Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas is coming!

It is never too soon to introduce a little girl to Betsy, Tacy and Tib!

I was able to personalize these dolls, and am pleased with the results.  The hair color worked, even though I couldn't get ringlets for Tacy and a fluff of hair for Tib.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Call the Midwife: suggested reading list for fans

For those who enjoyed the PBS series* (and if you missed it, here is an article from Time Magazine to change your mind) and are eager to read more about midwives:


Call the Midwife: a True Story of the East End in the 1950s – Jennifer Worth
This is the first of a trilogy about the author’s work in post-WWII London as a midwife, and inspired the PBS series. Like the characters in the series, Worth left a comfortable home to live in a convent and minister to London’s slums.

Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 – Laurel Ulrich
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, this fascinating book is based on the diaries of a midwife and healer in 18th century Maine.


The Midwife - Gay Courter
An old NAL bestseller: Hannah Blau and her family emigrate from Russia (where she received her medical training) to the Lower East Side of New York where she faces a harsher world than that of All of a Kind Family.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Books for Mary

Mary is a delightful ninth grader in South Carolina, youngest of four, who is not interested in vampire books and does not want anything too adult, figuring she has the rest of her life for that.  I have been meaning to suggest some books she would like for more than a year.  Here you go, Mary; once you try some of these (they should be available at your library), let me know and I will have a better sense of what you like. . .

Naturally, one always starts with Middle C, I mean, Heaven to Betsy – and as Mary is a freshman, she will enjoy Betsy’s first two years of high school.   I plan to give her the new Harper edition which also contains Betsy in Spite of Herself.  I wonder if there are any tall, dark strangers in her class?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Winter Shadows (Book Review)

Title: Winter Shadows
Publication Information: Tundra Press Hardcover, 2010
Genre: Children’s Fiction / Timeslip

Plot: Two young women in Western Canada, one in 1856 and one in the present, separated by five generations, communicate through an old diary and a cherished brooch.  Beatrice, a lovely and, unusually, educated young woman in a rural Canadian town, has returned from school to find that her father has married a dreadful woman, Ivy, who not only resents her stepdaughter but is prejudiced against her husband’s Cree ancestry (this would make more sense if it were the ancestry of the first wife – Ivy shows her distaste of her mother-in-law’s and stepdaughter’s heritage but apparently overcame her feelings with regard to her husband; I suppose because she was desperate to remarry).  Ivy’s seemingly uncouth adult son has settled nearby but Beatrice prefers the company of the new and more refined minister, Reverend Dalhousie.

Monday, October 29, 2012

When Marnie Was There by Joan Robinson (Book Review)

Title: When Marnie Was There
Author: Joan G. Robinson     Illustrated: Peggy Fortnum
Publication Information: Armada paperback, original pub date 1967
Genre: Children’s Fiction / Time Slip
Plot: Lonely Anna, an inarticulate orphan who lives with a kindly older couple who do not understand her, goes to stay in Norfolk with their friends after being ill with asthma. Exploring the area, she is entranced by the Marsh House on a creek nearby and by Marnie, an outgoing girl her age who appears and disappears mysteriously from the house. When Marnie is there, she is the perfect friend – she is imaginative and comes up with great games – but the reader guesses she is not real and the locals think Anna is talking to herself. As in Tom’s Midnight Garden, the loneliness of two children in the same place but many years apart results in a friendship that transcends time. Although her friendship with Marnie is not without sadness (which she does not understand), it helps prickly Anna learn how to be a friend and how to accept affection. The outgoing Lindsay family that moves into the old house on the creek after Marnie disappears for good completes the process, showing Anna what it is like to be part of a large and lively family and helping her come to terms with her foster parents and the birth family she feels abandoned her.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Girl Named Digit (Book Review)

Title: A Girl Named Digit
Author: Annabel Monaghan
Publication Information: Houghton Mifflin Hardcover, 2012
Genre: YA Suspense

Plot: Farrah Higgins is a gifted high school senior, already admitted to MIT, who learned the hard way that if she reveals that she is a math genius, she will seem like a freak and won’t have any friends. She escaped the dreaded nickname “Digit” by switching schools and camouflaging her intelligence to fit in at school, which saddens her father who had enjoyed sharing logic games with her. However, when Farrah notices an odd pattern of numbers shown on a TV show, analyzes it and unlocks a terrorist code, she suddenly finds herself on the run with a handsome young FBI agent. The terrorist plot is not incredibly convincing but the depiction of Farrah’s quirky family, John’s father (who, charmingly, approves of their burgeoning romance and really understands Farrah), and Farrah’s friend Olive (who she completely underestimated) make this a very appealing read.

What I liked: Of course, I love books about smart girls and guys who appreciate them! There are lots of books about girls who are aspiring writers but fewer about girls who are good at math or science. While I enjoyed the cute Princeton hero, what made the book for me were Farrah’s hilarious internal monologues. I added a few quotes to those already on Goodreads.
What I disliked: Ugh, I hated the character’s real name and her nickname. I guess it was meant to make the reader accept that a nickname suited her better than her name but still. Why would her clueful father ever have permitted such an absurd name? And aren’t FBI agents trained not to get into cabs that are trying to pick them up?  Please, John!

Source: I got this from the library after reading Ms. Yingling Reads’ review but plan to buy a copy for my nieces.  Disappointed I missed seeing the author speak in Newton in September.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Secret Keeper (Book Review)

Title: The Secret Keeper
Author: Kate Morton
Publication Information: Simon & Schuster/Atria Hardcover, October 2012
Genre: Fiction
Plot: As her mother approaches death, Laurel Nicolson, an acclaimed actress, remembers a day and a secret from her childhood that has always haunted her – she was hiding in a tree when a stranger approached her mother, who stabbed him to death with the knife usually saved for birthday cakes. Laurel gave information to the police that supported her mother’s explanation of self-defense but is now determined to find out what really happened that summer day, causing her to leave home and never fully regain the easy, affectionate family life of her childhood.
Starting with just an inscription in a book and a photo from London in the 40s, Laurel traces the fatal friendship between her mother, Dorothy Smitham, a put-upon companion to a cranky but aristocratic old lady, and her glamorous neighbor, Vivien Jenkins. Dorothy’s sweetheart from the country, Jimmy Metcalfe, photographed Dolly and Vivien together as London faced World War II and the Blitz, providing one clue. As Laurel unlocks the secrets of the past, she finally understands what caused her mother to act so deliberately when her family was threatened and can console the dying woman.

What I liked: I always enjoy books that move back and forth from the present to the past, and this is something Morton is especially good at. Her descriptions of present-day Laurel and her squabbling sisters, all in their sixties, are all too convincing but more compelling is the depiction of Dolly Smitham, an ambitious young woman in London during WWII, determined to better herself, and yearning for a friend who represents the casual elegance and social confidence she seeks. Dolly is so desperate to achieve her goals that she loses sight of reality and does not realize that Vivien has problems of her own. Dolly is judged hardly by those around her but I felt a lot of sympathy for a young woman with no family trying to make her way alone in London. And I always like a book set in WWII England!
Other authors I enjoy who glide gracefully from the present to the past are Robert Goddard, Susanna Kearsley, Suzanne Brockmann, and Anthony Price.

What I disliked: I was disappointed in Morton’s last book, The Distant Hours. Although well written, the story was just too depressing and the characters too eccentric. Both the past and present left me indifferent (although I supposed I cared sufficiently that I kept on reading). Here, I was not as interested in the present day characters as in the romantic triangle of the past but eagerly followed Laurel’s research and her decision to confide in her brother, and I liked the way each discovery was interposed with the past. The three main characters – Dolly, Jimmy, and Vivien – were compelling and the long-buried secret was worth waiting for (which is not always the case). I will say that Laurel’s research was accomplished with unconvincing ease but I appreciated the missing pieces. I will reread some segments more slowly now.
Verdict: Highly recommended! 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Covers: The top cover is the American edition (following the look Atria has given the previous books), the second cover is from the UK, and the one with the hat is from the author's native Australia. I like the second one best but what is she touching?  The third one has a dated WWII look I find appealing but would not have been accepted by a US publisher.  Which do you like best?

Source: Simon & Schuster sent me an advanced reading copy prior to publication.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Summer of No Regrets (Review)

Title: The Summer of No Regrets
Author: Katherine Grace Bond
Publication Information: Sourcebooks, Trade Paperback, 2012, ISBN 978-1-4022-65044
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Plot: Teenage Brigitta lives in a small town in Washington State and is home schooled so has only one friend, Natalie, who is obsessed with celebrity gossip and always thinks she “sees” famous people in unexpected places. So when Natalie becomes convinced that Brigitta’s new neighbor Luke is really movie star Trent Yves, Brigitta is unconvinced. Sure, there is a resemblance but why would Hollywood’s bad boy be living in rural Washington and why would he be interested – as he seems to be – in an ordinary teenager like her? Rescuing, or trying to rescue, two cougar cubs brings this unlikely pair together, and Brigitta ignores all the clues that indicate Luke is not an ordinary boy next door with an ordinary mother. Luke does not confide in Brigitta, and Brigitta does not confide in Natalie, which results in disaster, at least temporarily. When Brigitta feels that everyone in her life has abandoned her, she runs away to the one place she has always felt comfortable, the farm in Indiana which once belonged to her grandparents. Along with Brigitta, the reader waits anxiously to see if anyone cares enough to follow her.
What I liked: This was an unusual and vivid story, with quirky characters. Isn’t it every girl’s fantasy that a gorgeous movie star will move in next door and fall for her? Or even just that a mysterious stranger will move in next door and fall for her? (I guess this is a natural progression from the genre of books where girl hopes for a girl her age to move in – Betsy-Tacy, Amy Moves In, Little Plum and many others) While Brigitta’s parents were too busy with their weird new-age healing center (I would have liked them more if they seemed more sincere about their beliefs but the father especially came across as an opportunist) to pay attention to her, I liked her relationship with her older sister Mallory. I also enjoyed Brigitta’s blog entries and the pseudo-gossip magazine articles, which were very funny.

What I disliked: The story started slowly yet there was an awful lot going on: lonely homeschooled teenager in the midst of her first crush; father whose personality has changed after the loss of Brigitta’s grandparents; living in a new-age enterprise with parents who have become unfamiliar gurus; an older sister involved with a repulsive college professor; and a mysterious cougar that Brigitta identifies with in an unhealthy but convincing way – and that is before the handsome stranger moves in next door! I felt at times there were just too many plot lines going on and the author’s transition from topic to topic was a bit awkward, and it took a while to draw me into the narrative. Also, Brigitta was awfully dim about the identity of her neighbor and dim to think that a blog about him would not be discovered; while her cluelessness was important to the plot, it was kind of annoying.

Source: I got this from the local library (after I suggested the purchase). This is the first book I have read from Sourcebooks’ new YA imprint, Fire.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Candidate (Review)

Title: The Candidate
Author: Paul Harris
Publication Information: Vantage Press, trade paperback, July 2012, isbn 978-1936467389
Genre: Suspense

Plot: Trailing in the polls, slightly before the Iowa Caucuses, Jack Hodges is a virtually unknown presidential candidate. Then, on one cold night, there is an assassination attempt – Hodges instinctively shields his wife and they survive the attack. Overnight, he is proclaimed a hero and his candidacy picks up steam and overtakes the female frontrunner. But his campaign manager, a crude but canny Louisiana native named Dee Babineaux, sends Mike Sweeney, an idealistic campaign worker, to figure out who the would-be assassin is and what she may be hiding that could damage Hodge’s ascent. Mike is the book’s most interesting character as he longs for a candidate he can support wholeheartedly. He believes Senator Hodges can deliver meaningful change, but as he investigates the mysterious assassin (languishing in jail in Iowa after the campaign has moved on to primaries NH and SC) he becomes more and more fearful of the truth. The investigation eventually takes him to Guatemala in pursuit of a dangerous secret that threatens to destroy more than Mike’s idealism.
What I liked: The story is fast paced and extremely entertaining. I was sure I knew what was coming but was surprised several times. The author did a great job weaving plot elements together, connecting Mike’s family in depressed upstate NY with the stresses of the campaign. The down and dirty descriptions campaigning reminded me of Farragut North which I liked so much I saw the play and then the movie, The Ides of March, with George Clooney and Ryan Gosling.  Author Paul Harris is a reporter who covers presidential campaigns for British newspapers.

I read this while I was listening to Game Change in my car, which was an interesting contrast as it is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the 2008 election. Alternating between these two books made me think I was in wintery Iowa or New Hampshire instead of a steamy Indian summer day. Both were perfect reads for a political junkie like me and many of my friends.

What I disliked:  The conclusion was clever: I admired the author for avoiding a clich├ęd happy ending but at the same time I was a little disappointed and

felt that Mike would not have abandoned his family and friends permanently.

Source:  I received this book from TLC Book Tours, which you can visit to find the other stops for the Candidate.   TLC and the author are also providing a copy for me to give away (US/Canada only) -- please leave a comment if you would like it!  If there's more than one request, I will do a lottery.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Flight from Berlin (Review)

Title: Flight from Berlin
Author: David John
Publication Information: HarperCollins, July 2012, ISBN 978-0-06-209156-7
Genre: Historical Fiction/Suspense

Plot: 1936: Glamorous swimmer Eleanor Emerson is on her way to the Berlin Olympics to defend her gold medal but parties so hard crossing the Atlantic that Avery Brundage bounces her off the team. Friends offer her a job as a journalist (her name/reputation as byline while real-life writer Paul Gallico provides the actual reporting) and at first Eleanor is happy to attend parties. She is not a fan of Hitler but is oblivious to what he represents until she overhears a threat to keep two Jewish American athletes from competing in the Games. She confides in a handsome English journalist, Richard Denham, and they become embroiled in two plots: 1) Hitler’s pressure on German fencer, Hannah Leibermann, a Jew who is forced to compete to protect her family; and 2) the Nazis believe Denham has come into possession of a mysterious dossier that threatens the Third Reich and they will do anything to obtain it. Eleanor and Denham are a good team as they strive to outwit their enemies -- and several times she rescues him -- which is nice role reversal.
What I liked: Jesse Owens has some cameos, but I would have liked a little more about the actual competition, not to mention background on Eleanor’s swimming career. Will and Kate saw more of the 2012 Olympics than Eleanor, who is supposed to be a correspondent sending reports back to the U.S. However, the characters are vivid, the plot and setting original, and the action fast paced. I especially appreciated the depiction of the American Ambassador and his family. I really enjoyed this debut thriller and recommend it to fans of suspense and historical fiction.
What I disliked: Eleanor is married to a popular band leader in NY (based on Art Jarrett) who is clearly a jerk. However, she sure fell out of love with him quickly and into love with Denham. The romance worked as a plot device but was somewhat improbable. Also, surely it would have been very embarrassing for a U.S. Senator’s famous, married daughter to live in sin in London? In addition, Eleanor’s speech pattern was a little too “ah shucks” for my taste; whether realistic or not, I cannot tell. Brits can’t always write American characters convincingly.

Source: I am a huge Olympics fan, so I was eager to read this book once I read about it. HarperCollins provided me with an advance reading copy.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anthropomorphic Opossoms (Review)

Years ago, probably when I worked at Avon Morrow, I came across the charming Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink by Diane deGroat, a picture book about the hurt feelings that sometimes accompany the exchange of valentines in elementary school. Gilbert, the hero of her books, everyone’s favorite opossum, is appealing, if not as charming as Frances the Badger, and the situations he finds himself in are also universal (first day of school, field trips, camping with a bully, a show-off relative, tricks that backfire) in her holiday-themed award-winning picture books.

While visiting Cape Cod recently, I checked out Last One In Is a Rotten Egg for my 4 year old niece, and was delighted to see it was autographed by the author. She had even drawn a Gilbert on the bottom right corner of the title page! When I returned the book to the library I pointed out to the library staffer that the book had been autographed and mentioned it might get tough treatment if it stayed in circulation, but she pointed out that is what books are for. I thought it would look nice on display!  I wondered how Ms. deGroat came to sign this book...

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Freedom Maze (Review)

Title: The Freedom Maze
Author: Delia Sherman
Publication Information: Big Mouth House, hardcover, 2011
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Time Slip

Plot: Sophie is a gawky 13-year-old in 1960 Louisiana whose parents recently divorced.  Even worse, her father appears to have left the state without saying goodbye. While her mother recovers from being ostracized by friends and tries to improve her job skills, she leaves Sophie to spend the summer at her childhood home on the bayou in all that remains of the Fairchild family’s once-grand sugar plantation.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The King's Daughter (review)

Title: The King’s Daughter
Author: Suzanne Martel
Publication Information: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, rev. 1994, paperback
Genre: Juvenile Historical

Plot: Orphaned at 10, Jeanne Chatel was taken in by convent where the nuns tried unsuccessfully to turn her into a young lady. At 18, longing for adventure and aware that lack of dowry leaves her few alternatives, she jumps at the opportunity offered to orphans as an honorary “King’s Daughter” – the chance to leave France to sail to a new life with the French colonists in the New World, which means ultimately marrying a complete stranger. Although Jeanne has always envisioned herself with a dashing hero, to save her shy friend from a harsh stranger, she undertakes to marry a French trapper who lives in the wilderness, vulnerable to the bloodthirsty Iroquois. The dangers experienced in 17th century New France are vividly (and terrifyingly) depicted but Jeanne’s fearless spirit helps her overcome all obstacles to create a new life for herself.
What I liked: Someone called Jeanne the French-Canadian Anne of Green Gables, and I love that comparison. Jeanne has Anne Shirley’s imagination and longing for affection and a family. She embraces every challenge and shows great ingenuity when faced with danger. In addition, she has a love of the wilderness and the physical courage to live in a place where death is a constant threat.

What I disliked: There was nothing to criticize in this vivid and beautifully written book. Apparently some readers were concerned with the depiction of Native Americans as murderous and fearsome, and ignoring their rightful claim to the land. In the revised edition, the author points out that her depiction is from the point of view of the settler.

Source: I don’t remember who recommended this book to me but it was well worth hunting down via Interlibrary Loan. It was one of my favorite reads of 2012.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sue Barton or Cherry Ames?

The Sue Barton series, seven novels about an irrepressible nurse, is set approximately in the 1940s.  It follows the eponymous Sue from nursing school (based on the author's experience at Mass General)  to wife to a busy doctor and mother of three children.  The author, Helen Dore Boylston, was a real person (in contrast to the famous Stratemeyer Syndicate - not that I didn't enjoy those books as well) and friendly with Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter (as you know) of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Peggy Parsons at Prep School (Review)

Title: Peggy Parsons at Prep School
Author: Annabel Sharp
Publication Information: M.A. Donohue & Company, 1915
Genre: American Girls’ School Story
Plot:  Peggy is a vivid girl with brown-gold hair, laughing black eyes, and cheeks that are red through their tan.  She makes friends easily and loves a midnight feast and (although academics are rarely mentioned in such novels) at one point she writes an essay that is praised by her English teacher.  This is her first year at the Andrews and as an orphan she is dependent on the generosity of an aunt.  Peggy goes from one scrape to another, always running afoul of the stern headmistress, tossing a rosebush on a serenading Glee Club from prestigious Amherst College, spending so long primping that she is left behind from a school outing, and getting lost in a blizzard (see cover).  However, her kindness in visiting a lonely old gentlemen, presumed indigent by the neighborhood, results in a valuable friendship.  Naturally, once I knew that the old gentleman was estranged from his daughter and grandson, I expected Peggy would engineer a reunion and was not disappointed.

What I liked: The author manages to incorporate some delightful boarding school traditions in this book: handsome college men serenading dormitory rooms, bacon bats, theatre excursions, trips to dances at Annapolis, and best of all – fudge!

“Let’s have all the girls we can pack into the room in for a midnight celebration,” suggested Katherine as soon as they had flung off their coats in their own room.

“Good girl,” chirruped Peggy.  “About ten people – our most special own crowd.  Hurry up and be ready for dinner – and is there any butter out on the window ledge?
Katherine craned her eager head out of the window into the cold. “Not a bit,” she said.  “We have a can of condensed milk left, though.”

“Fine,” cried Peggy, counting off on her fingers the butter, the sugar, and the alcohol – “for I don’t think suppose there is any alcohol, is there, friend infant?”

“’Fraid not,” sighed Katherine.

From this an outsider might suppose that the girls were planning to concoct some sort of intoxicating beverage for their innocent little midnight party.  But it was only the preliminary preparation for the inevitable fudge.  And the alcohol was to run the chafing-dish, and not to go into it.

What I disliked: Alas, the book was very predictable and the characters were not well developed.  In addition, for a poor orphan Peggy was warm hearted but heedless, asking her aunt to send her to college regardless of expense.  She didn't do very much to earn her good fortune.

SequelPeggy Parsons, A Hampton Freshman is available via Project Guttenberg

Source: I bought this book many years ago but I don’t remember where.  In addition to my long-standing interest in school stories, I was probably intrigued because my godmother’s name was Peggy Parsons.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Into the Darkest Corner (Review)

Title: Into the Darkest Corner
Author: Elizabeth Haynes
Publication Information: Hardcover, July 2012, ISBN 978006-2197252
Genre: Suspense
Setting: London

Plot: Told alternatively in the present and past, Into the Darkest Corner is a convincing and unnerving before-and-after story of Catherine Bailey, an outgoing young woman who loves to party and is sometimes too drunk to remember her one-nighters.  Then she meets a seemingly perfect guy, Lee Brightman.  Her friends think he is wonderful and before she knows it, he has moved in with her and taken over her life.  Soon she realizes he is controlling, unreasonable and violent.  He also turns out to be a policeman (which I didn't believe at first) and tries to break up with him and change the locks, but nothing can keep him away.   The reader feels every vicious word and every blow as his behavior escalates out of control.
Several years later, she is Cathy, living in a new city, recovered from life threatening injuries and trying to control her panic attacks by carefully checking every detail in her apartment – particularly whether the door is locked.  She desperately needs a friend, and luckily the new renter upstairs, Stuart Richardson, is kind, attractive, single, and – bonus – a clinical psychologist.  You would think he’d run a mile from her problems, which he picks up on right away, but even in her new pale, restrained and worried persona, he is attracted to Cathy.  She is afraid to get involved with anyone but just as she starts to fall for Stuart, there are signs that Lee is coming after her again…

What I liked: Although the flashback style seemed vaguely derivative of other books, it was very effective for building up the suspense: first, Lee’s taking over Catherine’s life and turning her friends against her, leading to a desperate attempt to escape from him and his resulting rage; second, Cathy’s attempt to rebuild her life and fall in love again, which is jeopardized when she starts catching glimpses of Lee in her neighborhood.  The way her friends and the police dismiss Catherine’s fears is as upsetting for the reader as it is for her, and the betrayal by one of her best friend reminds one of every time a friendship was damaged because of a man. 

What I disliked:  Overall, I greatly enjoyed the book and only put it down reluctantly during the two days I took to read it.   It was hard to sleep at night and for once I heard every random creak in my 100-year-old house, thinking about Lee terrorizing Cathy.  I did find the heroine hard to like: in the beginning she was a heedless party girl, and afterwards she was (understandably) traumatized and paranoid, but thus not very appealing.  It was painful when she started to sense the presence of her ex or when she found clues he had left for her and no one believed her, including the new boyfriend, but it was sort of hard to believe she could fall in love with all this trauma going on.

Source: I received an advance reading copy from HarperCollins of this debut thriller, and look forward to hearing more from this author.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How I Met Ray Bradbury

Back in May 1995, I was working for Avon Books (since purchased by the News Corporation and now part of Harper Collins) which was in the midst of launching a hardcover imprint with many noteworthy authors.  That year the annual booksellers’ convention was in Chicago and it was a fun few days meeting authors and booksellers from all over the country.  I also managed to attend the Bulls NBA Championship game, thanks to my brother-in-law.  Another evening Avon senior management (and I) took author Susan Elizabeth Phillips out to dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant.   This was fun for me because I had read all her books and had been a big fan since Jennifer Enderlin gave me the manuscript of It Had to be You, the first in the Chicago Stars series (when she and I were both at NAL).  Susan was and is delightful.

The next night Ray Bradbury, who died earlier this month, was our guest of honor. For some reason, it was suggested that I as the sales manager for Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks should sit next to this illustrious author. Although editors often relied on me, as an enthusiastic reader, not to let them down with authors, I am embarrassed to admit that I had never read any Ray Bradbury. I tried to explain this to my boss discreetly (not to mention that anyone in the group would have been honored to sit with Ray) but she was not someone who ever lost an argument. “Just don’t stop talking,” Debby admonished me, “I don’t want to see any awkward silences. Tell him what we are doing to sell his books.”

Ray was warm and very entertaining. He told us a couple stories, including one about a convention where an avid fan made so many trips back to his car for memorabilia for Ray to sign that other attendees were lingering just to see what this man had amassed over the years. He told us about his lifelong obsession with magicians. He also asked us lots of questions about the evolving book business. I took my instructions seriously and talked nonstop during dinner. Whenever I paused for a mouthful of food or something to drink, I could see my boss glaring at me from across the table. It was unclear if she objected to the topics or my occasional need for sustenance but I soldiered on until at last the nearly four hour dinner was over (I ate well at that job and it was a talkative group so meals were never speedy). As we made our adieus I (hoarse from my efforts) told Ray what an honor it had been to meet him and he twinkled at me and said, “Next time sit on the side with my good ear. I’m afraid I couldn’t really hear a word you said!”

Several years later, I saw that Ray had written a book for Morrow called Let’s All Kill Constance.  Startled, I asked his editor for a copy but there was no hidden message although Constance is running in fear from something she dares not acknowledge….  I wish I had met him again to get it autographed but it has a nice place of honor on my shelves next to Tolkien!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Alma Mater (Review)

Title: Alma Mater: Design and Experience in Women’s Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s Author: Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz Publication Information: University of Massachusetts Press, 2e (originally published in 1984) Genre: History/Women’s Studies Book/Event: I was pleased to see that Helen Horowitz, Emerita professor of history at Smith College, was going to be speaking at the Radcliffe Institute because I am an admirer of her work. The topic of the speech was:

It’s Complicated: 375 Years of Women at Harvard Historian Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz will explore Harvard University’s relationship with women, which she describes as complicated. Her review begins with the University’s founding 375 years ago, when Harvard excluded women as students and teachers. For 200 years, the University conveyed education and prestige to a ministry and a rising merchant class. Beginning in the 19th century, women found innovative ways to attain higher education, but the terms of access required accommodation—even invisibility. Horowitz contends that the fight for equity began more than a century ago and remains a work in progress today. Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust will offer brief welcoming remarks. The book itself is fascinating. Fans of Carney’s House Party and Daddy Long Legs will, of course, love the sections on Vassar, but anyone interested in the college experience will enjoy the differing goals of the founders of these colleges and to what extent they were influenced by each other. The descriptions of the architecture are so intriguing they make me want to visit each campus with book in hand. I was delighted to meet Professor Horowitz after her speech and tell her my mother (who was with me) and I are part of a three generation Seven Sisters family. She autographed my book. What I liked: It was nice to see the Radcliffe Institute hosting an event that was standing room only. The speech was entertaining and the audience was extremely engaged, and Professor Horowitz was very interesting. I agreed with much of what she said. Coming from Harvard where we are programmed to believe in our own superiority, it was very interesting to hear her theory that Radcliffe having been created in the shadow of Harvard (because that was all that Harvard would tolerate - not news to me) never had a proper model for empowering women students (the implication was that Radcliffe College was doomed to fail). In contrast, she praised Barnard as having thrived due to strong leadership that came to advantageous agreements with Columbia. I think Barnard has issues of its own, ever since Columbia started admitting women but the alumnae I know seem pleased with their experience. Perhaps I should have asked the president of Barnard when I contacted her last week, requesting that she write to Granny for her 97th birthday next Monday… 

What I disliked: There were some interesting questions after Professor Horowitz’s speech (including one from Susan Faludi) and a few people wanted her to condemn the demise of Radcliffe College. She diplomatically said she would leave that topic to those most involved. My mother felt that the theme of the presentation ignored her belief that she had the best of both worlds – the academics of Harvard but the closeness of a women’s residential college. That was clearly true for her but several of her best friends resented the second-class citizenship and lack of mentoring. 

Source: I bought this book many years ago due to my interest in women’s education.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Caterpillar Hall (Book Review)

Title: Caterpillar Hall
Author: Anne Barrett with drawings by Catherine Cummins
Publication Information: Hardcover, Collins, 1950
Genre: Children’s Fantasy Plot: Penelope, a bright but lonely girl, has lived in London for two years with her kind but distant uncle and fussy governess, while her father works in Persia, trying to rebuild the family fortunes. When her father sends her five pounds to buy something special, she is drawn to a beautiful umbrella with shiny blue-green silk and a parrot’s head with gold beak. The umbrella leads Penelope in several directions: first, it blows out of her hands into the walled garden outside a quaint house that Penelope nicknames Caterpillar Hall, where she makes a friend, Miss Pellay. Next, Penelope learns the umbrella has a special magic that allows her to see the innermost secret yearnings of those around her, through flashbacks to their childhood. Once Penelope realizes the significance of what she has seen, she is determined to use the money left over from her father to buy gifts for her friends to fulfill their desires: a shiny copper kettle for Mrs. Prewett, her uncle’s housekeeper; a ship in a bottle for Mr. Prewett, who as a child longed to go to sea; a beautiful hat for her drab governess; and a picture reminiscent of Seventrees, the family estate, for her uncle. Like Penelope’s father, Uncle Everard is trying to earn money so the family can reclaim Seventrees, now leased to a stranger. Of course, the modern reader smiles a little at the concept of a family that is “hard up,” but can still afford two servants and a governess but that was the reality for certain English families, both in fact and fiction.

What I liked: The story is charmingly written and unusual. The magic provided by the parrot umbrella helps Penelope see past her own loneliness and frustrations to understand the adults around her. In turn, this improves her relationships with them and makes her happier. In Miss Pellay she finds a wonderful friend. Even a young reader would probably see the plot developments miles before they occur but that does not detract from the charm of the book.

What I disliked: The book was very likeable and sweet, but perhaps best read by an 8 year old. Fortunately, I still have two nieces young enough to reach that age in good time.

Source: I bought this book from a friend in Australia, Jennifer Genat, who is the proprietor of Buttercup Books and the author of The Old House at Mount Munecarthur. As you can see, it is a nice hardcover with a segment of the original dust jacket preserved.

Friday, February 10, 2012


My brother is passing through Penn Station tonight, which, as you know, is adjacent to Madison Square Garden where the Knicks are playing the Lakers tonight. First he sent me this photo of the Jeremy Lin shirts quickly rushed to the marketplace:Then he saw people being interviewed on the street, being asked what they think of Jeremy Lin. By megaphone!
And the Knicks website is offering the opportunity to meet Jeremy (proceeds to charity) with bidding already at $2200! I can't help reflecting that he never charged me to say hello and wish him well, but then he was not a cult figure while at Harvard...

Can Kobe stop the Linsanity? I bet I am not the only person outside NY who would love to see the Lakers lose.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mystery Reader

My nephew James' first grade has a tradition for periodic visitors (usually a family member) to come incognito read a picture book to the class. I was thrilled to be invited and spent a lot of time examining books, trying to choose the right one. I read a lot of pirate books but was disappointed in most of those I read, although I had thought that topic would appeal to boys and girls. Finally I narrowed my choice to three: one about a princess, one about a dog going to school, and one I had not read but had heard good things about, Miss Nelson is Missing. I brought them all with me to New York in case the librarian had his own idea about what I should read. Librarians don't always appreciate a know-it-all like me, but the two librarians at this school were very nice (despite the absence of Betsy-Tacy from their shelves, which I rectified). I was told that although Miss Nelson was popular it would be more effective to read a book the children weren't familiar with, so I went with The Princess and the Pig. It is not a typical princess book at all but is humorous and has a quirky ending. I didn't want to run the risk of losing the boys in the audience or shaming my nephew by an uncool choice of book. Thanks to Elizabeth Bird for her review which sent me right to the library.
The children arrived in the library at 11 and halfway through their session, they all sat down at tables and put their heads down. I came out of the office where I had been hiding with my sister, sat down and read the first two pages of the book while they listened attentively. Then the librarian asked if anyone recognized the reader. Two hands shot up, only one of which was my nephew. When called upon, still with his eyes covered, he said in a voice of pleased surprise, "It's my aunt!" I was also gratified by two little girls in his class who came up at the end to admire the book.
I liked this bear with his own Dewey Decimal classification that was in the library!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Downton Abbey Reading List

Friends who know my love of this period have been asking for my recommendations of great books set around World War I, so I have compiled a list. I also include a few favorites outside this time frame likely to be enjoyed by those who share my taste. Some are out of print and may be hard to find – try your library or!

WWI Era Adult Fiction

Ever After, The Light Heart and Kissing Kin / Elswyth Thane (Are you familiar with Thane’s beloved Williamsburg novels? She is one of my all time favorite authors, and if you don’t mind starting mid-series, I will let you start with books 3, 4 and 5 above which involve the Day (from Virginia) and Campion families in England prior to and during WWI. As Thane was American, you won’t need to worry about the unflattering depiction of Americans often encountered).
Sabrina / Polland (Set in Ireland before WWI, this is the story of an aristocratic family not unlike the Crawleys. I wish someone would make a miniseries of this book!)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Christmas 2011

How sad it is to take down the tree, which I just (belatedly) began tonight! However, it looked very pretty in my newly painted living room.

This year's Betsy-Tacy ornament exchange was a lovely glass basketball from Tib's friends at Browner Academy in Milwaukee, but very suitable for me, given my love of hoop.

The blue chair in the corner is old and shabby but beloved by my father because Cardinal Cushing, Boston's most beloved cardinal in the 20th century, sat it in when he came to visit my Aunt Lillian, shortly before she died.