Saturday, August 1, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation - From How to Do Nothing to A Tale of Two Cities

It’s time for #6degrees, inspired by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. We all start at the same place as other readers, add six books, and see where each ends up.   This month’s starting point is How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (2019), praised by the New York Times as “[a]n eloquent argument against the cult of efficiency . . . I felt both consoled and invigorated by it.”  It is rare I completely miss hearing about an NYT bestseller but this is not the type of nonfiction I read.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (dysfunction is us)

Title: The Dutch House
Author:  Ann Patchett
Publication:  HarperCollins Hardcover, 2019
Genre: Fiction
Plot: After World War II, when he was trying to establish his career Cyril Conway became obsessed with the Dutch House, an unusual residential house in the Philadelphia suburbs.  He purchased it to live in with his wife and daughter, Maeve, and soon they had added a son, Danny.  However, his wife was never happy in the house and abandons it (as well as her husband and children).  This results in a close bond between Danny and Maeve, which intensifies when their father marries someone unsuitable who resents his children.  When Cyril dies without a will, the stepmother inherits everything except an educational trust, which fortunately pays for Danny to go to Choate, Columbia, and medical school.  Over several decades, the story is told by Danny, who is only really comfortable when he is with his beloved sister.  All her ambitions are wrapped up in him but the fact that, when together, they seem constantly to be looking backward prevents them from completely moving forward.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - July 25

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.   The idea is to share one of your neglected bookshelves or perhaps a new pile of books.   
After traveling with Eva Ibbotson last week, I reread her Magic Flutes and then decided I had never read The Star of Kazan so began that one.  Do you know sometimes you are so familiar with an author or genre so well that you recognize what is going to happen and then you think, wait, have I already read this?   It happens to me with Elizabeth Cadell and D.E. Stevenson’s books, most but not all of which I read years ago, and is definitely happening with The Star of Kazan.   We’ll see if I am right.  As it is an audiobook, I now realize I should have been pronouncing Eva as “Ava.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A few hours in Concord . . . a glimpse of Little Women

On my vacation day, I wanted to visit the Concord Bookshop, one of my favorites, and you can't go to Concord without visiting Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) wrote Little Women!   Although Orchard House is currently closed to the public, the parking lot was busy with literary pilgrims pulling up and strolling around the grounds (avoiding a distinctly non-19th century landscaping company removing a tree).
LMA wrote Little Women here in 1868 

Currently closed to the public
Cucumber plant decor at Main Streets
Market & Cafe, where we had
a yummy lunch!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Chapter 12

Three phone calls take over the Ray household in this chapter!   First, Jerry who does not spend enough time at Cox Military to justify all that private school tuition, calls Julia to tell her a play of Rip Van Winkle is coming to town and he would like to take her.   Mrs. Ray gives permission, having seen a production herself once.   Betsy, not wanting to be left out, says she should go ask Winona immediately if she can get comps again.  Mrs. Ray starts telling everyone the Rip Van Winkle story and I am sure I am not alone in wishing it were something more fun like Peter Pan or Gilbert & Sullivan.  However, it is 1905 and most of our favorites haven’t been written yet!   Next, Winona calls, having also heard the news, and invites Betsy, Tacy and Tib to go with.   Betsy rushes across the street to tell Tacy, and they both run to Tib’s to tell her, and then all three rush to Winona’s because they are so excited.  It makes one wish all one's friends lived nearby!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - July 17

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.   The idea is to share one of your neglected bookshelves or perhaps a new pile of books. 
This shelf holds most of my Eva Ibbotson collection, a Viennese-born author (1925-2010) who spent most of her life in England.  I don’t recall if my mother or I first found Ibbotson but we became fans in the 80s after her first two books were published, A Countess Below Stairs and Magic Flutes.  Her seven adult novels are charming, light historical novels with romantic elements about resolute heroines with an oversized sense of responsibility for others, no matter how dire their own straits.  Ibbotson’s books display a sensitivity toward refugees and displaced people that likely resulted from her own experience.  They are real comfort books!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling to India - July 11

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.   The idea is to share one of your neglected bookshelves or perhaps a new pile of books. 
Judith mentioned M.M. Kaye’s mysteries recently and that sent me to my India bookshelf. In the early days of HBO, coverage included Wimbledon and my family subscribed because we were big tennis fans.  HBO also aired its first miniseries, The Far Pavilions, based on Kaye’s 1978 novel and starring Ben Cross, Amy Irving, and Omar Sharif (when I checked the cast, I saw there is talk of a remake). The cinematography would have made it worth watching even if the story and acting hadn’t been very compelling!  The next day I went to the library to get a copy of the book, set in the 19th century Raj about a young Englishman born in India but raised in England; when he returns to India as an officer he falls in love with an Indian princess and struggles with cultural divides.  Kaye also wrote a well-reviewed three-book memoir, beginning with The Sun in the Morning (1990) about her childhood in India.  One critic wrote, "No romance in the novels of M.M. Kaye... could equal her love for India."   Shadow of the Moon, one of her other historicals, is just as good or better than The Far Pavilions, however.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from What I Loved to the Joys of Love

It’s time for #6degrees, inspired by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. We all start at the same place as other readers, add six books, and see where one ends up.   This month’s starting point is What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (2018).  It is written from the point of view of Leo Hertzberg, an art historian living in New York and focuses on themes of love and loss, so I decided to do likewise.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - July 3

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.   The idea is to share one of your neglected bookshelves or perhaps a new pile of books.   And hooray for a vacation day because that means lots of time for reading!
Someone in my Betsy-Tacy discussion group mentioned Elizabeth Janet Gray the other day, which sent me straight to this shelf.  Gray is one of many authors I came to through my mother.  Gray was a distinguished writer of children's and adult books and is best known for Adam of the Road, which won the Newbery Medal in 1943 and was illustrated by Robert Lawson (the only person to have ever won both a Newbery Award and a Caldecott Medal).  Set in the 13th century, it is the story of Adam’s life with his minstrel father and how Adam copes when they are separated, learning how to survive on the road alone through a series of adventures.   Perhaps I can inspire my youngest nephew to read it this summer.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Chapter 11

Chapter 11, Mrs. Poppy’s Party

Preparing for Christmas is big in the Ray household and there are many secrets in the mix.  Everyone is waiting to see Margaret’s face when she gets a talking doll on Christmas morning.  In addition to her new English bob, she has big eyes in a serious face.  The long black lashes seemed not so much to shade them as to make them bigger and brighter (foreshadowing!).  The Rays trim the tree on Christmas Eve just like my family.   Betsy hangs her new red ball.  They add strings of popcorn and cranberries.  Finally, the candles are lighted.  Bits of live flame danced all over the tree, and it’s a Christmas miracle that the house doesn’t burn down.  They read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The next day there are stockings and gifts and the first appearance of joke presents.  Betsy got one of her own much-chewed pencils “With Sympathy from William Shakespeare.”  Betsy receives a copy of Little Men.  It is a happy day, and there is no post-Christmas letdown because the following day is Mrs. Poppy’s party.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - June 26

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.   The idea is to share one of your neglected bookshelves or perhaps a new pile of books. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Bookwanderers (Pages and Co. #1) - imagine if you could wander into your favorite book

Title: The Bookwanderers (Pages and Co. #1)
Author:  Anna James
Publication: Philomel Books, hardcover, 2019
Genre: Middle-Grade Fiction/Fantasy/Series
Plot: Eleven-year-old Tilly Pages has taken refuge in the books at her grandparents’ bookstore since the loss of her mother. But when her favorite characters “wander” into the shop, Tilly learns she can follow them into their stories and her adventures begin. Can she use Bookwandering to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance?

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Chapter 10

Chapter 10, Christmas Shopping

Wondering about her story, Flossie’s Accident (which I keep wanting to call Flossie’s Head – I think that must be how it has been colloquially discussed over the years), Betsy asks her father how long it takes a letter to go to Philadelphia.   He says two or three days.   Except that Betsy waits and waits and The Ladies Home Journal does not send her $100.  Julia is curious about who Betsy knows in Philadelphia.  As an older sister, I know that feeling of wondering what on earth your sibling is up to now!

“The King of Spain maybe,” said her father.  He was teasing.  For when Betsy, Tacy and Tib were only ten years old and didn’t know any better, they had written a letter to the King of Spain.  They had received an answer, too.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - June 20

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.   The idea is to share one of your neglected bookshelves or perhaps a new pile of books.  Yes, I have hundreds of unread books in this house but hearing some of my library holds were ready made me do a little jig!
I was so excited to drive to Newton for Library-to-go curbside pickup yesterday!  In addition, as I drove past a small library in a nearby town, I saw a rack of books they had put outside, presumably as discards to compensate for not having their curbside pickup up and running. Naturally, I stopped to investigate! I helped myself to copies of An Old-Fashioned Girl (one of my favorite Alcotts) and an entertaining YA I read several years ago called The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You (a retelling of Much Ado About Nothing) which I think my nieces would enjoy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Sorting Author Mail

Most of my publishing career was in sales but I spent about a year as an editor at Penguin USA.   I learned many things during that time, of which the oddest was the snobbish rivalry between editors of literary fiction and popular fiction, also sometimes manifested as hardcover books vs. paperback books.   The latter sometimes occurred on the sales side too but that is another story.  Or three.

One day I heard the editorial assistants had been told to spend a Friday afternoon dealing with fan mail.  They were bribed with pizza and soda to do this about twice a year.  I offered to help which surprised them but won me a few friends.
Several huge boxes of mail appeared and were dumped onto a conference room table.  We each took a handful and started to go through it.   It was completely amazing the way people sent letters and, based on how they were addressed, even more surprising they reached us at Hudson Street.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Chapters 8 and 9

Chapter 8, Mrs. Poppy

Betsy is thoroughly enjoying her adventure at the Melborn Hotel, as is her rescuer, Mrs. Poppy, who telephones Mr. Ray for permission so Betsy can stay.  “There’s time for a real party,” she tells Betsy and asks if she would like to take the elevator or the stairs.  Betsy hesitates although not for my usual reason of a reproachful faux-Fitbit.   She has never ridden in an elevator but the grand staircase of the Melborn Hotel is very impressive!  “The stairs,” she said.  “And the elevator coming down.”  They pass a statue of the Winged Victory as they ascend.  Headless.  Mrs. Poppy explains that it is Greek.   Betsy takes it in stride, feeling well prepared by her Greek mythology reading earlier in the day.
At the top of the stairs is the hotel’s two-story dining room, overlooking the river.  This is where Deep Valley’s elegant dances with orchestras take place (foreshadowing!).  Mrs. Poppy asks a maid for hot chocolate but they continue to her private apartment which has parlor, den, bedroom and bathroom but no kitchen or dining room as the Poppys dine in the hotel dining room or have food delivered.    Betsy notices a small rocking chair with a doll in it.  When she asks if the doll belonged to Mrs. Poppy as a child, Mrs. Poppy tells Betsy it belonged to her daughter who died.  Betsy feels sad but doesn’t know how to respond.  Mrs. Poppy explains that is why she enjoys other people’s children and asks Betsy about Tacy and Tib.  Betsy guesses from what Mrs. Poppy says that she is lonesome.  Mrs. Poppy admits it is hard to make friends, living in a hotel.   She gave up her career in musical comedy to marry Mr. Poppy.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - June 13

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.   The idea is to share one of your neglected bookshelves, and this bottom shelf is truly a mixture of books read and unread.
My mother read The Sword in the Stone to my sister and me when we were about 6 and 9, and I read the rest of The Once and Future King as a teen, finding a copy identical to hers at the Barnes & Noble buying office around 2000.   It was like a treasure trove there and I rarely left empty-handed.  Back in the day, the B&N bookstore buyers received a copy of nearly every book published, most of which they didn’t want, so would pile them on shelves in the hall.  Even after budgets got cut, we still sent copies of books we thought someone would like or should see.   However, once with great difficulty, I got Ken Dryden’s memoir autographed for the sports buyer and on my next visit I saw it discarded on a shelf.   “Lisa!  Did you even notice it was inscribed to you?!” I said with annoyance, forgetting the client is always right.   The freebies were really not meant for the publishers’ sales reps but if we saw something we wanted we would either grab it or ask for permission to grab it!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Five Things

1.     I ordered the new Jane Casey from the UK in February for my sister’s birthday and it finally arrived on Sunday night.  In June!   Wasn’t it nice of me to wrap and deliver it the next day instead of reading it myself first?   If you have not read this suspense author, start with book 1 about feisty Maeve Kerrigan.  
2.     Did you ever think you would hear about a Nascar driver named Bubba who wants to rid the sport of the Confederate flag?   Brave guy!   Maybe the world is changing!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte - a deaf girl reveals the blindness of others

Title: Show Me a Sign
Author:  Ann Clare LeZotte
Publication: Scholastic Press
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction
Setting: Massachusetts, 1805
Plot: Mary Lambert has grown up on Martha’s Vineyard in a community that has consisted of deaf and hearing individuals for generations. Mary is deaf but has never felt isolated because nearly everyone she knows uses sign language.  However, lately, she has felt sad and lonely; her family is still grieving the unexpected loss of her older brother George, and Mary’s grief is intensified by her belief she caused his accident.   When a researcher comes to the Island to investigate the Island’s deaf culture, he assumes she is not intelligent and it is the first time Mary has been treated as having a disability.  When he decides to use her as an experiment, Mary must rely on her own skills to save herself.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from Normal People to Over Sea, Under Stone (Modern Dublin to the Holy Grail)

It’s time for #6degrees, inspired by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. We all start at the same place as other readers, add six books, and see where one ends up.   This month’s starting point is Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018):
I read Rooney’s first book Conversations with Friends last year but found the lack of quotation marks pretentious and the characters unlikable.  I doubt I would have finished if it hadn’t been for my book group.  However, this one seems more interesting and the new miniseries is getting great reviews (except from the Bishop!) so I suspect I will try it some time. 

Can you think of instances where a movie or miniseries is significantly better than the book? 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - June 5

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.   The idea is to share one of your neglected bookshelves, and this week I have been visiting my Lorna Hill collection, which usually means traveling to the north of England or London.   I realized last weekend there are several of her books I never got around to reading, and I have been rectifying that omission.  I like her determined heroines, usually obsessed with career aspirations, who are charming but imperfect and lose their tempers regularly.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Chapters 6 and 7

Chapter 6, Betsy’s Desk

Now that she has been to the theatre to see Uncle Tom's Cabin, Betsy is curious about her actor uncle.  Mrs. Ray clearly misses her brother very much since he ran away from home.   She describes how he looked like her with red wavy hair and had Julia’s skill with singing and piano but also wrote stories like Betsy.  Betsy absorbs every word.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Five Things

To help meet the demand for flour from obsessed home-bound bakers, this 1,000-year-old English flour mill has resumed commercial production for the first time in decades.  Don’t you love their grit (pun intended)?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - May 29

It's time for more Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.  The idea is to share your bookshelves with friends as a form of armchair travel.
These are from the top shelf of a cabinet where I tend to stick things I want to read but temporarily forget about them.  It also holds my stereo and the coffee maker I keep for guests.  You can see there is no real theme.   It is an eclectic group:

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney - now writing suspense for adults!

Title: Before She Was Helen
Author: Caroline Cooney
Publication: Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press, hardcover, September 2020
Genre: Mystery
Plot: When Clemmie goes next door to check on the wellbeing of her difficult neighbor Dom, he isn’t there.  But something else is.  Something unexpectedly stunning and beautiful.  Clemmie snaps a picture on her cell phone and makes the terrible mistake of forwarding it.  As the picture goes viral, Clemmie tries desperately to keep a grip on her own personal network of secrets.  Can fifty years of carefully hiding under names not her own be ruined by one impulsive text?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown, Chapters 3 - 5

Chapter 3 and 4     Winona’s Tickets, More About Winona's Tickets

When Betsy, Tacy and Tib finish bragging about Tib’s adventure, they begin to plot to persuade Winona to invite them to the show.  They consider a bribe but then Tacy has a better idea – they should hypnotize her!

“Take us to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Take us.  Take us.  Take us,” they intone silently from all directions during the school day.  Winona is slightly unnerved by their glassy stares and their teacher.   The trio’s teacher scolds them for not facing front and doesn’t understand why Tib won’t describe her exciting horseless carriage experience but Tib realized that might hurt their cause with Winona.  In fact, Winona says loudly that she won’t take people who stare at her! The girls drop that plan but hypnosis continues to appeal to certain Betsy-Tacy fans in the Pacific Northwest when needed.
Betsy is yearning for Uncle Tom’s Cabin but nobly she does not ask her father to get her a ticket because she knows that wouldn’t help Tacy.   Her longing was a little like what she felt when she saw rows and rows of books in other people’s bookcases (she had read all the books in the bookcase at home).  Kindred meet spirit!  Not that I will ever finish all the books at my home!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Chapters 1 and 2

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace is the fourth Betsy-Tacy book, set in 1904-05 and published in 1943.  The girls are now 12 years old and in the seventh grade. 

It is time for Betsy, Tacy and Tib’s world to be expanded in another direction.  The trio is now 12.  When Downtown opens, Betsy is in her beloved maple tree from which she can see the town of Deep Valley, Minnesota.   She sees four places that MHL knows will be important to her (and to us!), “the Opera House, the Melborn Hotel, the skeleton of the new Carnegie Library, and the high school that her sister Julia and Tacy’s sister Katie attended.”  She is aware of a world unexplored.  
Betsy has one of the notebooks from her father’s shoe store and is working on a dramatic-sounding story, The Repentance of Lady Clinton by Betsy Warrington Ray.*   Even before Tacy appears to reveal that her father found their borrowed copy of Lady Audley’s Secret and threw it in the fire.

“He said it was trash.”
“Trash!” cried Betsy.  “I’m trying to write books just like it.”

Friday, May 22, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling, May 22

It's time for more Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves. Any aspect you like, as long as you are entertained, including:
1. Home
2. Books in the home
3. Touring books in the home
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.
This is not a shelf but a pile of advance readings copies (ARCs) I brought home from the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia back in February.  There are few things as much fun as picking up books that have not yet been published but I had to carry everything back on the bus so I was fairly restrained. I still filled three bags and shared some with my sixth-grade niece, an excellent reader.  In no particular order:

Above All Else by Dana Alison Levy – YA fiction about teens climbing Mt. Everest

Monday, May 18, 2020

What to Read During a Pandemic

While some people are compiling recommendations of dystopian angst or Stephen King-like disaster, my rules are different. The book can’t be depressing (of course, depressing is in the eye of the beholder), it has to be worth reading more than once, and it needs to be available as an eBook or from Project Gutenberg.  It would be diabolical to make you long for something you cannot get quickly and I am rarely so cruel!  Also, remember that your library owns many eBooks and may be willing to purchase more.  Download Libby, if you haven't already!


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: The unexpected friendship between a crusty, retired military officer and Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village.
The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman: Natalie’s family is stunned when the Vermont resort they want to visit answers their inquiry, “Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles."  She is determined to go anyway and it becomes a mission.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling

Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.  It's an opportunity to look at your bookshelves and rediscover titles you read or plan to read. This shelf in my guest room caught my eye as I was, of course, looking for something completely different last night - a book about a WWII evacuee, in fact, as one does from time to time.  

Looking at this shelf brings back my childhood and my favorite library, where I found most of Madye (pronounced MAY-dee) Lee Chastain’s books.  Chastain (1908-1989) was a children’s author and illustrator,  and I am a huge fan of the 12 middle-grade novels she wrote.  Seven are historicals and five have contemporary settings.   My favorite is Emmy Keeps a Promise, the second book in a trilogy, and apparently the only one of her books Harcourt published in hardcover and paperback.  It is a warm and affectionate story of sisters Arabel and Emmy Thatcher trying to make their fortunes in 1850s New York.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Kiss Me Again, Stranger by Daphne du Maurier #DDMreadingweek

Title: Kiss Me Again, Stranger
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publication:  Pocket, paperback, 1970 (originally published 1953)
Genre: Short Story Collection
My Impressions: I picked up this lurid-looking book quickly at a library book sale right before the Lockdown, in anticipation of Daphne du Maurier Reading Weeka celebration of the life and work of Daphne du Maurier, organized by Heaven-Ali.   I thought it must be a lesser-known title like her dystopian novel, Rule Britannia, which I always forget.   Imagine my surprise when I examined it last night and saw it was “a Collection of Eight Stories, Long and Short,” including the short story that spawned a million nightmares, The Birds.  I now realize her short stories been published under different titles.  As most of my reading takes place late at night, I wasn’t sure reading The Birds was really in my best interest so I started by reading around it and enjoyed the other stories.  

Monday, May 11, 2020

Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier #DDMreadingweek

Title: Myself When Young: The Shaping of a Writer
Author:  Daphne du Maurier
Publication:  Arrow Books, paperback, 1993 (originally published in 1977)
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Occasion: Daphne du Maurier Reading Week
Plot: You probably know her as the author of Rebecca but du Maurier (1907 – 1989) wrote several other bestselling books that are equally memorable.  She came from a talented artistic family.  Her father was a famous actor, Sir Gerald du Maurier and her mother, Muriel Beaumont, an actress who met him in a play. Her grandfather was a well-known cartoonist for Punch, a popular humor magazine, and writer, French-born George du Maurier. He is best known for creating the character Svengali that became a catch-phrase for a coercive influence on someone.  Daphne was educated primarily at home before being “finished” in France, in the kind of family that summoned the children to say hello to guests briefly before sending them to the nursery with Nanny. Although not part of the nobility, the du Mauriers clearly mixed with all the right people due to Sir Gerald’s prominence.  Her upbringing seems fairly typical for an upper-middle-class British family but the drive and passion that developed in this shy young woman was all Daphne’s own.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Friday's Bookshelf Traveling

It's time for a round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves. Any aspect you like, as long as you are entertained, including:
1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.
I chose a shelf in my living room that is pretty much devoted to historical fiction, featuring one of my all-time favorite books, Wintercombe by Pamela Belle.  Set during the English Civil War in the 17th century, this is the story of Silence, Lady St. Barbe, and her family, Puritans besieged by Cavaliers (I am for King and Country myself but these particular Cavaliers are not very appealing, with one obvious exception).  When Charles I’s debauched soldiers insist on moving into the estate, with no regard for the family, they bring chaos to Silence’s well-managed home and one of them breaches her heart.  Silence is a wonderful heroine: brave, capable, kind, and possessing a sense of humor she needs to keep hidden.  The book is full of memorable characters, many of whom appear later in the series.   I am happy to report it’s available as an eBook and a careful reader could make it last until her state reopens, depending on where she lives and how fast she reads!  It seems to be on sale.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Road to 84 Charing Cross Road

It’s time for #6degrees, inspired by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. We all start at the same place as other readers, add six books, and see where one ends up.   This month’s starting point is The Road by Cormac McCarthy: “his most harrowing yet deeply personal work. Some unnamed catastrophe has scourged the world to a burnt-out cinder, inhabited by the last remnants of mankind and a very few surviving dogs and fungi” (author website).   I have read at least one book by McCarthy but this sounded way too much like real life!

My first book involves more cheerful roads: The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum (1909).  In this fifth Oz book, Dorothy and Toto (back in Kansas) meet the Shaggy Man, who asks them to point out the road to Butterfield.  When the road splits into seven different paths, they take the seventh and have various adventures before arriving in Oz.  Of course, nowadays Aunt Em would be very concerned about Dorothy talking to a stranger who looks like a tramp, let alone heading off into the sunset with him!  My great-grandfather read the first fourteen Oz books to his children and I believe our copy of this book was the first edition. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles, author of News of the World

Publication:  William Morrow, hardcover, April 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: In March 1865, the long and bitter War between the States is winding down. Until now, twenty-three-year-old Simon Boudlin has evaded military duty thanks to his slight stature, youthful appearance, and utter lack of compunction about bending the truth. But following a barroom brawl in Victoria, Texas, Simon finds himself conscripted, however belatedly, into the Confederate Army. Luckily his talent with a fiddle gets him a comparatively easy position in a regimental band.

Weeks later, on the eve of the Confederate surrender, Simon and his bandmates are called to play for officers and their families from both sides of the conflict. There the quick-thinking, audacious fiddler can’t help but notice the lovely Doris Mary Dillon, an indentured girl from Ireland, who is governess to a Union colonel’s daughter.
After this brief meeting, Simon and Doris go their separate ways. He moves around Texas seeking fame and fortune as a musician. She must accompany the colonel’s family to finish her three years of service. But Simon cannot forget the attractive Irish young woman and vows that someday he will find her again.

My Impressions: Historical fiction is my favorite genre and because this Civil War/post-Civil War setting is a time frame I rarely read, it was new and interesting to me.   Simon is an angry young man – aware of his temper and trying to control it – yet he is surprisingly capable of friendship.  Most of the book is about the cast of characters he attracts to form a ragtag band and how they scrape together what passes for a living in rural Texas.  But running like a ribbon through the story is a fateful encounter he has with a young woman who came from Ireland as an indentured servant.  Simon falls for her without really knowing her; he has had a lonely life and yearns for a marriage and a settled home: 
His first problem was to find a girl who would fall in love with him despite his diminutive stature and his present homelessness.  The right girl.  He had not been a celibate; nobody growing up in the river-port town of Paducah, Kentucky, on the Ohio or playing saloons in Texas could lay claim to a life of sinless perfection, so perhaps he had no right to make demands, but the girls he had met and courted, briefly, had no comprehension of 9/8 time.  They regarded him as a poor choice given his occupation as a traveling musician – always disreputable – and his stubborn, relentless dedication to his fiddle.
Although the book is not a romance in the usual sense of the word, if you consider an alternative definition, “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life,” it captures the pleasure Dora takes in the prosaic aspects of her new country. Simon finds her enthusiasm very appealing as they begin an unusual correspondence and he consumes her letters:
He read this over several times.  She was not a creature of displays and stratagems, the natural world delighted her! She was not avid for social events and the endless striving of towns!  He came to this conclusion on the strength of that one sentence.  He scattered mental exclamation marks throughout his own thoughts.
I find it comforting that they are entranced by each other’s letters (and am also amazed that letters actually reach their destinations) as that constitutes a form of acquaintance. While it is extremely plausible that Simon would build her up in his mind and that she, miserable in her position, might find him intriguing, they have little in common.  Somehow the author creates such a sense of connection between this unlikely couple that the reader is shipping them ardently, although Damon, who knows Simon wonders “what woman would be happy with a man whose need for solitude was so great, if Simon was heading for marital disaster.”  We will hope for the best!  Those who read Jiles’ News of the World, which my book group enjoyed in 2017, will remember and appreciate her storytelling, unlikely companions, and what the publisher calls her “trademark spare yet lilting style” and will find it again in this new book.  

News of the World: Simon and Doris made an appearance in that book, which I must admit I had forgotten!   The movie is in post-production and Tom Hanks plays Captain Kidd.

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

April 15th: Lit and Life
Thursday, April 16th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Friday, April 17th: A Bookish Affair
Saturday, April 18th: BookNAround
Wednesday, April 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life
April 23rd: Books, Cooks, Looks
April 29th: Books and Bindings
May 4th: Book by Book
May 7th: Jathan & Heather
May 8th: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer

Publication: William Morrow, Hardcover/Trade Paperback/Ebook, April 2020
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Alexis Gold knows how to put the “work” in working mom. It’s the “mom” part that she’s been struggling with lately. Since opening her own advertising agency three years ago, Alexis has all but given up on finding a good work/life balance. Instead, she’s handed over the household reins to her supportive, loving partner, Tommy. While he’s quick to say they divide and conquer, Alexis knows that Tommy does most of the heavy lifting—especially when it comes to their teenage daughter, CeCe.

Their world changes when Tommy receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, and Alexis belatedly realizes everything she’s worked relentlessly for doesn’t matter without him. So Alexis does what Tommy has done for her almost every day since they were twelve-year-old kids in Destin, Florida—she puts him first. And when the only thing Tommy wants is to spend one last summer together at “their” beach, she puts her career on hold to make it happen . . . even if it means putting her family within striking distance of Tommy’s ex, an actress CeCe soon idolizes.

But Alexis and Tommy aren’t the only ones whose lives have been turned inside out. In addition to dealing with the normal ups and downs that come with being a teenager, CeCe is also forced to confront her feelings about Tommy’s illness—and what will happen when the one person who’s always been there for her is gone. When the magic of first love brings a bright spot to her summer, CeCe is determined not to let her mother ruin that for her, too.  As CeCe’s behavior becomes more rebellious, Alexis realizes the only thing harder for her than losing Tommy will be convincing CeCe to let her back into her daughter's life.

My Impressions: Although this is a book about grief and loss, it is also a book about hope and about the vicissitudes of being a family. Tommy, the dying father, is the most appealing character in this story and at times I felt there must have been an earlier book in which he and Alexis reconnected as adults and fell in love.   However, this is a debut novel that captures the pain of losing a beloved family member.   Having lost my own father three years ago, I was reflecting on Joe Biden’s advice to bereaved families, not merely that the pain will ebb but that there will be a moment when one’s first reaction is a smile of love and affection rather than tears, and that is the moment when one has begun to recover.   I am certainly not there myself and I don’t think Alexis and CeCe will reach it soon. 

The book was well written and full of memorable characters; however, Alexis, the heroine, is very unlikeable.  We are meant to excuse her because she started her own business three years ago and has demanding clients.   Yet, CeCe makes it clear Alexis failed to show up to her events and activities long before she ran her own business.  In fact, being the boss doesn’t just mean more pressure and responsibility, it often means some flexibility.  Alexis simply wasn’t there for her husband (even when he is trying to tell her of his diagnosis) or daughter, and just because she agrees to spend the summer in Destin doesn’t make up for years of neglect.  Even when she knows she will be CeCe’s only surviving parents, she has a hard time being kind yet is resentful of her daughter’s hostility.  She is also very rude to CeCe’s boyfriend, who is the son of her best friend.  Her apology is grudging and it is ironic that she wants forgiveness for her neglect, yet is blaming a teenager for something his father did.  She also has been stalking this boy on Instagram even before he was involved with CeCe, which is kind of odd for something so busy.  I did like Alexis’ friends Jill and Becky, either of whom could use a book of her own in the future.

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Tuesday, April 7th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, April 8th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, April 9th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, April 10th: Stranded in Chaos
Monday, April 13th: BookNAround
Tuesday, April 14th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, April 16th: Laura’s Reviews
Friday, April 17th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, April 17th: Instagram: @shelovesthepages
Monday, April 20th: Into the Hall of Books
Tuesday, April 21st: Really Into This
Wednesday, April 22nd: Openly Bookish
Thursday, April 23rd: Book by Book
Friday, April 24th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, April 27th: Instagram: @thebookclubmom
Tuesday, April 28th: Instagram: @readingmama_reviews
Wednesday, April 29th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom