jenna – and Mrs. Moon, a North Korean peasant living near the Chinese border, trying desperately to support herself and an invalid husband.

Audience: Fans of suspense, particularly those who enjoy strong female characters.  I recommend to readers who enjoy David Baldacci and Dean Koontz.

My Impressions: What a timely book written by Welsh-born David Johns and, more importantly, it was impossible to put down!  Jenna is an appealing and compelling heroine whose nightmares about her sister’s disappearance and survivor’s guilt have prevented her from developing close relationships as an adult, although she is beautiful and brilliant.   Her dual heritage from her African-American military father and her Korean mother has set her apart and focused her academic interests so when she is recruited to join the CIA, she can almost immediately discern information on North Korea that is not apparent to Washington insiders. 
Parallel with Jenna’s story is a convincing look at the highest and the lowest in North Korea:  Colonel Cho Sang-ho appears to have it all as a member of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a high-ranking position, serving Kim Jong-Il (father of the current despot), and Mrs. Moon has a heartbreaking life of selling scraps by a railway station in North Korea’s Ryanggang Province, bribing police out of her meager profits to survive each day.   I was so busy reading I forgot to wonder how her story intersected with the others, and was surprised and impressed by the author’s skill in weaving these disparate personalities into a disturbing yet enthralling narrative. I am embarrassed at how weak my geography is – hence the map above.  I did not have much interest in North Korea prior to this year but found this story fascinating.  Best of all, there is clearly room for a sequel but not at the expense (as my sister was just complaining) of ending this book without a conclusion.

Source: This book was recommended by my talented college classmate Nick Kristof in his newsletter, and I got a copy from the Boston Public Library.   I suggest you give it a try.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Rainy Day Friends (Book Review)

Title: Rainy Day Friends
Author: Jill Shalvis
Publication: William Morrow, various formats, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Plot: After Lanie’s husband dies, her grief is offset by bitterness when she learns he was a multiple bigamist. Trying to escape from painful memories, she takes a temporary graphic design job at a family-managed Capriotti winery. Welcomed by an outgoing family that provides lasagna for lunch every day, Lanie is reluctantly attracted to handsome Mark Capriotti, a deputy sheriff and single father. Although neither Lanie nor Mark is looking for a relationship, they fall for each other pretty quickly and Lanie starts to regain her self-confidence – until her new life is threatened by a young, pregnant, new winery employee, River Brown . . .

Audience: Fans of Susan Wiggs, Susan Mallery, and Kristan Higgins

My Impressions: This was a fun, if predictable, "life after heartbreak" summer read with an entertaining setting. It is book 2 in a new Wildstone series but it works well as a standalone. Shalvis is known for her quirky and interconnected characters and everyone in this story has lots of personality except the unhappy and reserved Lanie. Lanie is an interesting heroine, recovering from the betrayal of her husband’s infidelity and understandably unwilling to be around anyone or anything that reminds her of such a painful situation. She resists being pulled into the Capriotti family but they give her no choice! Cora Capriotti, the family matriarch, is a great character, warm and welcoming to those in need such as Lanie and River – I hope she gets her own book before this series is over!
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes, and immediately ordered the first book in the series.  You can visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:

Monday, July 2nd: The Book Date
Tuesday, July 3rd: bookchickdi
Wednesday, July 4th: Broken Teepee
Friday, July 6th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog
Monday, July 9th: Stranded in Chaos
Tuesday, July 10th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, July 12th: Time 2 Read
Friday, July 13th: Girl Who Reads
Monday, July 16th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, July 17th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Friday, July 20th: Not in Jersey

Five Things

My amazing cobbler in Brookline managed to resuscitate this favorite pair of black peep-toe shoes but oddly he put something in the left heel that rattles. I feel like someone about to break into a tap dance!
I am on my way to DC for a Credit Building Symposium and am glad my friend persuaded me to stay at the conference hotel instead of the budget hotel inconveniently located. I only wish I had been able to find my DC Metro card, which I prudently removed from my wallet prior to going to England in April lest I lose it. Yes, of course, I could not locate the safe place I put it in but did find my missing prescription sunglasses! Does that mean it will be cloudy in DC?

I remembered to pack postcard stamps so I could write to the nephews at camp in Maine!

I had hoped to work on department budgets for work before I left for the airport but one of the three necessary people texted me at 8:15 am that his cat was *still* vomiting and needed to go to the vet. No meeting. Then the second person shared her cat woes with me when I updated her. No pets for me!

I had a red pepper, one of the few vegetables I like; no time to eat it before I left but did not want to waste it so I popped it into my tote bag. No knife, obviously, as I want to pass through airport security - shall I eat it like an apple?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dancing Girl by Gladys Malvern (book review)

Title: Dancing Girl
Author: Gladys Malvern
Publication: Macrae Smith Company, Hardcover, 1959
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Setting: About 28-29 A.D.
Plot: One of ten rescued from a shipwreck, Claudia, brought up as a dancing girl, becomes the slave of Herod-Daniel in Galilee, soon after the death of John the Baptist.  Orphaned Claudia faces her new challenges bravely, relying on the friendship of two Greeks, kindly Baladan and his handsome son Julian. When the local ruler, Herod-Daniel, finds his new slaves include a talented dancing girl from Tyre, a scholar of great learning, and a gifted athlete, Claudia is set to entertain the household, Baladan begins tutoring Herod-Daniel’s frail son Enoch, and Julian is responsible for Enoch’s physical wellbeing. Soon both Julian and Enoch have fallen in love with Claudia, who has become preoccupied with a young prophet, Jesus, who is preaching and performing miracles nearby. While the words and deeds of Jesus are scorned by the ruling class of Galilee, Claudia’s friendship with the followers of Jesus jeopardizes her life but ultimately leads to happiness.

Audience: Fans of historical fiction, although intended for young teens

My Impressions: Gladys Malvern wrote a wide variety of books for young people, ranging from career romances (of which my favorites are Gloria Ballet Dancer and Prima Ballerina), biographies about historical figures such as Lady Jane Gray, historical novels set in colonial America, the England of William the Conqueror, and the Old and New Testament. This is one I had never come across and I learned about it when reading an anthology called Dancers Dancers Dancers edited by Lee Wyndham, herself a noted juvenile writer (1912-78) who wrote about all types of dancers and lived outside New York (I wonder if she and Gladys ever met?). Some of the stories in the anthology had been published in American Girl magazine, which my mother read as a girl. The book included an excerpt from Dancing Girl, which I then requested from ILL.

Claudia is the usual intrepid Malvern heroine – dedicated, wistful, affectionate – and as an orphan who has never experienced love or kindness, she is fascinated by handsome Julian who saved her from drowning and his thoughtful father. More interesting than the love triangle between Claudia, her rescuer, Julian, and Enoch, the son of her new owner, however, is her growing devotion to the new teacher, Jesus. As the book opens, John the Baptist has just been murdered by another Herod, a governor appointed by Rome, his life bartered for a dance by Herod Antipas’ stepdaughter Salome. The backlash from this unpopular move makes some people in Capernaum, near the Sea of Galilee, more interested in the preaching by Jesus, and although Claudia is from Phoenicia and has previously worshipped the god Ba’al she is intrigued by this unusual message of love:
He spoke in a voice of authority.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” came the voice of the vibrant young teacher, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Ridiculous,” scoffed Enoch.
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
What an absurd theory, thought Enoch.
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
The sermon went on. At first Enoch was restless, wanting to leave, but Claudia, Baladan and Julian seemed enthralled so he relaxed, wondering how men as wise as Baladan . . . could be taken in by such impractical teaching . . .
In this depiction, Jesus seems mystical and distant but after he cures a leper even skeptical Enoch is close to becoming a believer while Claudia’s growing devotion to Jesus results in grave danger. And while Claudia and her fellow slaves are imaginary, some of the events of this book are inspired by the Gospel: Matthew 5:1-7, 8, 1-17, 14: 2-11; Mark 6:16-28; and John 4:46-53, Malvern’s combination of fact and fiction make this little-known novel unusual and appealing.
Gladys Malvern, sketched by sister Corinne
Note that Malvern also wrote Dancing Star, a biographical novel about Anna Pavlova (which must have been reprinted many times as it is quite easy to find), and that title usually comes up if you search for Dancing Girl – it is enjoyable but they are definitely not the same book.  Unfortunately, while some of Malvern's books have been reprinted or made available electronically, this is not one of them.  My other Malvern reviews can be accessed here.

Source: I am grateful to the BPL for getting this book for me via InterLibrary Loan from the famous Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore (a coincidence that this book contains an important character named Enoch).

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I'll Be Your Blue Sky (Book Review)

Title: I’ll Be Your Blue Sky
Publication: Harper Collins hardcover, 2018
Genre: Fiction
Plot: On the weekend of her wedding, Clare Hobbes meets an elderly woman named Edith Herron. During the course of a single conversation, Edith gives Clare the courage to do what she should have done months earlier: break off her engagement to her charming—yet overly possessive—fiancĂ©.

Three weeks later, Clare learns that Edith has died—and has given her another gift. Nestled in crepe myrtle and hydrangea and perched at the marshy edge of a bay in a small seaside town in Delaware, Blue Sky House now belongs to Clare. Though the former guest house has been empty for years, Clare feels a deep connection to Edith inside its walls, which are decorated with old photographs taken by Edith and her beloved husband, Joseph.

Exploring the house, Clare finds two mysterious ledgers hidden beneath the kitchen sink. Edith, it seems, was no ordinary woman—and Blue Sky House no ordinary place. With the help of her mother, Viviana, her surrogate mother, Cornelia Brown, and her former boyfriend and best friend, Dev Tremain, Clare begins to piece together the story of Blue Sky House—a decades-old mystery more complex and tangled than she could have imagined. As she peels back the layers of Edith’s life, Clare discovers a story of dark secrets, passionate love, heartbreaking sacrifice, and incredible courage. She also makes startling discoveries about herself: where she’s come from, where she’s going, and what—and who—she loves.   (description from the publisher’s website)

Told from both Edith and Clare's perspectives, I’ll Be Your Blue Sky brings back some of the favorite characters from de los Santos’ first two books, LoveWalked In and Belong to Me.

Audience: There is no one who writes as beautifully as Marisa de los Santos so it is hard to identify similar authors but I think people who enjoy Luanne Rice and Jacquelyn Mitchard would like her books.

My Impressions: A new book by Marisa de los Santos is always a treat!   As always, this was lyrical prose, although as my sister pointed out, Clare’s engagement to the overly possessive fiancĂ© was never very convincing.  One doesn’t read these books for the plot per se but because de los Santos is such a kindred spirit - for example, she writes:
In a book I loved as a kid, a girl named Randy plays a game in which she wanders around the wide yard of her family’s big quirky, wonderful house and pretends she is a traveler, far from home and alone in the world.  It’s nighttime, so, through the windows, she can see the family – brothers, sister, father, housekeeper, dogs – moving around in their warm, interior light, going about their evening rituals, while Randy, outside in the cooling air, can hear bathwater running, a dog’s bark, a radio, the father’s typewriter, all the blessed and ordinary music of a happy family, and she stands in the grass, getting sadder by the second, aching with longing and loneliness.  And then – whoosh – she allows herself to suddenly remember that the house is hers, the family is hers, and flooded with the sweetest relief, she runs inside.
I knew the minute I read 'Randy' that this was Elizabeth Enright’s Randy Melendy but I can’t place the quote.  There are four books about this delightful fictional family – my mother gave me the first book, The Saturdays (1941), which is set in New York and involves the four siblings pooling their allowance so that each can have a more expensive city adventure than they would be able to afford individually.   But this quote refers to the house the Melendys bought in The Four-Story Mistake (1942) when they leave their Manhattan brownstone for a sprawling home in the country (I always assumed Connecticut but a quick look at my book indicates it was Carthage, NY which seems awfully far from NYC – also, wasn’t Mr. Melendy a professor?  Where is he going to teach in the middle of nowhere?).  In the third book, Then There Were Five (1944), the Melendys add another son (I don’t remember reading this one as frequently), and the fourth book is my favorite, Spiderweb for Two (1951), which is about how Randy and Oliver cope with their loneliness when their older siblings leave home (this was my favorite; I even remember the brownish red color of the rebound library copy I frequently borrowed).  I had forgotten until I just reread an earlier blog post that de los Santos mentioned her love of Enright in an NPR interview several years ago.

There is also an Anne of Green Gables reference: I told you this author is a kindred spirit! Of course, the book is well worth reading even apart from her very congenial kidlit mentions, whether you have read de los Santos before or are complete new to her.

Quiz:  Someone has done a Melendy Family quiz – I got 10/10, can you?

Source: I checked out I'll Be Your Blue Sky from the Boston Public Library.   Click here for my review of Falling Together (2011).

(Illustration of The Four-Story Mistake is copyright to the publisher - now, I think Henry Holt.  I am so glad they are still available - especially as I don't seem to own them all)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Green Dolphin Street (Book Review)

Title: Green Dolphin Street
Author: Elizabeth Goudge (pronounced Goozh, per the dust jacket)
Publication: Hardcover, 1944
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Set on the remote English Channel Island of St. Pierre in the mid-19th century, Green Dolphin Street is the story of two extraordinary sisters, Marianne and Marguerite, and William Ozanne, the neighbor both love. Many years ago, Sophie Le Patourel and Edmond Ozanne were in love but Edmond went to London to study medicine and married someone else. Sophie mended her broken heart, made a good but not romantic marriage, and has brought up her daughters to be respected members of their community. When Dr. Ozanne, now a widower, returns to St. Pierre with his son, William, they arrive on Green Dolphin Street near the Le Patourels. William is an uncomplicated youth of 13, happy to make friends with brilliant but difficult Marianne, three years his senior, and lovely, uncomplicated Marguerite, who is several years younger than he. As they grow up, Marianne stage manages William’s career and helps him join the Royal Navy; by now both sisters love him and each believes he will return to her. Much later, William has staked a claim in New Zealand and finally claims the sister dearest to his heart. This dramatic request changes the lives of both sisters, setting in motion both tragedy and heart-felt emotion.

I wouldn't say 'wanton'!
Audience: This book was a big bestseller in its day and will appeal to readers of sweeping epic novels such as Frances Parkinson Keyes, Charles Dickens, Daphne DuMaurier, Sinclair Lewis (I realize this takes in a lot of territory!).

My Impressions: I read most of Elizabeth Goudge’s books from my library growing up just outside Boston but somehow never got to this one. I remember my mother getting Linnets and Valerians for me, although it was The Little White Horse that I liked best (just like J.K. Rowling!). Some of them are overtly religious but Goudge also venerates the natural world and creates incredibly vivid descriptions settings that make it easy to visualize the settings. Green Dolphin Street has both: quiet faith in God and memorable descriptions of the Channel Islands and of untamed New Zealand. Reading this book is like watching an accident take place in slow motion – as author Judy Blundell noted recently good novels are often about bad choices. The story has a sense of inevitability that makes compelling reading!

When I first started working for Penguin, it had recently published Garden of Lies by Eileen Goudge, a bestseller about two babies switched at birth (also, forgive the spoiler, in love with the same man). Viking held a party for her second book and I had to ask to be invited (one of the annoying things about book publishing was that people who actually read the books were rarely included in such events, and I was not considered part of Viking because I sold the NAL paperback books). I recall that first book was entertaining but predictable and the second less memorable than the first but at the party I was able to ask her if she was related to Elizabeth Goudge. She was surprised by the question but said yes, distantly. As Elizabeth was an only child and was unmarried, I suppose it might not even be true, although the name is unusual.
Green Dolphin Street was made into a popular movie in 1947 starring Lana Turner as Marianne, the elder sister, Donna Reed as Marguerite, and May Whitty as the Mother Superior of the convent in St. Pierre. It was MGM’s most popular movie that year and won an Academy Award for best visual effects. I hope that Goudge benefitted financially!
from my April 2018 visit to Ely Cathedral
About the Author: Elizabeth Goudge (1900 – 1984) was the daughter of a distinguished English clergyman. I associated her with Wells, where she was born, and did not remember when I visited Ely Cathedral last month that she had also lived there as a young woman. Her mother was a native of Guernsey and told her daughter stories about the Channel Islands, which inspired the vivid descriptions of St. Pierre in this book. Goudge wrote a number of adult and children’s books, of which the best known are Green Dolphin Street and The Child from the Sea (about Charles II’s mistress, Lucy Walter).
Interior of Ely Cathedral

The Little White Horse, for which she won the Carnegie Medal, England’s equivalent of the Newbery Award, achieved new popularity several years ago when J. K. Rowling said it had been her favorite growing up. It is still in print – look for a copy!

Source:  I got this book from the Boston Public Library.  Annoyingly, my copy was missing pages 21-52!  But when I returned it (with note to its home branch), the staff there bonded with me over the book and movie, which was fun.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Hate U Give (Book Review)

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Publication: Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins
Genre: YA
Plot: Starr Carter is a teen inhabiting two worlds: the poor minority neighborhood of Garden Heights and the privileged world of Williamson Prep, where her parents send her and her siblings to protect them from gang violence. When childhood friend Khalil offers her a ride home from a party near home, Starr learns he has started selling drugs. Before she figures out how to respond to this, they are stopped by the police and during the resulting confrontation a nervous police officer shoots Khalil in the back as Starr helplessly witnesses his death. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Starr begins to question everyone around her – the detectives and media who portray Khalil as a dealer to justify his death, the school friends who don’t understand her new interest in social justice, the loving parents who want her to be safe, and neighbors who just want to live peacefully in their community – as she decides whether she should preserve her own anonymity/safety or speak out to tell the world what really happened that night.

Audience: Written for teens, The Hate U Give is also popular with adults. Acclaimed upon publication, it has won the National Book Award, the William C. Morris Award (for the best debut YA; Morris worked in Children’s books at Harper so he would have been happy to see it go to a Harper Collins book), a Printz honor book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and more.

My Impressions: This is a compelling story, inspired by the many recent police shootings, and was impossible to put down. However, what really makes the story is the incredible characterization of everyone in the book from Starr’s mother, a nurse; her father, a reformed drug dealer; and her white boyfriend Chris, who isn’t afraid to say they’re dating or to follow her to her neighborhood which at least one of her school friends calls the “ghetto”; her classmates at Williamson Prep and the black headmaster who doesn’t want to challenge the affluent white parents; and the Garden Heights neighbors.

In the last few years, I have read about many black parents having variations of this conversation with their children:
When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me. One was the usual birds and the bees . . . . The other was about what to do if a cop stopped me.
Momma fussed and told Daddy I was too young for that. He argued that I wasn’t too young to get arrested or shot.
“Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do,” he said. “Keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden noises. Only speak when they speak to you.”

There is a lot of fiction inspired by headlines and sometimes it comes across as forced. This book was inspired by the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant and feels very authentic and should create many opportunities for discussion and, one hopes, enlightenment.   I will say I usually can't stand books written in the present tense but I stopped noticing pretty early on.
Debut author Angie Thomas
Tupac: The title is based on Tupac’s Thug Life: The Hate U Give Little Infants F---- Everyone, which the author explains as, “When these unarmed black people lose their lives, the hate they've been given screws us all. We see it in the form of anger and we see it in the form of riots.”

Source: My copy came from the Boston Public Library. As part of the Roslindale Library’s Race and Inclusion programming, I led a book discussion on May 17th.  I highly recommend, even if or particularly if it is not your usual read.  Click here for an excerpt.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime (Book Review)

Title: Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime
Author: Cate Berry
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Publication: Hardcover, Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins, May 2018
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Plot: Penguin and Tiny Shrimp DO NOT have a bedtime story to share with you.

There are no soft beds or cozy covers here. There are fireworks! And shark-infested waters!!

This book will never make you sleepy. Not at all. Not even a little. . .

Enjoy their adventures while they avoid bedtime!

Audience: Toddlers – and their bedtime story readers! Fans of my favorite, Bedtime for Frances.

My Impressions: As the aunt of eight children who never want to go to bed, I found this book very charming. It begins with Penguin in PJs and Tiny Shrimp sporting a night cap but they make it clear they are not interested in bedtime. And yet, when they say there is nothing in this book about big soft beds or super-squishy pillows . . . then they test out the bed and exclaim, “Ohhhhhh, squishy pillows.” I must say, this was my favorite line in the book – every night I procrastinate about going to bed (sometimes doing quite valid things like cleaning bathrooms) but when I slide into bed it is so delicious that I wonder why I waited until 1 am to do so!

This is a debut picture book, full of humor that will appeal to the reader and the child, from the talented duo of Berry and Santoso. The quirky illustrations perfectly complement the text. I don’t understand how the Penguin and Tiny Shrimp became friends so would have liked a little more story but maybe we’ll find out in the future - I hope this will be a series and they will have more adventures in the future. In the meantime, the book would be a great gift for a baby shower or a preschooler in your life.

Purchase LinksHarperCollins * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound * Amazon

Author: Watch author Cate Berry read this book aloud. Visit her at to learn more about her. You can follow her on Twitter, @cberrywriter. You can also follow illustrator Charles Santoso: @minitreehouse and the publisher, @balzer+bray and @harperchildrens.
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, May 8th: Instagram: @jackiereadsbooks
Tuesday, May 15th: Wining Wife
Thursday, May 17th: Time 2 Read
Friday, May 18th: Instagram: @thepagesinbetween
Tuesday, May 22nd: Instagram: @_literary_dreamer_
Wednesday, May 23rd: Instagram: @theliteraryllama
* Image above copyright to HarperCollins

Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Blog's Name in Childhood Favorites

Desperate Reader spelled out the name of her blog from her collection of Virago Modern Classics and Simon from Stuck in a Book used books from his TBR but I thought I would do it from some of my favorite children's books:

S - I started reading Edward Eager at my elementary school library.  It's hard to pick a favorite but Seven Day Magic could be it, with a great first sentence, "The best kind of book," said Barnaby, "is a magic book."
T - Looking inside this book I see it actually has a bookplate with my sister Andrea's name!  Sorry, Sissy, do you want it back?  I worry that the Green Knowe books are too tame for children brought up on Harry Potter.  A librarian in Mt. Vernon, NY (while visiting an aunt who brought me to her library) introduced me to the series.  This is book 2, which made a huge impression on me: to recover lost treasure, a character is commanded to sew a picture of Green Knowe using hair from everyone present when the jewels were stolen.
A- Katie Rose Belford, heroine of this series, is not as well known as Lenora Mattingly Weber's Beany Malone but I think about her a lot because she has such memorable flaws: she hates wearing hand me down clothes, terrified that the donor will see her and recognize the garment; she longs for slice and bake cookies instead of the cracked eggs her relatives bring from the farm; and she yearns for handsome Bruce (although Miguel is worth a dozen of him).
I - I love Barbara Willard's Mantlemass series!  Willard does not shy away from harsh realities of history - this is a bleak orphan story in which orphaned 15 year old Lilias suddenly has to find her own way in the world and there is no easy happy ever after in 16th century England.   I consider this the fifth book in the series.
R - Ruth M. Arthur is another beloved English author, best known for her very scary A Candle in Her Room, which is almost too unnerving for a reread!  Requiem for a Princess is about a girl who feels lost after learning she is adopted.  Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Infanta and the long ago story of a Spanish girl shipwrecked in Cornwall help Willow mature and recognize how much her family loves her.  Artist Margery Gill is another favorite.

C -  I received The Book of Three on my tenth birthday, and for a long time that was the only one I owned.  Then I found this beautiful set in 1999 at Barnes & Noble.  The Castle of Llyr (book 3) is about Eilonwy facing, as Lloyd Alexander says, the ordeal of becoming a princess.  I met him very briefly at Books of Wonder and amazingly this is the book he signed for me.  He was exactly like Fflewddur Fflam and it was such thrill to talk to him!

A - The All of a Kind Family series is another I started reading at the John Ward School.  Much of what I knew about Judaism as a child came from these books, set on the Lower East Side about an affectionate family that lived frugally but managed to make everything fun, from dusting to midnight snacks to borrowing your sister's dress (don't try this at home!).  Like Betsy-Tacy, these stories were based on the author's life, and I remember how thrilled I was to learn my (now deceased) friend Rachel Rose had met Sydney Taylor at summer camp!
SSwallows and Amazons is one of many series to which I was introduced by my mother.  It is about four children who are allowed to go camping alone in the Lake District - and yes, it's surprising how much I enjoyed the adventures of these intrepid sailors and campers when I don't even like being outside!  Even their picnics sounded appealing (chicken, gooseberry tarts, and pemmican) although I would not have liked the freshly caught fish!
E - I also found the Flambards series in the John Ward School.  Christina Russell is yet another intrepid orphan I found at the library.  When she goes to live at Flambards (which is the first book), she is introduced to hunting, which is her uncle and cousin Mark's passion.   In The Edge of the Cloud, she has gone to London with her cousin Will, who is obsessed with airplanes.  Note the wonderful Victor Ambrus cover.

W - You didn't think I could do a whole list without a Betsy-Tacy book, did you?  Unlike many BT fans, I read Winona's Pony Cart as a child because my grandmother's library in Chappaqua had a copy and I liked it.  While it does not have as much substance as Maud Hart Lovelace's other books, she does capture a child's preoccupation with birthdays (and with some parents' determination to invite the friends they want their child to have and not the actual friends).

I - Janet Lambert is best known for her series about Penny Parrish, older daughter in an army family who aspires to be an actress.  My fascination with the military began at Fort Arden when Penny and her family were stationed there and continued to West Point and Governor's Island.   I read everything I could about the U.S. Military Academy!   Introducing Parri is about her daughter, and was one of the first Scholastic Books I ever purchased.  Perhaps because they were so hard to find, I was obsessed with Janet Lambert, leading to some unorthodox acquisitions.
TTheatre Shoes is not as well known as Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes (although Pauline, Petrova, and Posy make cameos) but nearly as much fun, and a recent reread revealed an interesting look at life in London against the background of WWII.  Sorrel, Mark, and Holly go to live with their grandmother when their naval officer father goes missing, and learn they are part of a well known theatrical family and may have talent themselves!
I will properly review Theater Shoes later in the year!   This is my actual library copy from childhood - fortunately, it was discarded when I happened to be passing through...  Also, it was accidental but for those who thought I only read English books growing up, the books above are well balanced: six American authors and six British authors.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

England 2018, Day 12

There was about half a day left – just enough time for one last excursion!  First, we had tea and chocolate chip muffins for breakfast in our room, and checked our luggage with the extremely attentive staff. Then we strolled to the Gloucester Road tube and zipped down to Westminster. Ironically enough, it was a beautiful sunny day just as we were about to leave London.
This time we were armed with tickets as we approached the Churchill War Rooms. Two queues were already in place: one for people just hoping to get in and one for people with tickets. I guided Mother into the former and I moved into the ticket line, asking the friendly guard if I could be at the front so we could enter promptly at 11, our appointed time, or if he thought Mother might get there first. She was afraid I was going to make a fuss but I was just getting the lay of the land. He asked if I was in a hurry and I told him we were flying home that afternoon and, to my surprise, he said we could go right in. Hooray!
The civilian secretarial staff also signed the Official Secrets Act
The Churchill War Rooms were an underground bunker near Parliament where Churchill and his war cabinet were able to work during WWII without the distraction of bombing. The war rooms were opened to the public in 1984, almost exactly as they had been left at the end of WWII (one officer had left his sugar ration behind in his desk, not expected he wouldn’t return). In 2005, other nearby rooms were expensively turned into a museum honoring Churchill’s entire life. Two of the best anecdotes: that Churchill accidentally had his private secretary invite Irving Berlin to lunch at Chartwell, his country home in Kent, having confused him with a philosopher named Isaiah Berlin; and that he invited Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier to Chartwell on another occasion and was so taken with Vivien that he gave her one of his paintings, an unusual circumstance.
Perhaps my favorite part of the War Rooms were interactive displays featuring commentary from the young women who did the secretarial work for the officers. As you may recall, I have always been fascinated by women and war work (although it is annoying to think how much more they could have done if given the chance!). It was amazing to see the rooms in which everyone worked and basically lived, sneaking in and out so the Germans couldn’t target it for air raids (although wouldn’t they have been aiming for Parliament and Westminster anyway?), and smoking all the time with no ventilation.  Two of the rooms were of great significance: the Cabinet Room which in May 1940 Churchill decided he would use to direct the war, and the Map Room where every move of the British Army, Navy, Air Force was tracked and reports were prepared for the King, the Prime Minister, and Chiefs of Staff. We learned that although many spent the nights underground, Churchill only did so a very few times because he liked to take two baths a day and preferred his own bathtub!
Churchill's office/bedroom with chamber pot!

Is it really Big Ben under there?
For those interested in the period, I recommend Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson, my favorite nonfiction in years.   About 12:30 I tore myself away (allowing myself to buy a mug on my way out at the appealing gift shop).  The weather was by now warm and sparkling and Green Park was full of happy Londoners. We walked around the block and saw Big Ben covered with scaffolding, completely unrecognizable. I didn’t want to go but we returned to Hotel Xenia for our luggage, headed down Hogarth Road to the Earls Court tube station, then to Heathrow for our 5 pm flight home.

Goodbye, London, we’ll be back!
Re the Abdication - "Why shouldn't the King be allowed to marry his cutie?"

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Same Beach, Next Year (Book Review)

Title: Same Beach, Next Year
Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
Publication: William Morrow, Trade Paperback, April 2018 (originally published 2017)
Genre: Fiction
Plot: New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank returns to the Lowcountry of South Carolina in a warm story of marriage, love, family, and friendship that is infused with humor.

One enchanted summer, two couples begin a friendship that will last more than twenty years and transform their lives.  A chance meeting on the Isle of Palms, one of Charleston’s most stunning barrier islands, brings former sweethearts, Adam Stanley and Eve Landers together again. Their respective spouses, Eliza and Carl, fight sparks of jealousy flaring from their imagined rekindling of old flames. As Adam and Eve get caught up on their lives, their partners strike up a deep friendship—and flirt with an unexpected attraction—of their own.

Year after year, Adam, Eliza, Eve, and Carl look forward to their reunion at Wild Dunes, a condominium complex at the island’s tip end, where they grow closer with each passing day, building a friendship that will withstand financial catastrophe, family tragedy, and devastating heartbreak. The devotion and love they share will help them weather the vagaries of time and enrich their lives as circumstances change, their children grow up and leave home, and their twilight years approach.

Full of the richness of Dorothea Benton Frank’s appealing Lowcountry—the sunshine, cool ocean breezes, icy cocktails, and velvet skies—Same Beach, Next Year is a celebration of the infrangible power of friendship, the enduring promise of summer, and the indelible bonds of love.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins * Amazon * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound

Audience: Readers who enjoy Luanne Rice, Nancy Thayer, Mary Kay Andrews, and Barbara Delinsky will like this book, made for summer or beach reading.
Interior of Saint Spyridon, Corfu
My Impressions: Dorothea Benton Frank is a New York Times bestselling author and has a big following but I had not read her myself until her recent All Summer Long.  I liked this book much more.  The author’s descriptions of food were especially enticing!  It has the appealing Lowcountry setting (how did I spend two years at Duke without exploring this part of the world?) and a character-driven feel-good story that makes you want to know what happens next.  The pace was perhaps a little too relaxing and lulled the reader into thinking little was happening, which is not the case, but I think the author was trying to show the passage of time as she follows two couples and their families for 20 years.

The most moving moment of the story occurs when Eliza visits Corfu, a place I have always found fascinating (maybe it's time to plan my next trip - no, I need to unpack from England first).  After her mother died when Eliza was 11, she lost touch with that side of her family and I found myself almost tearful when she is reunited with her mother’s sister. Eliza also visits the shrine of Saint Spyridon in a 16th century church in Corfu which reminded me of one of my favorite Mary Stewarts, This Rough Magic.   Her heroine, Lucy Waring, is staying with her sister on Corfu and also is affected by Saint Spyridon.  Stewart wrote:

The Holy Reliquary of Saint Spyridon, Corfu
"Palm Sunday . . . is one of the four occasions in the year when the island Saint, Spiridion, is brought out of the church where he lies the year round in a dim shrine all smoky with taperlight, and is carried through the streets in his golden palanquin.  It is not an image of the Saint, but his actual mummified body, which is carried in the procession, and this, somehow, makes him a very personal and homely kind of patron saint to have: the islanders believe he has Corfu and all its people in his personal and benevolent care, and has nothing to do but concern himself deeply in all their affairs, however trivial…”

When Eliza touches the Saint’s foot, she feels a sense of benediction (well, she is not religious so compares it to LSD), showing Saint Spyridon is still a powerful presence both in Corfu and closer to home.  Interestingly, there are two Greek Orthodox churches named for St. Spyridon near me, a cathedral in Worcester, MA and one in Newport, RI.  
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Review Stops
Tuesday, April 24th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog
Wednesday, April 25th: The Book Date
Thursday, April 26th: The Geeky Bibliophile
Friday, April 27th: Books and Bindings
Monday, April 30th: Instagram: @prose_and_palate
Tuesday, May 1st: Instagram: @booeneticsThursday, May 3rd: Time 2 Read
Monday, May 7th: Wining Wife
Tuesday, May 8: Jessicamap Reviews
Wednesday, May 9th: Bibliotica
Thursday, May 10th: A Bookish Affair
Monday, May 14th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, May 15th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Wednesday, May 16th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, May 17th: Always With a Book