Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell 2012

The totals are in for Belle, Book, and Candle for 2012:

Books read: 112

Fiction: 65 (of which 42 were mysteries)
Non-fiction: 47

Rereads: 12
Books read on the Nook: 26 
Books read from my own shelves: 49
Essay collections: 10

Female authors: 60
Male authors: 52

Author events attended: Gabrielle Hamilton, Gail Collins, Patricia Cohen, Hannah Rosin, and Camille Paglia. The Kentucky Book Fair.

Longest books read:  The Greater Journey (576 pages) by David McCullough; The Three Musketeers (717 pages) by Alexander Dumas; All the King's Men (656 pages) by Robert Penn Warren.

Authors I'm glad I found: Gladys Taber (Mrs. Daffodil); Maeve Brennan (The Long-Winded Lady, Notes from The New Yorker); and G.M. Malliet (St. Just mysteries).

Book read on my phone: Shrinking Violet by Karina Lickorish Quinn.

Books that made me laugh out loud: Framed and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce; Loose Diamonds by Nora Ephron; The Provincial Lady in America by E.M. Delafield.

Book that I keep telling people about: Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn.

Favorite Rereads: Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols; Ex-Libris by Anne Fadiman. 

Book of the Year: The Story of Charlotte's Web by Michael Sims (which I briefly wrote about here - E.B.White ).

Thus ends the first year of Belle, Book, and Candle. Writing a blog is like having another job and it is one I look forward to. I wasn't sure if I could come up with something to write every day about books and reading, but somehow a topic always presented itself. 

I so appreciate all of you who stopped by to read and those of you who left comments. And to my fellow book bloggers, thank you for allowing me to become a part of your world. 

See you in 2013. Happy Reading and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Provincial Lady in America

December 29th.-- First snow today. Settled in to red reading chair to find out what happens to The Provincial Lady in America. Am so glad E.M. Delafield made the trip to The Colonies from her home in Devonshire. Although the ocean crossing was a bit rough (I can sympathize - I too would suffer le mal de mer) once in New York her American book tour begins in earnest. From New York to Chicago by overnight train. Arrives in early morning disheveled and hungry. Met by publisher's representative and holds a signing in the book department of a large department store (Marshall Field's?). Visits the 1932 World's Fair. Is feted with many teas (cocktails) and suppers. Doesn't see any gangsters.

On to Cleveland, Niagara Falls (Note: the Canadian side is prettier), and Boston. Here, through kind intervention of critic and wit Alexander Wollcott, is able to visit the Alcott home (closed for the season) in Concord and is even given guided tour by last living Alcott relative -- a Mrs. Platt. Is big fan of Jo and her sisters and a visit to Louisa May's home is the one thing she wants to do while in America. (Note: Felt unexpected surge of pride for our beloved American author.)

By train to Washington, D.C., more teas (cocktails) and more nerve-wracking appearances at Women's Clubs. (Mem. Based on PL's experiences, remember not to ask questions of visiting authors that they have been asked a million times before.) Sees that George Washington's home is quite lovely (although disappointed to hear that cherry tree story is not true).

Back to New York. Watches movie "Little Women" (starring Katherine Hepburn as Jo) with Mademoiselle, former French nanny (now working for a family living in NYC) of children Robin and Vicky. Much weeping and sniffling at death of sister Beth. (Query: Which of the three movie versions, 1933, '49, or '94, is considered the best? Ans: Will have to rent all three and make own decision.)

Finally sets sail for Home. Weeps when met on arrival by husband Robert and all much-packed-and-unpacked luggage.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Life Among the Savages

Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages is the first of two books based on her domestic life with her husband; at first two (Laurie and Jannie), then three (Sally), and by the end of the book, four (Barry) children; various cats; a dog; neighbors and tradespeople. She and her family have moved from Manhattan to a rambling house in Vermont. She learns to drive a car, her children start school, she drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes and muses on the chaos. 

Some of the situations were amusing but for me there were too many lengthy, nonsensical conversations with and among the children - in the car or at the breakfast table. I found myself growing impatient; I kept wanting the action to move on a bit.

One of the most entertaining stories was her chapter on The Puzzle of the Missing Blanket. Everyone in the household is suffering with the grippe. Ms. Jackson sets up the mystery in a fine manner giving the reader the layout of the four bedrooms on the second floor, the temperature in each bedroom, the color of the bed linen, and where everyone sleeps. 

Sniffling, Dad moves into the guest room taking his cigarettes, matches, an ashtray and his tumbler of water. Ms. Jackson takes to her bed, with her cigarettes, matches, ashtray and a small glass of brandy. Soon one of the children winds up in bed with Mom with her own pillow, books, doll, and fruit juice. Mom gathers up her cigarettes et al., and heads to the guest room. Dad now finds it to be too warm in the guest room and gathers his paraphernalia
and heads down the hall to another bedroom while the son trundles into the guest room with the dog. By the end of the story, all the members of the family, including the dog, have changed beds at least twice if not three times taking with them on each switch all their tumblers, blankets, pillows, dolls, cigarettes and ashtrays. 

She ends this tale, which is written in the finest manner of a Game of Clue, thusly:

The puzzle is, of course, what became of the blanket from Sally's bed? I took it off her crib and put it on the bottom half of the double-decker [bunk bed], but the dog did not have it when he woke up, and neither did any of the other beds. It was a blue-patterned patchwork quilt, and has not been seen since, and I would most particularly like to know where it got to. 

For a minute, I was tempted to reread the story and plot the path of the Missing Blanket as it moved from bed to bed. But it is much too late now to let Ms. Jackson know where her blanket ended up.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Peril at End House

I have been plowing through mysteries from the library on my Nook. Last night I finished Peril at End House by Agatha Christie.

Here we find M. Hercule Poirot and his trusted friend Hastings on a brief holiday in the (fictional) seaside town of St. Loo on the Cornish coast. Poirot explains to Hastings that he is retired...unless a mystery should happen to drop in his lap. Which of course it does. 

Poirot and Hastings meet one Nick Buckley who lives in rambling End House next to the resort. She has inherited the mansion from her grandfather but no money to keep it up. In casual conversation, she tells Poirot that she has had some close calls lately - the brakes failed on her car, a huge painting fell off the wall over her bed, a boulder nearly smashed her as she was walking down the cliff to the sea. Then, Poirot witnesses a bullet whiz by Nick's head. 

He is on the case. Who wants Nick dead? And why? There are plenty of suspects: Freddie, Nick's good friend (all the female characters have male names in this one) who has a cocaine habit; Captain Challenger who is in love with Nick; Charles Vyse, Nick's cousin and attorney; and, an assorted crew of others who come and go through the doors of End House.

Poirot makes lists, mistakes (mon Dieu!)and there are fireworks, gunshots, and poisoned chocolates before he can solve the mystery of who is trying to kill Nick. 

I have to say I didn't see the solution coming, but then that is what Dame Christie does so well.

Next up: Fer-de-Lance, Nero Wolfe's first case, by Rex Stout.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best Christmas Present Ever

The Fulton Desk
from Restoration Hardware
My very last Christmas present was delivered today.

I ordered this desk from Restoration Hardware in September and today, the day after Boxing Day, it arrived. It is the Fulton Desk, a part of RH's Big Style Small Spaces collection. 

I certainly qualify as my space is quite small.

It measures a tidy 55"W x 24"D x 31"H. What I like about this piece is that it is quite sleek and it doesn't appear as a big lump of furniture. The two shelves on the right-hand side are perfect for storing just a pretty box or two to hide any sort of office paraphernalia that I might need. 

The top and shelves are made of antique reclaimed elm doors. They are very distressed which doesn't distress me at all. In fact, I find the imperfections to be fascinating. Who wants perfect?

Up until now I have been balancing my laptop on the arm of my reading chair. From this day forward, I will actually have room to spread out papers and books and notes and work and that makes me very happy. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bits and Bobs

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
at her home in Cross Creek, Florida
I finished reading Hugh Howard's Writers of the American South and learned that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling, at one time wrote for the The Courier-Journal, my hometown newspaper. That would have been in the 1920s before she moved to Central Florida. I also learned that she wrote a memoir Cross Creek about life on her citrus farm in Florida where she learned to cook - on a wood-burning stove, no less - alligator, rattlesnake, and blackbird pie along with okra, mustard greens, and hush puppies. 

Howard writes:
Her voice is that of a wise storyteller seated on her porch - where she often wrote, sometimes in longhand, sometimes on her L.C. Smith portable typewriter - telling the tales of the friends and neighbors who, the reader understands, are as likely as not to saunter by as the story unfolds. 

The only quarrel I have with this book is its design. The paper is semi-gloss, the type is small, and the ink is not very black. For my Woman-of-a-Certain-Age eyes, it made for a strain to read. But I made it through with the occasional help from my trusty magnifying glass.

I also finished up The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed these tales of hers about Manhattan. I decided they read like short stories. Along the way I learned that Ms. Brennan liked her martinis, had a penchant for eating in French restaurants, and read mysteries. 

One day, sitting in a restaurant she spies two nuns walking down the sidewalk. Seeing them prompts memories of her miserable time in Dublin where she was sent to a convent boarding school. The nuns, she recalls, were violent and stingy. Not a good combination. 

She writes about the two of the nuns who ran the school:

..they spent most of their time looking for sin. They were alway on patrol, sometimes together and sometimes separately. They patrolled the silent study hall, and they patrolled the corridors, and they patrolled the classrooms and the washrooms, and they even patrolled the dormitories, often walking between the beds after the lights were out. 

And then:

Those two nuns tracked [sin] down even in the refractory, where we had breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper. They never seemed to notice what was on our plates. Awful food. It was always tea and bread scraped with butter, except at midday dinner, when it was boiled potatoes.

Hers is a book that should be a required textbook for aspiring writers. Ms. Brennan's attention to detail and her choice of words constitute perfect writing lessons.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Poem: The Christmas Thing

The Christmas Thing

I've spent sober Christmases
and ones so drunk I danced with the tree.
I've spent joyous Christmases
and ones so sad I sobbed by the tree.

I've spent extravagant Christmases
and ones so poor I didn't even have a tree.
I've spent family-and-friend Christmases
and ones so alone I named the tree.

I've spent warm California by-the-pool Christmases
and ones so cold I plucked icicles from the tree.
I've spent hale and hearty Christmases
and ones so sick I threw up under the tree.

I've spent loud, rambunctious Christmases 
and ones so quiet I listened to the tree.
And, this Christmas, in her honor and with love,
I promise to plant a tree.

December 1993

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jimmy the Kid by Donald Westlake

Oh, that Donald Westlake. He is such a card. In the third John Dortmunder escapade, Jimmy the Kid, Andy Kelp convinces the gang to kidnap the 12-year-old son of a wealthy Wall Street broker. The plan they will follow, to hilarious ends, is to be taken from a book, Child Heist, written by one Richard Stark. The joke here of course is that Richard Stark is the pseudonym that Westlake used for his series about the darker Parker, professional criminal.

It seems that Kelp read the book (which in real life does not exist) while he was whiling away some time in jail. Here, he thinks, are the perfect step-by-step snatch instructions and ransom negotiations. 

Dortmunder and his crew refer to chapters in the Parker book - three or four of which are excerpted - and the reader then gets to enjoy how things don't go according to 'script.' It is all quite amusing and Mr. Westlake must have had much fun bringing the it-always-works-out Parker into the world of it-rarely-works-out Dortmunder.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bookshelf Porn

A Christmas tree made of books...why didn't I think of this?
(Source: Gleeson Library, San Francisco)

No doubt I am the last person on earth to visit the photoblog Bookshelf Porn, a wonderful site showing thousands of books in situ. It is listed as one of the 'Five top places for a bookish fix' in an article today on The's book page.

What we have here are photos of books on shelves, in bathtubs, guitar cases and tucked under the stairs.

There are buildings of books - round, square, tall, and squat.

Photos of libraries, shops, and display windows full of books abound. Look for a book-filled refrigerator, a phone booth, and a suitcase. Books here are tumbled and stacked and piled and turned into murals. 

It is a delicious way to spend time among the shelves without ever leaving your easy chair. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Oh, Christmas Tree

I am wanting to have built-in bookshelves added to my living room/library this coming year. My white Billy shelves from Ikea have served me well, but built-ins are so much sturdier and would give me much more shelf room for my ever-expanding library.

So, I have been following with interest Claire's weekend posts of photos: Library Lust. All year, I have dutifully noted bookshelf designs featured in the pictures which will help me come up with my own design.

Today's Library Lust photo, with its pared down holiday decorations and fresh flowers, prompted a discussion in the comments about our own style of Christmas decor. Some commentors favor lots of tinsel and light, while others are more sedate in their choosings.

I described the simple, but I think elegant, tabletop Christmas tree that I created this year and thought I would just go ahead and post a photo of it. It is a 6-inch pine cone with glitter on the tips of the branches. It rests on a silver wreath-like ornament which in turn sits on a small black tray. The 'star' on the top is a pearl earring, one of my mother's, which really adds some class and a bit of sentiment, don't you think? 

Not much room for presents, but just think how easy it will be for me to "take down the Christmas decorations."  More time for reading.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Traveler

The following is part of a piece, "The Traveler," in Maeve Brennan's The Long-Winded Lady. It is the perfect description of yearning to travel and why one does it. I am already dusting off my passport.

I thought about Amsterdam and Marseilles and Algiers, all places where I have never been, and I wished I could turn myself into a transatlantic traveler for a few days, or even a week, and masquerade with luggage and a striped steamer rug in some distant hotel lobby, and allow everybody to believe that I had a very good and important reason for being there, and that when I left I would have an urgent reason for leaving, and that my next destination was fixed and depended on plans that could not be changed. 

I wanted to be at the mercy of strict arrangements for a little while, with a timetable to guide me and tickets and a passport to explain me, and to have a list of faraway hotel rooms that were unknown to me now but that soon would be perfectly familiar, 
because I would sleep in them. And my excuse and explanation for being wherever I found myself would always stand by me -- my suitcase, recognizable in any language. My suitcase would translate me to everybody's satisfaction and especially to my own satisfaction. 

And I would go to a city where the people spoke a language I did not understand, so that I could listen as much as I liked and still not eavesdrop. It is so nice to be able to listen to voices without being delayed by what is being said.

I especially love that last line. If you have ever been to a foreign city and sat in a cafe surrounded by people speaking unfamiliar languages of all sorts, you will understand what she means. I find it to be soothing to hear the sound of the voices - almost like a lullaby - and yet not be distracted by the words.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Writers of the American South

Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind,
at an old sewing table she used as her desk.
I have been dipping into Writers of the American South off and on these past mornings. It contains portraits of twenty-two Southern writers and features wonderful photos of their homes showing how a sense of place is reflected in their works. The text is written by Hugh Howard and the photos come from the camera of Roger Strauss III.

Faulkner and Foote (William and Shelby) are side by side in the book. Welty and Wolfe (Eudora and Thomas) are the final two entries in the volume. I was especially interested in those entries as they are homes I have visited. Oxford, Memphis, Jackson, and Asheville. 

And I have also spent time in the sweet town of Beaufort, South Carolina which is the adopted home of Pat Conroy (although I have never been invited to his house).

Some of the authors in this book are still alive and writing. Some are long gone and others have left their writing desks forever since the publication of the book in 2005.

I found the text to be a bit choppy but the photos of the exteriors and interiors of the homes are very fine. I am always interested to see where writers do their work. 

What sort of desks can be found here? 

Ah, well, Shelby Foote had his made from dismantled oak beams from a mill in New England. Conroy sits at a Queen Anne style desk placed facing a large window. Faulkner had his typewriter on a small table with barely room left over to hold a lamp. I can just picture him hunched over, puffing on his pipe and pounding out his saga of Yoknapatawpha County. 

Marjorie Rawlings often wrote on a handmade cypress tabletop on the porch of her house in Florida in order to catch a summer's breeze. James Lee Burke crafts his mysteries at a plain modern desk set in his spacious and well-lit office in Louisiana.  

Some of the homes are fixtures in the landscape and feature large verandas for sitting a spell (Kate Chopin - Louisiana). Others are more contemporary (Ann Patchett - Tennessee). Some are located on the water (Carl Haaisen - Florida), some are exotic (Ernest Hemingway - Key West), and some have had the city grow up around them (Margaret Mitchell - Atlanta).

And imagine this...all the homes are filled with books. Books on shelves, piled on tables, stacked on floors and counters, toppling atop bookcases. 

A helpful feature is a list of the books published by each author at the end of his or her section. A great book to browse through and a nice resource to own.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Absolutely my last book purchases for 2012

Oh goody. My Powell's order arrived today. I promise these are the last books I am buying in 2012 but I am such a sucker for free shipping and these four are all 'previously owned' and I am happy to have them.

As I am late in discovering the very funny author Bill Bryson (here is My fan letter to Mr. Bryson), I went on a bit of a tear and ordered three of his books: a hardcover edition of At Home and paperback editions of The Lost Continent (who better to take a road trip of small towns in America than with Mr. Bryson) and Neither Here Nor There about his adventures in Europe.

I am so in the mood to do some armchair traveling.

The final book in the order is Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. Yes, that Shirley Jackson of the creepy short story "The Lottery," The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

This book will not keep me up at night unless it is because I am laughing. I am not sure where I read about it, but it is really a series of short-stories-turned-into-a-novel. It is one of those books about domestic chaos -  based on her own experiences raising four children in a big, rambling house - that can be so charming and hilarious. Think Diary of a Provincial Lady and anything written by Erma Bombeck.

I am all set for a little light reading to wind up the year. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake

Let me introduce you to the world of John Dormunder, the hapless professional thief created by author Donald Westlake. He is a brilliant planner of jobs and his band of merry men are rarely violent but always funny.

When we first meet Dortmunder in The Hot Rockhe has just gotten out of prison and his friend Andy Kelp has the perfect job lined up: steal an emerald that is on display at a museum. That sounds like such a simple plot, but things go wrong and wrong again and Dortmunder's plans for the heist get more and more outlandish.

Kelp is Dortmunder's long-time friend and fellow thief and has a much more positive outlook on life. He exasperates Dortmunder sometimes but Kelp is the one who finds the jobs for the gang. Stan Murch is the driver for the crew and spends most of his time telling whoever will listen his route to and from the planning meetings which take place in the back room of a Manhattan bar. The bartender doesn't know anyone by name, only by their drink.

Murch can drive anything and when his character is introduced in The Hot Rock, which came out in 1970, he has just purchased a record of the sounds of the cars zooming around the track at the Indianapolis 500 which he listens to at full volume. It soothes him.

Over the course of the novels, other thieves, safe crackers, and thugs appear to help Dortmunder achieve his ends. These ends are usually a long time in coming as something always goes wrong and plans have to be remade. That is the fun. Just to what lengths will our Mr. Dortmunder go?

I have read the Dortmunder books - there are fourteen of them - over the years and now that my library has them all available as e-books, I am re-acquainting myself with these crazy fellows and the impossible situations they get into.

Westlake also wrote another series under the name of Richard Stark which features  Parker, a hard, professional criminal that is so opposite from Dortmunder. I have only read one of those. The Parker character is a bit dark.

I prefer Westlake when he is at his wittiest.  He is a terrific writer and I dare you to read The Hot Rock and not fall in love with Dortmunder.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Maeve Brennan: The Long-Winded Lady

Maeve Brennan
The Long-Winded Lady
I am enthralled with a new author suggested in a comment left by Tullik on my post about The New Yorker cartoonist Helen Hokinson (here). 

Maeve Brennan came to America from Ireland in 1934 when she was only seventeen. Fifteen years later she was writing for The New Yorker: book reviews, essays, and short fiction. The book I am reading, The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from The New Yorker, is a collection of sketches she wrote of daily life on the streets and in the neighborhoods of Manhattan between the years 1953 and 1981. 

This 1998 edition contains fifty-six columns written for the magazine's feature "The Talk of the Town." These are what Ms. Brennan calls 'snapshots' in the author's note and she explains that they were introduced in the magazine with the phrase "Our friend the long-winded lady has written to us as follows" or "We have received another communication from our friend the long-winded lady."

This long-winded lady liked to move: from hotel to apartment to the country and back to a hotel in the city giving her a chance to observe a variety of her fellow citizens. She likes to sit at a window table in her favorite restaurants so she can observe what is happening on the sidewalks. She smokes. She drinks martinis. She orders coffee ice cream for dessert. 

She writes of seeing a parade of men dressed in dark suits marching shoulder to shoulder - no one seems to know who they are or what they are marching for. In other sketches she writes of coming upon a gathering of Flower Children protesting the war in Vietnam; of gawking with others at the charred and water-soaked inventory after a fire at the corner haberdashery; of going out of her way to locate the site of the new home for a 200-year-old wooden farmhouse that had been saved and moved; of taking a short but scary ride in a dark elevator in her hotel.

Nothing escapes her attention. 

Here is her description of a seventy-year-old woman who lives in Ms. Brennan's building:

She has a room without a bath and she is often in the hall. She has bad temper written all over her face, bad temper and arrogance,  and her eyes look about her in a curiosity that is unkind and persistent. She is always fighting with somebody and she is always complaining. She looks as though she would like to reform somebody. 

It was clear, as she climbed the stairs, that the hot weather was hurting her. She was tired. She looked as though she had never seen a worse day. She wore a long-sleeved knitted sweater of beige silk and a brown tweed skirt. Her hair, as usual, was caught tightly in a net, and she carried her handbag and a small brown paper grocery bag. 

I don't know much about the layout of New York City but that doesn't matter as Ms. Brennan paints such a clear picture of the people, the shops, the tourists, the delis and restaurants, that I feel that if I were dropped onto the streets of 1960s and '70s Manhattan I would be able to recognize her neighborhoods. 

I was sorry to read that Ms. Brennan suffered in later life from mental illness and alcoholism. She died in a nursing home on November 1, 1993 at the age of seventy-six. A rather tragic ending for an attractive and highly creative writer.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movies and Books

I don't watch too many movies, but the ones I enjoy the most are usually based on books. Sometimes I have read the book first, but other times the movie comes first and I find out that there is a book.

For example, this year, I went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (basically because I adore Bill Nighy) and discovered that it was taken from a book originally titled These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. I enjoyed them both.

Also this year I came upon the books Millions and Framed written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. I read Millions first and then rented the movie version. On the other hand, I found Framed on Masterpiece Theatre and that led me to the book. 

I tackled The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas in July for the "Paris in July" blog challenge and managed to watch three versions of the movie all of which were very different. Each included and excluded different parts of the adventure told in the book. All of them were terrific. 

Others I have read and watched this year include All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren and Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. In both cases the books were better although I don't really spin my wheels bothering with that argument. I try to take each book or movie on its own merits.

Two other movies I saw this year were Bell, Book, and Candle - for obvious reasons - and 84 Charing Cross Road. BB&C had many bookish aspects to it. It was originally a play and then was adapted for the big screen. Since I plan to read a play or two in 2013, perhaps it will find its way onto my TBR pile.

I own a copy of the book 84 Charing Cross Road and have slipped it into my Books to Be Re-read stack. Make that Re-Re-Re-read. I never grow tired of reading it.

Conversely, I rented The Hunger Games (star Jennifer Lawrence is from my hometown and I was curious to see her in action) but I have no desire to read the book.

What is your take on the book/movie idea? Do you enjoy seeing the characters On Screen as well as On Page? Any favorites?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Simple Task Completed

It took me a while, but I finally got around to listing (see the tab at the top of the page) the titles of all the books I read in 2011. I remember some with great fondness (2011). 

During the review I checked to see if some of the authors had new books out. I was happy to see that Tarquin Hall has another mystery starring the portly Vish Puri, a crime solving private detective in Dehli. It has the irrepressible title of The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken. This is the third in the series featuring Mr. Puri and his undercover operatives and I have it on my reserve list at the library.

I also discovered that Alan Bradley, author of the Flavia de Luce mysteries, has a fifth book in his series coming out in January 2013: Speaking From Among the Bones.  It too is now on my reserve list.

If you are not yet acquainted with Flavia, she is an 11-year-old girl living with her widowed father and two older sisters in a somewhat decaying country house in England in 1950. She spends most of her time cooking up poisons and other potions in the abandoned chemistry lab at the top of the house. That is when she is not pedaling around the countryside on her bicycle and solving murders. A delight.

I am also putting Alan Bennett's An Uncommon Reader on my list to re-read. It is the novella featuring The Queen and her discovery of the joys of books and reading. It will be saved to be read in an afternoon over a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Setting a Target

When I started Belle, Book, and Candle on January 1, I really had no idea where it would take me. 

Oh, the places you'll go...

First, there was the Grand Southern Literary Tour in late April - a week spent visiting literary sites and bookstores and even one cemetery. I participated in a blog challenge - Paris in July - and enjoyed reading, eating, and watching all things French. In September, I created my own challenge - Oh, To Be In England - and had fun reading and reminiscing about Merry Olde. 

All of those generated many books that I might have never picked up and read before starting this blog. Certainly none were on any goals list at the beginning of the year.

Although I don't want to box myself in, I think I might profit by setting one or two reading targets for 2013. 

I am woefully lacking in the reading of short stories. I have never been a fan, but maybe I have given the short story a short shrift. It seems that Elizabeth Bowen and Alice Munro are mentioned often as the Grand Dames of the genre, so I will begin with them. 

For a more diverse selection, I could just pick up a copy of The Best American Short Stories and The Best British Short Stories from any year and dive in.

Then there are plays. I don't think I have ever read one, but I have been following Claire at The Captive Reader as she reads A.A. Milne and today Dodie Smith. Witty Noel Coward comes immediately to mind and then maybe move on to Oscar Wilde. 

I actually have a book that was my grandmother's - The Best Plays of 1941-1942. A quick look tells me there are offerings by John Steinbeck (The Moon is Down), Noel Coward (Blithe Spirit) and Maxwell Anderson (Candle in the Wind).

And finally, for some strange reason, I feel the need to read one of The Russians. I asked a friend who has read and reread them all, "If I had to pick one book by a Russian author which one would you suggest?" Without hesitation he replied, "War and Peace. It is so well written that it has spoiled me for reading anything else. Second place would be Anna Karenina." Ah, the short list. 

Other than that, I will go pretty much Where My Whimsy Takes Me. I have books that I own that I will be pulling off the shelves to read and I am sure there will be a book challenge or two that I will want to participate in. 

If anyone has suggestions for short stories or plays (The Russian category is closed), please drop me a comment. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fired up!

Yesterday I ran into an acquaintance at the post office. She is an illustrator and she told me that her 'creative team' had a digital app that had been selling well. She explained that it was an interactive book - an adult fairy tale - with music, pop-up illustrations, and sound effects. It sounded like fun and she said I could get it through Amazon on my Kindle Fire for the amazing price of 99 cents.

I am not an app buyer and am not intrigued with the offerings of the app stores. But, I took the bait on this one and ordered it this morning thinking it would make for a positive blog post. I was very disappointed. Although the idea of tapping the screen and hearing music or seeing bubbles floating up through the text or experiencing the sound of rain and thunder is very clever, the narrative is so forced and ugly and not in the least bit funny that after one chapter I was ready to give up. But I plowed on through Chapter Two and then closed the book (as it were) in disgust.

I can't imagine that this woman and her 'team' thought that this tale was in any way amusing. If it had been a proper book I would have thrown it across the room. 

I doubted if I could return this digital nightmare and get my money back but I called Amazon anyway.  To my delight, Craig of the App Store Customer Service Desk said he would make a one-time exception and issue me a refund. I told him him the app was so awful that I didn't even want it on my Kindle as a reminder. He assured me it would disappear. 

Thank you Craig.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

By the Numbers

I spent a few minutes today looking at my list of  'Books Read in 2012' thinking I could quickly calculate how many of my own books I had completed this year. One of my goals was to read from my own shelves and I wanted to see how I stacked up.

I started out well enough but then ran into the quandary: Should I count books I bought and read this year or should those be in a separate category? Should I just count the books I already owned as of January 1? 

Abandoning that dilemma for a moment, another compilation 
idea came to mind: the number of e-books that I read on my Nook (all of which were free). That led to me to wonder how I might determine the total number of books I bought this year. (This sum might be quite shocking as I just yesterday ordered four more books on-line from Powell's. The madness never stops!)

Looking further ahead, I thought of adding up the many books borrowed from the library and the number of authors I met this year. And maybe tallying the number of bookstores I had visited.

My left brain was really kicking in at this point. To further classify I thought I could calculate the number of female  vs. male authors represented on the list and then the number of fiction vs. non-fiction books and in addition the number of mysteries...

With that I gave up with nary a digit written down. It will take some ciphering to figure all this out and I am going to have to use a calculator along with some fingers and toes to come up with any concrete numbers.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Great Paper Purge

I have at least five books on how to unclutter and organize my spaces and again as many books on how to simplify my life. And there are countless others that I have borrowed from the library and read over the years. They have all been very helpful. I am for the most part organized and lead a fairly uncomplicated life.

That is until we start a conversation about paper. It seems that no matter how much paper I get rid of -- empty envelopes, flyers, junk mail, magazines, catalogs, faded file folders, expired coupons, clippings, newsletters, index cards with indecipherable notes scribbled on them, unneeded receipts, and miscellaneous ephemera that comes from who knows where -- there is always more and more and more.

I have spent a fortune on pretty boxes, pretty file folders, and pretty much every sort of paper organizer that our great capitalist empire has created. And still, there is always a pile of papers here, a stack of papers there.

So today, a helpful friend and I held The Great Paper Purge. I had two years worth of tax returns with all the backup receipts stored in  tote bags. I had a drawer full of folders that contained financial papers and tax returns from my mother's estate. I had a box of magazines that contained articles I have written that needed to be pulled and filed in the portfolio binders. 

We gathered the tax information into two big manila envelopes ready to file in the box holding others from the past five years as my accountant tells me to keep seven years' worth.  

Then we sorted through Mom's papers and got those gathered in one place and taped them up in a package we created from a sturdy brown paper grocery bag. That along with the two envelopes of my own tax information went on the very top shelf of the laundry closet. The shelf is known as The Archives and involves climbing up a step-stool and usually a bump on my head to reach. (Some day I am going to send a bill for storage fees to the IRS!)

We tore out the clippings from the magazines and got those sorted into page protectors and filed in binders. 

After three hours, we had two big bags of paper to be recycled and one bag of papers to be shredded. Then, after lunch, (a girl's got to eat), my friend and I loaded up the three bags and took them to a local shredder company to dispose of.

We liberated three cloth tote/book bags, one drawer and quite a number of file folders and file envelopes.

I don't know what it is about paper but I hate touching it, dealing with it, seeing it, receiving it. In an effort to deal with my neurosis,  I have almost all my bank statements and bills come to me via email which cuts down considerably on the paper mail I receive. I rent a post office box that I visit once a week and try to handle the contents while standing over the big trash can in the lobby. Usually the only mail that comes to my house is junk and I just toss it immediately.

I have a lovely big box that looks like a book and I toss all my mail and receipts and correspondence in it and my Paper Purge friend comes and clears it out quarterly. Of course I pay her and it is so well worth it. She loves to sort and file and has not an iota of anxiety about dealing with little bits of paper.  

It must be noted, though, that my paper aversion does not include luscious stationery, art post cards, notebooks, bookmarks, note cards, and of course, books.

Never would I consider any of that paper clutter. Ever. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Winter Haiku

Winter skies bring spring

Thunderstorms and white lightning --
Chickens scratching dirt.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Death in August by Marco Vichi

It's August. It's hot. The mosquitoes are biting and Inspector Bordelli isn't sleeping well. As if that weren't enough, he is called out in the middle of the night to the villa of an elderly woman who has been found dead. Perhaps her death is due to an asthma attack. Perhaps it is the result of murder. 

This is the setting for Death in August by Marco Vichi. The mystery takes place in 1963 in Florence, Italy. Inspector Bordelli is a fine character. He is fifty-three and single. He drives his Beetle through the narrow streets of the city. He is haunted by the fighting he saw in World War II. He counts his cigarettes and always smokes more than he says he will. Some of his friends are petty thieves. He hosts a dinner party - all men - and they eat and drink and tell stories of love and war. 

This is a detective story that is big on atmosphere and character. There is much that goes on that doesn't really concern the solving of the puzzle but I went along with the flow because I liked Bordelli so much. 

Of course the inspector does finally determine what really happened and along the way we get to meet Dante, the dead woman's eccentric brother who is an inventor and talks to mice; Piras, the son of Bordelli's wartime buddy who is now a detective and hates his superior's smoking habit; and, Dr. Diotivede, the pathologist and long-time friend of Bordelli's who never seems bothered by the heat.

Death in August is the first of four (so far) in the series written by Vichi and translated by Stephen Sartarelli. It is a great start.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Queen of Kentucky

I seem to be on a bit of a Royal Roll right now. First there was Mrs. Queen Takes the Train then Henry V. In the royal world of insects there were the queen bees in Death by a HoneyBee and Shoofly Pie.

Now I am ready to read a book I bought earlier this year: The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker.

Meet 14-year-old Ricky Jo on her first day in public high school after attending grades K-8 in a Catholic school. She lives in a small farming town of Breckinridge, Kentucky. She wants to belong with the popular girls, find a best friend, and start puberty. (Be careful what you wish for Ricky Jo.) 

She introduces herself to her classmates as Ericka as "double names sound so babyish." Or so she tells her best friend Luke.

Reading about her steps and missteps, I am thrown back into halls of high school. I can feel the jitters that Ericka experiences when she tries out for the cheerleading squad. (She makes it, I didn't.) And those funny, fluttery feelings when the cute boy pays attention to her. And the frustration of trying to remember the combination to her locker.

Ericka just wants to fit in and be popular. She wants to break away from the 4-H Club and join in with the country club set. The only problem is she is not quite sure how to accomplish that feat. 

I have only read a couple of chapters but I already like Ericka and am sure that her first year in high school will turn out to be filled with lessons about loyalty and being one's self that she will carry with her into adulthood.

Oh dear. There's the bell. Now I must get to class.

Friday, December 7, 2012

My Best Girls

A room full of Helen Hokinson's Best Girls
The New Yorker is famous not only for its literary articles but perhaps even more so for its cartoons. Cartoons featuring dogs, drinkers, befuddled husbands, corporate bigwigs, doctors, lawyers, and most likely, Indian chiefs.

In reading Joseph Mitchell's My Ears Are Bent, a collection of newspaper profiles of the well-known and not-so-well-known denizens of New York City, I learned that one of the most popular cartoonists for the magazine from the mid-1920s through 1940s was Helen Hokinson. 

I had not heard of Ms. Hokinson but when I looked online I recognized her work. Her cartoons featured older well-to-do women who were concerned with fashion, the beauty parlor, women's clubs, pets, and gardens. 

I didn't realize that in those years there were any female cartoonists contributing to the magazine. How wrong I was. According to one web site, Ms. Hokinson contributed more than 1800 cartoons to the publication and her work was featured 68 times on its cover.

Ms. Hokinson was born in 1893 in Illinois, attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago, and moved to New York City to pursue a career in fashion design. She began drawing cartoons - for a few months she did a comic strip for a New York tabloid - and someone suggested she take some of her drawings to the newly formed New Yorker magazine and her career was born.

Here is what Mr. Mitchell had to say about her characters:

The funniest people in the republic to Helen E. Hokinson....are the middle-aged ladies who live in exclusive Westchester towns, in the Oranges or in the Gramercy Square neighborhoods  and whose more or less empty lives revolve in a dignified fashion around the garden or culture club, the beauty shop and the detective story.

These are women who have charge accounts, plenty of leisure, poodle dogs, chauffeurs, a box at the opera and the right to sit in Gramercy Park. They have regular appointments with hairdressers, and the hard cash some of them spend in beauty shops would wreck a bank.

Their husbands are executives and brokers. They are on the boards of private charities, and there are a flock of Madame Presidents among them.

"I don't like people to get the idea I am bitter about them," Hokinson said.  "I just think they're funny. I seldom draw the vicious type. The ones who are unconsciously funny are the ones I like."

There are six books of Ms. Hokinson's collections of cartoons and used editions are available on-line. Perhaps her favorite was My Best Girls published in 1941.

Ms. Hokinson was killed in 1949 in a mid-air airplane collision at Washington National Airport. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm on Fire!

My Kindle Fire

I sometimes think I take this book obsession too far. Not only do I buy books, use the library, and own a Nook Color, I have now bought myself a Christmas present: the Kindle Fire. It came yesterday. 

Does one really need two e-readers? 

Apparently I do. I already had Kindle books on my laptop and my android phone but I don't like to read on the laptop and reading on the phone's small screen gets to be a bit much. So when the Kindle Fire went on sale on Amazon on Cyber Monday I quickly clicked 'Add to Cart'.

Here is a sampling of the free Kindle books that I already had:

Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Girl (Sister of that "Idle Fellow") by Jenny Wren
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Literary Lapses by Stephen Leacock
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Poems by Emily Dickinson
My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My thinking was that most of them, except Bleak House, could be accessed on my phone and parts read quickly while waiting in an airport, doctor's office, or at a coffee shop. Now that I have a 'big screen' to read them on, I am looking forward to digging in. And I am looking forward to finding more free books of which Amazon has plenty.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Ears Are Bent

I do love reading American newspaper and magazine writers of the years between the wars. The prose is almost always concise, clear, and colorful. I am talking of those such as E.B. White, James Thurber and Janet Flanner of The New Yorker

I have now discovered another: Joseph Mitchell. Mitchell was a reporter and feature writer for New York City's The World, The Herald Tribune, and The World-Telegram. In 1929, when he was twenty-one, he came to New York from North Carolina and ended up interviewing the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and George Bernard Shaw and he covered the Lindbergh kidnapping trial.

But the people he really enjoyed chatting with were the boys in the barrooms, the ladies of the burlesque stage, the prizefighter hopefuls of the gymnasiums, and the street preachers of Harlem. Eventually he too went to work for The New Yorker and showed up daily at the office until he died of cancer in 1996. He was 87.

All this leads me to Mr. Mitchell's collection of early newspaper stories with the ever-wonderful title: My Ears Are Bent. These feature stories were first published in book form in 1938 and brought back into print in 2001. I bought my copy at a recent used book sale and the writing is terrific.

Here is a fine example of summer in the city:

The plentiful inhabitants of the lower East Side sit on the shady side of their disheveled streets and make no unessential motions.

No breezes stir. Even the gestures of the sidewalk peddlers are half-hearted. Food is cheaper on stoop stands and pushcarts in the afternoon, and now the women are going home from market -- going home to their hot little kitchens. Every one carries a bulging market sack -- a brown-paper sack filled with frayed vegetables.

The string of a market sack clutched in each wrinkled hand, an old wife walks slowly up Eldridge Street. Here she stops and passes a few words concerning the hot weather with another old one. Here she stops and argues for a moment with a peddler of jams.

Don't you think the phases disheveled streets and frayed vegetables perfectly capture the spirit of the scene?

Fortunately for me, Mr. Mitchell has another collection of stories that he wrote for The New Yorker titled Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories. It was published in 1992 and contains all his writings from four other collections. A treasure, I am sure.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bests and Notables?


Oh dear. I have been skimming the Internet looking at the many lists of Best Books of 2012. From New York Times's One Hundred to GQ's Twelve, there is nary a one that I have read. At least on Amazon's 100 Top Sellers list there are two I have read:  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Getting Things Done by David Allen. As those were published long ago I don't think they count as notable books of 2012. 

On all those lists, there isn't even a book that I think I want to read. There are stories of Iraq and the brutalities of war, depression, broken marriages, broken lives, broken cites. Add to those subjects middle-class decline, brutality, dystopian futures, addiction, loss, and betrayal and it isn't any wonder that not one of these "Bests" is on my bookshelf. 

Oddly enough, all of these tales full of drama and trauma did lead me to put one book, that is supposed to be deft and amusing, on my reserve list at the library: Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Shoofly Pie by Tim Downs

A lovely Lepidoptera

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that overall I liked Shoofly Pie, a mystery by Tim Downs that features forensic entomologist Dr. Nick Polchak. The plot concerns four childhood friends, Andy, Peter, Jimmy and Kathryn, who all grew up together in a small town in North Carolina. 

Andy and Kathryn get married just before the three boys go off to fight in Desert Storm. Andy doesn't come back. Now, eight years later, Jimmy's decomposing body is found in a field. It is determined that he committed suicide only Kathryn doesn't believe it for a minute. She hires Nick Polchak to investigate the death of her friend along with the help of Peter who is now the town sheriff. 

Now for the bad news: Dr. Polchak comes across as a know-it-all showoff and at the drop of a fly speck sermonizes on scorpions, wasps, bees, flies and other creepy crawlies. Although sometimes interesting to read about, it becomes tedious and these insect lessons don't always move the story along. 

He also takes it upon himself to try and force a cure of Kathryn's entomophobia, fear of insects. A bit of an arrogant overstep if you ask me.

Also I fear Mr. Downs tends to overwrite. For example, a character doesn't just tromp across a field, he "gallops like a Great Plains buffalo" or someone is not just taken unawares but "is startled like a flock of pigeons."  

And here are others - three in a row:

His arms and head punched through the screen wire like tissue paper. The center strut caught him across the ribs, and the wooden frame shattered and folded inward like an umbrella. For an instant he lay trapped, surrounded in a tangle of wood and wire like a Lepidoptera in a butterfly net.

Although I appreciate a clever comparison there are way too many here and I began to think that Mr. Downs was a bit of a showoff as was his protagonist Nick Polchak.

Also, the ending was soooooo drawn out. Not only was there a car chase, but there was a foot chase across a field, then through a Quonset hut filled with deadly specimens, and finally up a tree. Whew. 

By then I was exhausted and glad to have the mystery solved. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Non nobis, domine

The real King Henry V
I did finish watching the movie Henry V. The battle scenes were so very, very intense that I turned the sound off and waited for them to be over. Even in the midst of the horrors of the English and French counting and carrying their dead, the soundtrack managed to glorify the fighting by playing Non nobis, domine which is quite stirring. It is performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

(You can listen to it here (Non nobis, domine) if you are interested.)

The final act of the play has Henry flirting with Catherine, the daughter of the French king, and proposing to her. It is an odd juxtaposition to the muddy clashes on the battlefield. 

In real life, they do in fact get married and have a child who becomes king upon his father's unexpected death at age 35. This leads to Shakepeare's play Henry VI. 

There is also a 1944 film version starring Laurence Olivier but I think I will stick with The Bard's comedies.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Henry V

Kenneth Branagh as
Shakespeare's Henry V

I never know where my reading will take me. This afternoon I have watched the first half of the 1989 movie version of William Shakespeare's Henry V starring Kenneth Branagh (he of brooding Kurt Wallander fame).

The story of Henry V, his invasion of France in the Middle Ages, and his victory at the Battle of Agincourt played a large part in Mrs. Queen Takes the Train and my interest was piqued.

It turns out that Henry was a bit of a wild child in his youth and hung about with some low-life companions that he rejected when he came to the throne. Once he became king, he turned into a decisive and inspiring leader. 

I am trying to follow along in my one-volume edition of 
William Shakespeare The Complete Works but some of the dialogue has been left out of the movie script. The movie is all very dark and atmospheric. But then it would be as it is about war. 

I never would have guessed when I picked up the novel about Mrs. Queen that I would end up on the battlefields of France. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

November Recap

Shoofly pie - yum yum.

Here are my stats for November:

Books read: 11

Books bought: 7

Still reading: Shoofly Pie by Tim Downs

Books deserted:  Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bidell Smith which for me contains way too much information about Her Majesty most of which I am not interested in...

Number of book fairs attended: 1

Number of authors met at book fair: at least 20 including Bobby Ann Mason and Wendell Berry

Number of authors who left comments on this blog: 2 - Karina Lickorish Quinn (Shrinking Violet) and William Kuhn (Mrs. Queen Takes the Train)

Number of memes: 1 (My Day in Books)

FYI: Shoofly pie is a molasses pie that is similar to what we here in the South call chess pie. Shoofly is traditionally a Pennsylvania Dutch dessert and unlike the chess pie has a crumb topping. As the story goes, the molasses attracts flies which must be 'shooed' away. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Image by
 Deborah Wetschensky

With a renewed interest in the Queen, I have started reading Elizabeth the Queen, The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith. It was a gift and I intended to read it in September when I was reading about Great Britain and celebrating the Diamond Jubilee.

This queenly biography weighs in at 537 pages not including the acknowledgements, notes, and index. I am more interested in The Queen's approach to her duties, her self-discipline, and her sense of style than I am in any gossip about her children and grandchildren and their spouses. Maybe I will just skip those chapters.

It is dangerous to read too much about someone I admire as I don't want to know anything that will disappoint me. I enjoy my little dream world.

Another book I just picked up at the library is Shoofly Pie by Tim Downs. I can't remember now where I read about his mystery series featuring the Bug Man, forensic entomologist Dr. Nicolas Polchak. This first in the series takes place in rural North Carolina and looks like it will be a fun, if gooshy, read. The opening sequence was quite thrilling and featured smashing automobiles, a semi truck carrying hives, and some very angry bees.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

William Kuhn
Author of Mrs. Queen Takes the Train
(Photo sources: Harper Collins; Gregory Gaymont)
It might be that you have done nothing in the way of reading to celebrate The Queen's Diamond Jubilee this year. Here is your chance to remedy that and to accompany Elizabeth II as she takes a little fictional trip from London to Edinburgh.

In his novel Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, author William Kuhn has created a monarch who is feeling a bit blue and has taken to reflecting on her life -- a life that has been shored up by routine and royal duty. In a rare moment when she is not surrounded by members of her staff, she leaves Buckingham Palace and heads off to Paxton & Whitfield on Jermyn Street to buy cheese. 

What follows is the fun and I won't spoil a minute of it by telling you of her adventures. Suffice it to say, it turns out that Mrs. Queen is not made of the stuff of Windsor  Castle - stone. She is like many of us of a certain age: frustrated with technology but willing to fight the fight; listens to an internal nanny, her conscience, that lets her know what is the next right thing to do; and, has experienced a annus horribilis - or two.

Also, she misses her mother.

But the novel is not only about The Queen. It also looks at The Downstairs of Buckingham Palace. It takes quite a few members of staff to dress, accompany, transport, protect, schedule, advise, serve, and ease the way of The Queen. They each have their own ambitions and resentments, heartbreaks and fears which they put aside in their desire to attend to Her Majesty.

This is the perfect book to tuck into with a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit, preferably chocolate. So throw on your silk headscarf and hop on board as Mrs. Queen Takes the Train.