Saturday, March 31, 2012

March Recap

Woman Reading in a Study
Mary Ferris Kelly
Books read: 9
Books bought: 4 - Honky Tonk Kat by Karen Kijewski and Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (from the library sale table); Paris Was Ours edited by Penelope Rowland; and, another mystery for my collection by Georgette Heyer, Duplicate Death.
Books returned to the library unread: 3
Books begun and still reading:  3 - Every Day in Tuscany. Death of a Cozy Writer, and Paris Was Ours
Authors met: 0

Of the nine books read this month, two are ones I own. I am trying to read more of my own books this year. I read two books from my shelves in both January and February, so I do seem to be making some progress on that intention.

And, after three months of blogging I think I figured out how to allow comments. I had the settings all wrong and was not getting any comments which didn't surprise me as Belle, Book, and Candle is so new. But a friend told me she tried to leave a comment and couldn't.  So now I think that issue has been fixed. Good grief. Who knew all this blogging would be so complicated.

Friday, March 30, 2012

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd...

The fragrance of the lilac bush outside my front door makes me swoon. I sat on the porch in the breezy afternoon shade and read about Italy.

Coincidentally,  Frances Mayes is writing about spring in Tuscany. I cut a big branch full of blooms and brought them into the house.

It was Walt Whitman who wrote the poem 'When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd'.  He wrote it as an elegy shortly after the assassination on April 14, 1865 of President Abraham Lincoln. I don't think I will be writing any poetry to the lilac, I will instead just enjoy its beauty.

Here are the opening lines of Whitman's poem. You can read the entire poem here. The star referred to is Venus, low in the sky in spring, but alludes to Lincoln.

WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,        
And thought of him I love.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Plunging Right In

Finished Bella Tuscany and am plunging right in to Frances Mayes's third memoir Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life. It has been 20 years since she took a plunge of her own and bought Bramasole, her house in Cortona, Italy.

Yesterday, I downloaded my first e-book from my library: Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M.Maillet. It took a bit of time mainly because I had to load two programs, register with Adobe Digital Editions, and then find a website that told me, well showed me actually with a video, how to get the book from my computer to my Nook. Whew! But I was successful and now I have two weeks to finish it. And then it will just disappear from the Nook. Isn't technology great?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monk or Pilgrim?

The blogger who posts to the The Striped Armchair recently wondered if her readers were monks or pilgrims. Not in a religious sense, but in a reading sense.

The pilgrim carries a book with her wherever she goes and snatches paragraphs and pages as she can...waiting in line, at the car wash, on the bus. Even walking along city sidewalks.

On the other hand, the monk likes to set aside time and savor her reading. Ten minutes isn't even enough time. Thirty minutes to an hour must be allotted or she will not even glance at the closed book on the chair.

I am definitely a monk. (What is the female version of monk? Monkette? Monkess?) I want to be in a comfortable chair or propped up in bed with clouds of pillows before I settle in to read. I find it hard to concentrate with noise and people milling about. I cannot read on an airplane, train, or in a car. At the doctor's office I am too distracted to read even the three-month old magazines. And forget about reading and walking. That would be like chewing gum and rubbing my stomach at the same time. A feat of coordination that I don't possess.

I guess that makes me a definite single tasker. Or very ADD - easily pulled away from the page by whatever is going on around me. Fortunately, I have the luxury of living alone so I don't have to escape to the bathroom and lock the door to snatch a bit of book time.  Whew!

Which are you? Monk or Pilgrim?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Room angst

Before I go to bed, I am reading The Enchanted April on my Nook. So here are the women gathered together in San Salvatore and there is conflict over the bedrooms. Mrs. Fisher and Lady Caroline both arrived a day early to pick the best bedrooms in the house for themselves - even though they were the two add-on residents for financial reasons. The original two ladies, Rose and Dotty, got stuck with smaller rooms. To add insult to injury, Mrs. F. and Lady C. had the extra beds in their rooms crammed into the smaller rooms of R and D. Mrs. F. even barricaded the sitting room next to her bedroom and claimed it for her own.

All of these shenanigans give me pause. I am someone who frets about getting the perfect room at a hotel or bed and breakfast. So I found myself anxious as if I were the one getting snookered about. Everyone in the story wants to be alone with their thoughts or their memories or their sadness. I can identify. I would be worried as well that someone was going to take over my space, my time, intrude on my experience.

And now one of the husbands may be coming to join the ladies and there is more conflict about sleeping arrangements.  Another bedroom might be taken by Dotty's husband until Mrs. Fisher connives to announce that she is inviting a female guest and that ends that as there is only the one bedroom left. Dotty and Mellersh will have to share.

Lady C. is fearful that a man in the mix will only cause trouble. Men like to grab, she thinks to herself. I don't know so much about grabbing, but men do like to talk, make noise with their coughs and snorts, and be the center of attention. So this development would displease me as well.

So instead of having a lovely Italian holiday with the women in a house overlooking the sea and fragrant gardens, I am left with a strange anxious feeling in my stomach.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pink and white and green all over

It seems as if it should already be summer. But, after our hyper-Spring the last two weeks - very warm - it looks as if this next week will be glorious. The pink and white dogwoods on the street are blooming as are the lush purple irises in my neighbor's yard. And I cut some lilacs today to add fragrance in the house.

As immersed as I am in Italy - its food, flowers, and festivals - I am already thinking about spending long summer evenings on the front porch with a book. That is until the mosquitoes arrive. And the humidity. Bah.

Headed to the local fruit and vegetable market to stock up for the week: broccoli, potatoes, red pepper, cabbage, mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Also small tender carrots with their feathery green tops still on. No plastic wrap here. I laughed as I set them on the counter and said, "I feel just like Peter Rabbit."

Frances Mayes is really inspiring me to think about my garden and my dinner plate. I don't know why her second book, Bella Tuscany which I am reading now, got such tepid reviews. She writes about other towns in Italy and a trip to Sicily. And then Venice. One of the reviewers said he wished just once Mayes would have a bad fave bean. I don't think there is one to be found in Italy.

Mayes writes about her longing to travel since her first solo trip at the age of 6. Her mother sent her off on the train to visit her grandmother. Looking at the farmhouses along the way she wondered what the inhabitants' lives were like. She is still wondering today. That is what impels her journeys.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nothing Bookworthy

Had painters at the house this morning then went shopping with a friend. Did absolutely nothing today that had anything to do with reading or books.

I had to cover my eyes in the stationery aisles of the stores we scouted for bargains. I am a sucker for a pretty notecard or notebook.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On journals and diaries

In her first book about Tuscany, Frances Mayes writes:

I bought an oversized blank book with Florentine paper covers and blue leather binding. On the first page I wrote ITALY.  The book looked as though it should have immortal poetry in it, but I began with lists of wildflowers, lists of projects, new words, sketches of tile in Pompeii. I described rooms, trees, bird calls. I added planting advice: 'Plant sunflowers when the moon crosses Libra,' although I had no clue myself as to when that might be. I wrote about the people we met and the food we cooked. The book became a chronicle of the first four years here. Today it is stuffed with menus, postcards of paintings, a drawing of a floor plan of an abbey, Italian poems, and diagrams of the garden.

Her image of the book stuffed with her life is so very appealing to me. I am a fool for notebooks, journals, stationery. Just recently I bought for a dollar one of those tablets with the wire binding at the top and the faint red line running down the middle of each page. They were stenographers notebooks in my day. I doubt if anyone under 30 even knows what a stenographer is.

I have a cabinet filled with journals - 25 years' worth. Most of them are the sturdy black and white composition notebooks. Lines and pages filled with the thoughts that were swimming around in my head. Witnesses to the celebrations, broken hearts, weather, journeys, and random happenings that make up one's days.

One year I kept a nature journal and recorded, with photos, the ever-changing weather, the first daffodils of spring, summer's hummingbirds, the honking of geese overhead in autumn, and the wet snows of winter. I have travel journals, Books Read journals, journals filled with notes from writing seminars, poetry readings, and lectures. I have journals begun and abandoned.

A couple of years ago, when my mother's health began to decline, I made the decision to stop keeping a journal. The time was stressful enough living it without reliving it through a journal. I haven't regretted that decision. It is almost a relief not to be bound by my habit.

But that doesn't stop me from buying journals. Oh, no. I must have 10 blank ones waiting for me to open to the first page and put pen to paper. I have a small, green leather one with handmade pages that I bought in a tiny shop in Pienza, Italy. I had the son of the man who made the book write his father's name on the paper wrapping so I would always know who had made this lovely piece of art.

I also have a journal with gilt-edged pages, and just like Mayes's, it has Florentine papers and leather binding. I bought it in Savannah, Georgia. There are an assortment of moleskin notebooks - different sizes and colors - in my desk.

Right now, as a concession to the fact that I do have so many blank books that are sitting around not earning their keep, I started a journal this year on January 1. In it I just list the activities of the day. No complete sentences. No deep philosophical thoughts. No drama.

The book is made by Graphique de France and the cover is its Cityscape design (here). It has blue end papers, lined pages, and a gold ribbon bookmark. It is about 8 inches by 6 inches. I keep it by my reading chair and write in it every evening. I bought it from Borders when it was closing its stores. I have started to keep lists in it as well...names of cities in Italy, flowers I want planted in the garden this year.

So I guess I am back to journal keeping after all.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Friend Flicker

Yesterday I took my laptop to the repair guy because the screen kept flickering. Annoying. I figured the screen was going out. Of course, just like when you take your car to the mechanic to investigate the rattling noise and all is quiet, or you take yourself to the doctor because you are not feeling well and immediately feel better as you sit in the waiting room, the flicker refused to flick. I left the computer with him as he said he would check for viruses and updates and maybe it would start its jumping jacks.

It never did. I picked it up today and he said the screen stayed motionless. OK. I brought it home, hooked it up and of course it started to flicker.

I turned it off and turned my mind to what the problem could be. Over a slice of 2-day-old pizza I decided maybe my Internet connection was loose. I approached the U-verse box with caution and wiggled the two wires. I turned on the computer. No flicker. Sigh. I hope it is fixed. The box must have gotten jiggled when my housekeeper swept the floor.

Darn. There is still a bit of a flicker. Oh dear. And here I thought I had solved the problem. So now I have disabled the wireless connection to see if that will stop the jumping about.

I was disappointed that I didn't get to post yesterday. I did try to post via my Nook Color, but I could only get a keyboard on the screen to type the headline. When I tried to write text, the keyboard disappeared.

Another disappointment is that my faithful DVD store does not have a copy of Under the Tuscan Sun. Neither does my library. I have a shout out to friends in case someone has the movie on her DVD shelf.

Have begun Bella Tuscany and am just as immersed in Italian life as I was with Under the Tuscan Sun.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

L'incantevole aprile

Returned two mysteries to the library that just wouldn't do. One was too dark and one was too annoying. The author of the second one had the narrator cutting off pronouns at the beginning of sentences. For example "Must talk to grandmere about this." or "Can't let Claude know about that." or "Am confused." She wasn't the only one.

It was disorienting because she didn't do this all the time, but often enough that it sort of jolted me. Sometimes I couldn't figure out if she was talking to herself or if someone was talking to her. It would have been all right if these were journal entries... Anyway, I let Murder on the Riviera go.

Finished Under the Tuscan Sun. I very much enjoyed Mayes's writing style. It was a bonus that I had been to Cortona, the town in Tuscany that she calls home, and that I had some recent experience with contractors having just gone through a remodel of my own. Of course, I didn't have to contend with a language barrier, but I could identify with workers not showing up and unsuspected complications with the project. This is the second book I have read this year about house restorations in foreign countries. Do I see a pattern? Maybe I just love reading how others have dealt with their projects. And the distant locales add to the fun.

Started The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Van Arnim on my Nook Color. I am enchanted. I am enamored of Lady Caroline, such a beauty, who just wants to be left alone. And surprises herself discovering that she just wants to think. And then Mrs. Fisher who wants to be left alone with her memories. Lotty who knows they are all in heaven and only good things will come of it. And dear Rose who is so unhappy and would so like her husband to love her.

Things are going to change, I am sure. I have seen the movie but reading the story goes much deeper into each character's thoughts and motivations. And then of course there is the fact that the four women are in Italy. Sigh.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bella Tuscany

Am within 20 pages of finishing Under the Tuscan Sun. I decided I would read the other two by Mayes about her home in Italy in quick succession. Sped to the library to pick up Bella Tuscany so that the end of one Tuscany saga and the start of the other will be seamless. This second book got very mixed reviews, but once in Tuscany I think it is best to stay there.

"My Literary Paris" by Lily Tuck in Paris was Ours is a very short account of the author's stay in Paris in the 1970s as a student at the Sorbonne. She was in her thirties, the oldest student in her classes, working toward her master's degree in American literature. Apparently her bachelor's degree from an American school didn't suit the French and she had to take eight additional courses before she could enroll in the advanced degree program.

But enroll she did. She analyzed and diagrammed and categorized As I Lay Dying, Wise Blood, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Great Gatsby, A Streetcar Named Desire.  She was astonished at first that she was forced to tear apart such wonders of American literature, but admitted that by the end she had learned that the technical reading of a novel didn't spoil it but enhanced it. She fell in love with M. Le Vot, her instructor in the tweed jackets and cashmere sweaters. But most of all, she writes, she fell in love with American literature.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shakespeare and Company

An added weekend bonus: my order from Amazon arrived yesterday. I dove into the copy of Paris Was Ours edited by Penelope Rowlands.

I read "My Bookstore High" by Jeremy Mercer a 10-page excerpt from his book Time Was Soft There about living in Paris. This being about a bookshop in Paris I figured it would be about Shakespeare and Company. It is, but it is about a little more than a visit or two to the famous Left Bank bookshop. Mercer lived at S&Co. while down and out in Paris. George Whitman, who owned the store, let young writers live and work there. Whitman died in 2011 at the age of 98 and his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman runs the store now.

Of course, the daughter was named after the Sylvia Beach who first opened the bookstore known as Shakespeare and Company in Paris in 1919 and attracted many writers of the time including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein. It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of France and never reopened.

In 1951 Whitman, like Beach, also an American, opened Le Mistral, an English-language bookstore in Paris, and in 1954 changed its name to Shakespeare and Company as tribute to the original.

So Mercer tells a part of the tale of coming to live at the bookstore and how he learned to eat cheap in Paris by going to art openings and munching on the treats served there. In this excerpt, he and three new friends who live at the store go to a student cafeteria and get a fine meal of salad, lamb, roasted potatoes, green beans and yogurt for about two dollars. During the meal, one of them jumps up occasionally and snatches bread and cheese left by other diners to take back to the store for late-night snacks.

Of course this is all leading up to telling you that I have visited Shakespeare and Company on both of my trips to Paris. It is quite an experience and the narrow aisles are always crowded. When you buy a book there, they will stamp the title page with the seal: Shakespeare and Company * Kilometer  Zero  Paris.

The book I purchased on my last trip is a collection of essays by Czeslaw Milosz titled Proud to Be a Mammal. An odd selection I admit. The title page warns that these are essays on war, faith and memory by the Polish author and poet who died in 2004.  Odder still is that Mr. Milosz is mentioned by Frances Mayes in Under the Tuscan Sun which reminded me that I had this book. She met him at her university and had to introduce him to an audience sternly reminding herself not to call him 'Coleslaw' which is what she called him in her head before learning how to correctly pronounce his name.

I have no idea how his name is pronounced, so Coleslaw it will be from now on.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Woman's Home is Her Castle

Well, this has been an exciting day. My remodeled house is featured in the spring edition of Today's Transitions magazine which has hit the stands. I got a call early this morning from the woman who styled my bookshelves telling me how great the article was and how wonderful the pictures looked. Of course I ran out and secured copies to send to my 200 closest friends.

This remodel took five months - from January through May of last year. Every surface in the house was changed. I lived on a farm while the work was being completed with a friend, her husband, two teenage boys, three sheep, eight chickens, two goats, three cats, and Max, the labrador retriever. My own version of The Egg and I.   If you get a chance, do read that book by Betty McDonald. It is a hilarious memoir of living on a chicken ranch in the late 1920s in Washington state. My stay on the farm wasn't quite that rustic, but that is a story for another day.

It seems spring will be over before March 21 when it should really be starting. All the trees and flowers here are in bloom already and will soon be fading.

But I will have my books and pitchers of iced tea to see me through the hot summer days.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A small book-buying spree

On Monday, I decided I must have the 1958 movie Bell, Book and Candle since that is what I based the name of this blog on except the Bell becomes Belle. For me.

It is a fun movie with Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart. How can you go wrong? Novak is a witchy woman and Stewart plays her neighbor. I saw it so long ago that I don't remember much more than that except she has a Siamese cat named Pyewacket. Her familiar. I wasn't sure if it was even on DVD, and yet, sure enough, Amazon had it for less than $10.

I looked to see if perhaps there was a book by the same title -  there is not - but I did find this: Bell, Book and Candle A Comedy in Three Acts by John van Druten and John van Druten. It is also for sale on Amazon for about the same price as the DVD. I didn't buy the play. Yet.

Of course, adding the DVD to my cart brought up the other books that I had saved there just waiting to be ordered. So by adding Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands and Duplicate Death another mystery by Georgette Heyer, my order was eligible for free shipping. I hate to pay shipping fees, don't you?

The Paris book is a collection of 32 personal essays by writers who were seduced by the City of Lights. Two are of special interest to my book loving self: "My Literary Paris" by Lily Tuck and "My Bookstore High" by Jeremy Mercer.  I just can't seem to stay away from Paris.

The estimated delivery date is Monday, March 19. Oh goody.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beware the ides of March

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19

The ides of March. The fifteenth day of the third month. Not a good day for Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator, as he was assassinated on this date by a group of conspirators including Brutus ("Et tu, Brute?") and Cassius, the instigator of the plot.  The year was 44 B.C. Caesar was 55.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Some bookish things

Reserved an e-book online from my library today. I am not sure how that works, but I guess we will see. From what I could tell it was already checked out and the library will notify me when it is in. Then I have three days to download it and two weeks to read it. The book? Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M Malliet that I wrote about yesterday. The e-book is the only 'copy' that the library has.

Picked up Southern Living Style from reserve at the library. A real book. Shelter porn, they call it. Lovely, luscious photos to gaze at and drool over. I will definitely see how Southern Living magazine designs interiors with books.

Many reading challenges going on on other book blogs. I have my own challenges for now without adding someone else's. But they are fun to read.

Last night I started Murder on the Riviera by Mary-Jane Deeb. It is promising. An heiress who buys a newspaper in Grasse, France, and apparently solves a murder mystery. So here I am spending my days in Tuscany with Frances Mayes and my nights on the Riviera. It's all good. Besides, if I get bored, the covers are pleasant to look at.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wicked Autumn

I liked Wicked Autumn by G.M Malliet. A British village mystery with Vicar Max Tudor as the helpmate to DCI Cotton. The town's bossiest woman gets killed in the Village Hall on Harvest Fayre day. Her day to shine as she pretty much arranged for the festival herself - rounding up volunteers, making assignments, and generally ticking off the entire village with her drill sergeant ways.

I liked the growing friendship between the Vicar and Awena, the owner of Goddesspell, the witchy shop in the village with its herbs and crystals and natural wreaths. There was a respect between them for the Vicar's Church of England views and the less dogmatic ideas held by Awena.

I liked that when the denouement arrived, I was quite taken by surprise. It all came together well. I am not sure how much Max's MI-5 background has to do with things. I guess just to give him heightened observation and puzzle-solving skills.

The village of Nether Monkslip is populated with enough characters as to give Max many days and nights of providing spiritual guidance and solving murders.

The author has another series of mysteries with Detective Chief Inspector St. Just. The first in that series, Death of a Cozy Writer, won the 2008 Best First Novel Agatha Award. Wicked Autumn  has been nominated for the 2011 Agatha Award which honors the traditional mystery at the Malice Domestic convention that will be held in Bethesda, Maryland this April 27-29. Too bad I will be on my Great Southern Literary Tour at that time or I might have made my way to Maryland for the fun.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun

Piazza della Republica
Cortona, Italy

Leaving the Paris of Balzac and the farmyard of E.B. White and moving on to the sunny climes of Italy. I am probably the last person on earth to read Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. I haven't even seen the movie. But, I have been to Cortona, the hill town that Mayes falls in love with, where she buys Bramasole, a rundown farmhouse, (aren't they all? Where would be a story if the house was ready to move into?), and begins to tell her tale.

I bought the book about a year ago, but had not even opened it to page one.  About three months ago I bought the sequel - Everyday in Tuscany - and upon reading the back cover of that learned that there is a previous sequel - Bella Tuscany. So I have the first and the third. Guess I am going to be looking for that second book (even though it got pretty rotten reviews on Amazon).

I remember Cortona well because you park your car and take an escalator to the top of the town to the Piazza della Republica. That was a first. This is where I had a much deserved cappucino, served in a blue and white cup and saucer, after a tour of the Etruscan Academy Museum with all its lovelies.

After reading only one chapter of Mayes's book yesterday, I had to hurry to the kitchen to saute garlic and onions in olive oil, put the pasta on to boil, and then load the mound with cooked spinach and cheese. Molto buona for sure.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Read This Book...

Read This Book...if you know nothing of writer E.B. White and the place he holds in literary history.

Read This Book...if you have ever read Charlotte's Web and fallen in love with the tale of the spider and the pig.

Read This Book...if you want to be a writer, or a better writer, for the examples of clarity and conciseness found in White's words and to experience his agony and angst in order to produce such fine writing.

Read This Book...if you hate spiders and want to find out how fascinating they can be and how White himself relished researching their habits in order to give Charlotte as many true characteristics as possible - down to writing words with her web.

Read This Book...if you want to be drawn into the world of E.B.White - his childhood at the turn of the 20th century, his work at The New Yorker, his loving relationship with his wife Katherine White, his love of the natural world and the barnyard animals that inhabited his farm, and his dedication to his life of words.

In short: Read This Book.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Balzac's Omelette

Have been munching on Balzac's Omelette all day. This fun little book by Anka Muhlstein takes a look at the way Honoré de Balzac used food in his writing to give the reader a glimpse of a character's character and to show how the different classes approached meals, what they ate, and how the food was prepared and presented. The misers in his stories are depicted as those who 'eat to live, not live to eat.'

A very un-French attitude, wouldn't you agree?

Honoré de Balzac had a strange relationship with food himself. While working, sometimes 18 hours a day, he barely ate at all but kept himself going with strong coffee and fruit. When a writing project was finished, though, he would head out to one of the finer restaurants in Paris and gorge himself on oysters, chicken, beef, pears, grapes, cheese and lots and lots of wine. He would then send the bill to his publisher.

Balzac was living and writing and eating in Paris during some of the time that David McCullough wrote about in The Greater Journey. Balzac came to Paris from Tours with his family when he was 15. That was in 1814 and he died there in 1850. He is buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Once he was imprisoned for a few days for shirking his duty to serve in the National Guard. Rather than suffer the indignities of prison food he ordered in feasts from Véfour, one of the city's most expensive restaurateurs. The meals were replete with linens and fine glassware and silver. On his release, he wrote, he wanted to leave behind memories of "every tradition in the art of fine living."

I like his style.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Stash from the Stacks

Quick trip to the library today. Two books: Dead Beat by Patricia Hall. Hall is the author of the reporter Laura Ackroyd mysteries (none of which I have read). This particular book introduces photographer Kate O'Donnell and takes place in London's Soho and Liverpool during the 1960s.

Dead Beat (Creme De La Crime) (Hardcover) ~ Patricia Hall Cover Art
The second book is Balzac's Omelette - A delicious tour of French food and culture with Honore de Balzac by Anka Muhlstein. The yellow cover attracted me as yellow covers sometimes do. It looks like it will be fun.

Am on the verge of finishing The Story of Charlotte's Web. It is a lovely book and I can see a time in my near future of re-reading not only CW but also dipping into White's essays. I am surely set up for a reading retreat weekend.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wicked Autumn

Having partially recovered from my disgust and disappointment in the police world of Paris that I wrote about yesterday, I am across the English Channel and settling quite nicely into the world of Nether Monkslip, home to handsome Max Tudor, the vicar, and the ladies of the Women's Institute.

Here is the leader of the WI preparing to address her audience:

Calling on her knowledge of public speaking, newly refreshed by a rereading of the 1983 classic Grabbing Your Audience by the Throat: Tips and Tricks for the Successful Orator, Wanda paused, her unblinking gaze panning the crowd, gathering eyeballs like so many marbles into her rhetorical basket.

So far all is quiet. The village folks are preparing for the Harvest Fayre (the reason for the WI meeting) and the vicar has been asked to judge the Largest Vegetable contest. (One woman comments that her husband should win. Not one of his vegetables, just him!)

So this mystery, Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet looks promising. I can't wait to see what trouble is afoot. I do love an English village brimming with crime.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Grave Gourmet Falls Flat

Oh dear. The Grave Gourmet fell as flat as a failed soufflé. I lasted 36 pages. In those first few chapters Capucine, the policewoman who has been dealing with computer fraud and is itching to get out on the streets with the real criminals, flashes her breasts at her superior when she leans over his desk to demand a transfer. And lo and behold, at that very moment a murder is reported and the supervisor sends her off to solve the crime in place of his favorite detective who is out of town. She spends 30 minutes looking for the office of said detective in order to find his team. She wants to cry. The team consists of...wait for it...the tall North African, the butchy woman with the mangled hair cut, and the gay guy with the beautiful hair.

Really? Of all the citizens in Paris, the author picks those three stereotypes?

They head to the scene. Capucine sees the body - her first. She wants to throw up. She meets the forensic guy who calls her 'missy'. That makes her mad. Again, she wants to cry. (By now, so did I.)  The first policeman on the scene is Duchamps. The forensic guy is named Dechery. But Duchamps is named as the one to close the large door leading to the refrigerater that just recently held the corpse. A page before Duchamps had left the scene of the crime.

Huh? Can you say lousy editing?

Mistakes like that infuriate me. So does this sentence, blessedly the shortest one I had to read:

She boggled.

Now does the author mean:
1. she hesitated?
2. she was overcome with fright?
3. she acted ineptly?

I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Case closed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Character Backgrounds Run Aground

Finished The Black Widow Agency. I appreciate the author's idea - four women who bring their talents together to help other women who have been mistreated by men. Somehow I think it would make a great television series...sort of like Leverage (which I love)... just with women only.

In this book there is a lot of time spent explaining the backgrounds of each of the women including all their little quirks. I have already mentioned the tarantula. One woman has a drinking problem. One has a flagrantly homosexual brother. Another is always fanning herself and putting cold cloths on her head due to hot flashes. These idiosyncracies would play out better on screen.

I have noticed in some books that the author seems to have read or heard in a fiction writing course that each character 'needs' a background. I can picture the author writing furiously creating odd personalities and histories. All of that may be fun for the writer, but for the reader too much of a good thing gets tiresome. The backgrounds become filler and don't necessarily carry the action forward. I do want to know what the characters were like before they showed up on the page, but not every single detail of what makes them tick, thank you very much.

So I am moving on to Paris: The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion with Parisian policewoman Capucine Le Tellier and her food critic husband Alexandre. I hope I won't be overwhelmed with TMI.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Black Widow Agency

Since I seem to be on a spider theme with The Story of Charlotte's Web, I chose The Black Widow Agency by Felicia Donovan from my stack of mysteries brought home from the library yesterday.

The agency is run by Katie, an ex-cop; Alexandria, the resident computer geek with her pet tarantula, Divinity; Margo, the African American gourmet cook who whips up chocolate black widow spiders for snacking; and, Jane, a somewhat dowdy woman of a certain age that handles the account books.

All of them have somehow been scorned by a man. Katie's husband was having an affair and when she found out she got drunk and went to an undercover drug bust totally hungover and ended up getting shot and fired from the police force. Her ex-husband has recently been promoted to captain.

Alexandria got set up in some sort of cyber-fraud by an ex-lover. I can't remember what happened to the other two, but it wasn't pretty.

So they band together to take on female clients who are being cheated on or have been in some way harmed or abused or mistreated by a man. In this case, a woman whose husband sets her up and she gets arrested for using drugs. Of course she is innocent, but she loses her job and her daughter.

There are an awful lot of tasteless jokes, the writing is a bit choppy (OK, this is her first book), and way too many descriptions of that tarantula crawling up legs and across tables. Eeeww.

But I am gonna hang in there. It is a quick read; I finished half of it last night. There is a sequel as well, so the Black Widows must be doing a good job.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday in the Stacks

Sunday afternoon used to be the day I would head off to the library to see what treasures there awaited. Then horror of horrors, due to budgets (of course), it cancelled Sunday hours. I was appalled, but got used to going on another day.

Then, hurrah of hurrahs, the library restored Sunday hours about a year ago. I was thrilled and returned to my habit of visiting then. There are 17 branches in the public library system including the Main which is where I like to go. On Sundays now, seven of those branches are open.

Which is a long way to getting to the books I scored today. All mysteries. All new authors to me. One can only hope that one of the four will be a gem. I am very picky about my mysteries.

If anyone has any remarks or recommendations as to my choices, chime in.

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion
Main characters: Parisian policewoman Capucine Le Tellier and her food critic husband Alexandre.

Murder on the Riviera by Mary-Jane Deeb
Main characters: Marie-Chrisine "Chrissy" de Medici, heiress and new owner of a small newspaper in Grasse and her Grandmere.

The Black Widow Agency by Felicia Donovan
Main characters: Ex-cop and agency owner Kate Mahoney; cybergoddess Alexandria ; number cruncher Jane; and, office manager and gourmet cook, Margot.

Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet
Main character: Max Tudor, vicar of St. Edwold's in the village of Nether Monkslip and former MI5 agent. (Now there is a combination for you.)

They all four look promising and my first dilemma is which book to start with.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

E.B. White

E.B. White and friend
I do adore E.B. White. His classic The Elements of Style written with professor William Strunk Jr. is a writer's bible. I read it yearly just for the sheer entertainment of the writing. I think maybe I have three different editions of the little book. And as for White's collected essays, I must have five or six on my shelves. For a writer, he is the ultimate mentor. His essays are concise, humorous, and clearly written. He is the master.

But, I have a confession: I was an adult before I had the courage to read Charlotte's Web. As a child I knew it was going to be sad, so I wouldn't read it. I knew that it would still be sad when I decided to read it as an adult but I thought by then I could handle it. I couldn't. I wept. And wept some more. And then a little bit more.

I can't bear to read stories in which an animal dies, is hurt, shot, or mistreated. I can read a gruesome murder mystery (well not too gruesome) about a stabbing, shooting, or poisoning, but don't you dare harm a dog, horse, cat, tiger, lion, dormouse, deer, or...well, spider.

For this reason I never read Black Beauty or watched the movie Old Yeller. I was afraid to read Watership Down, White Fang, or Shiloh. I did read Wind in the Willows and found it delightful but then none of the characters die. They just have adventures.

In his book The Story of Charlotte's Web author Michael Sims does a fine job of recounting White's early years as a boy growing up fascinated with the natural world. He spent hours poking around ponds and creeks and observing the goings on of the inhabitants of his family's own stable and barn. He was introspective and shy and felt more at home with his dog than with other children. And forget about even thinking about getting to know a girl in high school.

So his fiction, Charlotte's Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little, all populated with animals, springs from his early observations and interactions with the natural world. Not a bad place to start.

Friday, March 2, 2012

March is still blowing in big time

The sky is darkening and the winds are acomin' according to weather reports. I don't pay much attention to reports because they are always: 'if' this happens, then that 'could' happen and then nothing does happen. But today, the weather gurus must be serious. Schools have let out early. There have been tornados west of here. So I thought I had better post here in case the 'ifs and the coulds' do occur.

I am going to curl up with The Story of Charlotte's Web and let myself be carried away from threatening skies to the world of E.B. White.

What are some books that feature dangerous weather? The first one I think of is The Wizard of Oz with its tornado that transports Dorothy and Toto to the Yellow Brick Road.

Then there is The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger about the crew of the fishing boat Andrea Gail and that one last fishing trip.

For such a rainy day as this, how about Rain by Somerset Maugham or The Rains Came by Louis Bromfield.

Can you think of any others?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March Blows in with a pig and a spider

I actually finished Living Alone at quarter to midnight last night so technically it is a book I read in February but I will start out March with it as Book One finished.

The book is strange and brief. I almost got the feeling that Benson had started a notebook and just jotted down the woods, committee members' meetings, characterizations, war...and then created a story to string all them together. There is a witch and her broomstick (I have already forgotten its name), a wizard, magic packets of Happiness, an almost invisible person whose life is changed from meeting the witch, her dog named David, fairies, a dragon, dead people, a ferryman, and a too-too upper class woman.

I got carried away trying to make sense of the plot (of which there was not much) and forgot to let myself be enchanted by Benson's writing. It may be that I need to re-read it slowly now that I know that really nothing and everything is going to happen.

My favorite witch book is Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.

I also started a mystery by a new (to me) writer Katherine Hall Page titled The Body in the Belfry. Has anyone else read her Faith Fairchild mysteries? Chapter One grabbed my attention with its humor and solid writing. We will have to see where it takes me.

And as promised, I started reading my autographed copy of The Story of Charlotte's Web by Michael Sims.

"Where's Papa going with that axe?"