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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Royal Purse

The Queen and her Royal Purse

The contents of The Queen's handbag have long been speculated upon and discussed. I for one think Her Majesty's affinity for carrying a Royal Purse is endearing and is such a lady-like thing to do. Where would we women be without our pocketbooks?

Now The Queen's secret is out. According to the delightful novel I am reading, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn, this is what she carries with her: 

A starched handkerchief. A lipstick. A pair of white kid gloves. A fountain pen. A small box of wooden safety matches. A compact mirror. A laminated miniature calendar from the Racing Post listing the year's Bank Holidays. A small bottle of perfume. And a rabbit's foot.

I think that is just about perfect, Mr. Kuhn. I especially like the inclusion of the safety matches. One never knows when one might need to light an imperial fire.

If I were Keeper of the Royal Purse, I would be tempted to drop a mint or two into The Queen's bag. I am sure her mouth gets dry at all the celebrations and openings she attends. I would definitely add a purse hook to insure her bag never, ever touches the floor at those stately dinners. And of course, a doggie treat or two, for one never knows when a canine guest might scamper into the room.

As for me, I carry a small, black shoulder bag. It is a Baggallini that I bought for a trip to Paris and I liked it so much I just continue to use it every day. It has one compartment that holds a fountain pen, a red coin purse, a small bottle of hand sanitizer (in lieu of white kid gloves), a business card holder, a tube of Revlon lip conditioner (I don't wear lipstick), and a pocket tape measure. Another compartment carries my Italian leather money clip, one credit card, my driver's license, and a tin of peppermint Altoid Smalls (for use at all those celebrations and openings I'm required to attend...).

Another zippered pocket holds a travel-size tube of hand lotion, an emery board, and a tiny pocket knife. Finally, there is a zippered pocket to hold my purse hook. (This is how I know The Queen would benefit from having one.)

Long live The Queen and her Royal Purse.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train

I underestimated myself. I recently committed to reading two more of the books I bought on the Grand Southern Literary Tour by the end of the year. Happily, I finished both before the end of this month: Lanterns and Lances by James Thurber (here) and Every Day by the Sun by Dean Faulkner Wells (herehere, and here). 

Now I have moved on to something completely different: Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn. I adore the cover and the idea behind the novel which has to do with The Queen, yes, that Queen, escaping from Buckingham Palace one rainy Monday afternoon and taking the train to Edinburgh for a visit to the decommissioned royal yacht, Britannia, that is moored nearby at Leith. She has many fond memories of days and nights spent on the yacht and wants to recapture just a bit of those happy feelings. And who can blame her.

Into the mix and on her trail are her lady-in-waiting (Note to Self: find one of these), her dresser, a butler, an equerry, a girl from the royal stables, and a young man who works at the shop that supplies cheese for Her Majesty. 

I have to admit I am always happy to read fictional exploits of The Queen. I so enjoyed Alan Bennet's An Uncommon Reader which concerns what happens when The Queen takes to reading. I love getting even a little look at what goes on behind the walls of those palaces. Even if that only comes from the author's imagination.

While other girls may have yearned to be a princess I always wanted to live in castle and be The Queen.

Reigned all day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shrinking Violet

Karina Lickorish Quinn
author of Shrinking Violet
I am only going to say this once:

Hie thee to the Amazon website and purchase, for an amazing 99 cents, the ebook Shrinking Violet by Karina Lickorish Quinn.

It is playful and clever and funny and heartbreaking - all in 128 pages. I won't even begin to summarize the plot but it does have to do with young Violet, her family, their crooked house, a white rabbit, a crocodile, The Duchess, and more oddly assorted characters.

I was enchanted with the wonderfully tender relationship between Violet and her grandfather Julius, a haiku-writing recluse. 

And there is cake.

I am not one to read fantasy or books full of quirky folks (they always seem a bit forced) but in the case of Shrinking Violet I was so enthralled with the language and the images that Quinn uses that I laid aside my prejudice and just simply loved the heck out of her story.

It reminded me of the exuberance of the language that is found in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. 

I have Simon at Stuck in a Book to thank for recommending this high-spirited tale. It is only available as an ebook on Amazon. I don't have a Kindle but I downloaded it to my Android and read it on the small screen. Adored it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving Reading

Earlier in November, Simon of Stuck in a Book reviewed his first e-book,  Shrinking Violet written by his friend Karina Lickorish Quinn. He called it "a joyous, eccentric, thoughtful little beauty of a book."

I was so intrigued by his comments - and I believe him when he assures his readers that he wouldn't say it was great if it wasn't - that I ordered it from Amazon for the amazing price of 99 cents. It is only available as a Kindle ebook. I have a Nook Color but I downloaded it on my Android phone and today I am reading it on that small screen which is not preventing me from enjoying it immensely. 

More comments to come when I finish it. It is brief - 128 pages. (I  have no idea how many 'clicks' that is on my phone though.)

I have also started Iced Chiffon, a mystery that takes place in Savannah, Georgia. It is the first book written by Duffy Brown whom I met at the Kentucky Book Fair a few weeks ago. 

It concerns one Reagan Summerside, owner of the consignment shop The Prissy Fox, and her attempts to solve the murder of her ex-husband's girlfriend. Reagan found the body and Hollis, the ex, is now in jail for murder. The only reason she is taking on the job of detective is so that Hollis won't have to go to trial meaning he would have to pay his attorney fees by selling Reagan's Victorian house. Or something like that. I am not sure how he can get his hands on her house, but then it doesn't really matter as it is a pleasant read and I love being in Savannah.

Friday, November 23, 2012

How to Get Through the Day - Thurber-style

James Thurber
Photo from The Thurber House
Earlier this year I reread James Thurber's My Life and Hard Times, an autobiographical collection of humorous stories of his growing up in Columbus, Ohio. 

In Lances and Lanterns, which I am reading now and which was published in 1961, Thurber is all about Words. He loves playing with words, inventing words, using words to help him drift off to sleep. He is not amused by words used by the advertising world - "the men in the grey-flanneled minds."  He abhors Hollywood's penchant for overstatement and use of exclamation marks in movie come-ons. 

He has become a bit of a curmudgeon which makes him all the more endearing to me. And the simple drawings of his only add more insights into this wonderful writer's creativity.

Thurber takes on Henry James in "The Wings of Henry James" and the questions of an eight-year-old in "A Moment with Mandy." Together they ponder such mysteries as "Why didn't God make bats butterflies?" "Why didn't God give dogs glasses?" and "Why don't foxes wear foxgloves?"

He starts off the book with a hilarious piece called "How to Get Through the Day" in which he advises:
--Never answer a telephone that rings before breakfast.

--If you want to keep your breakfast down, do not read the front page, or any page, of the morning newspaper

--Avoid the ten o'clock news on the radio, at all costs.

--Do not open the morning mail when it arrives if you are alone in the house.

--Stay away from afternoon naps, but as for a nip before dinner, "I am all for it unless it leads to nipping that doesn't end until after three o'clock in the morning.

--Select dinner-table conversations with care to avoid the gloomy "running from the muddle-fuddle of international relations to the dangers of cholesterol."

--Don't watch television's "Westerns and police bang-bangs."

Although written in the 1950s, these seem to be good rules for our time as well.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Conscious of our treasures

Quote by Thornton Wilder

Every year, on Thanksgiving morning, I get out my journal or notebook and make an Alphabet Gratitude List. One letter, one thing that I am thankful for: aspirin, butterflies, coffee, dancers...

Try it. It will brighten your day. It always does mine.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Death by a HoneyBee

death by a honeybee

Death by a HoneyBee is a fun mystery that takes place in the Kentucky Bluegrass of horse farms, bourbon, and lots of secrets. 

Josiah Reynolds lives in a contemporary house called The Butterfly that was designed by her and her now deceased architect husband. In her cabana guesthouse lives her good and gorgeous friend Matt, a newly sworn-in attorney, and his lover Franklin. Also on her farm live various peacocks, horses, and maybe a strange looking sheep or two.

Unfortunately, when her husband Brannon died, he left all his money to his much younger girlfriend. Sigh. Josiah, a retired university professor, has fallen on financial hard times, so she has taken up beekeeping and sells her honey at the Farmers' Market in Lexington. 

Trouble comes in the form of the dead body of Richard Pidgeon, a competitor of Josiah's and a nasty man to boot. He is found head first in one of Josiah's hives - making the honeybees so, so mad. He had been stung 176 times.

The police  - there is a good cop and a very bad cop - seem to want to blame the murder on Josiah. And that is where the fun - for the reader, that is - begins. 

I enjoyed learning about the honeybees and how much work goes into keeping the hives alive. And it was entertaining to read a mystery that takes place just 90 miles from my hometown. This was one of the books I purchased at the Kentucky Book Fair and is the first in a series of four. 

Ms. Keam is a beekeeper herself and has won awards for her honey at the Kentucky State Fair. 

Her inscription in my book reads: Free the Bees.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Every Day by the Sun

William Faulkner and niece Dean Faulkner
on her wedding day
Rowan Oak, Oxford, Mississippi
If you would like to know a bit about the life of author William Faulkner, the memoir Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi by his niece Dean Faulkner Wells is an excellent place to start.

Dean Faulkner was the daughter of Dean Swift Faulkner, William's youngest brother. He was killed when his bi-plane crashed during an airshow in 1935. His daughter was born four months after his death.

William took in Dean's widow and helped to raise his niece. Here are her recollections of "Pappy" and the entire Faulkner clan of Oxford, Mississippi.

We know that she loved Pappy for his many kindnesses and generosity. She also looks squarely at his famous alcoholic binges - although she writes that she never saw him drunk - and his eccentric behavior as well as the family's. 

This is an affectionate memoir - funny, sad, and entertaining all at the same time. Since I didn't know much about William Faulkner's life, some of the stories here may be well-known but they were new to me.

I especially liked the other authors who drop by in the book: William Styron, Shelby Foote, Sinclair Lewis, and Walker Percy to name a few. I read that Faulkner did not want to go to Sweden to collect his Nobel Prize. That he never answered the phone in his house. That he added the U to the original spelling of the family name of Falkner. That he was a bit of a ladies man. And, that he loved mystery stories. 

Dean Faulkner's evocation of Southern small town life is told in an non-sentimental way. After all, she was there when Federal troops came to Ole Miss to protect James Meredith when he enrolled and integrated the university. 

William Faulkner died in 1962. His niece Dean married Larry Wells and lived in Oxford until her death in 2011. She and her husband ran the Yoknapatawpha Press for thirty-two years. 

There is just enough information in the book to give the reader a general idea of Faulkner's life as seen by someone who loved and admired him. Unless you are a Faulkner scholar, it is enough.

Monday, November 19, 2012

My Day in Books

Cornflower has a meme telling a story by completing sentences 

with titles she has read recently. This is fun to do. Here is my day

in books:

I began the day with Simple Pleasures

before breakfasting on One Man's Meat

and admiring Sunlight on the Lawn.

On my way to work I saw Calico Joe

and walked Down the Garden Path

to avoid Antiques Roadkill,

but I made sure to stop at Merry Hall.

In the office, my boss said, Read This!

and sent me to research The American Plague.

At lunch with Billy Boyle

I noticed The Private Patient

in The Murder Room

greatly enjoying A Dream of Death.

Then on the journey home, I contemplated My Life and 

Hard Times

because I have Monkey Mind

and am drawn to Endangered Pleasures.

Settling down for the evening in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,

I studied Notes from a Small Island

by Night Frost

before saying goodnight to The Three Musketeers.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mind Your Manners... Faulkner style

Dining room at William Faulkner's home Rowan Oak
Oxford, Mississippi
(Photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey
Library of Congress)
[William Faulkner] was a stickler for good manners and taught my cousins Jill and Vicki and me how to behave at table: We were not to sit down until Aunt Estelle was seated. The grownups were given a choice before the first course was served: to smoke at table or drink wine with the meal. He would not allow anyone to do both. Smoking dulled the palate. The wine could not be appreciated. He would circle the table, wine bottle in hand, and each adult had to make a choice. He designated smokers by turning their empty wine glasses upside down so there could be no recanting the decision. We were to serve ourselves from dishes presented by the houseboy left to right. We were not to begin to eat until Aunt Estelle took the first bite (just in case the food was poisoned, he said). We were not allowed to leave the table until permission to be excused had been asked of, and granted by, our host.

From Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi by Dean Faulkner Wells, niece of author William Faulkner

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pappy Faulkner

Rowan Oak
Oxford, Mississippi

I have read about thirty pages of Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi by Dean Faulkner Wells. She is the niece of William Faulkner, the only daughter of William's youngest brother Dean, a pilot, who was killed when his bi-plane crashed during an airshow in 1935. His daughter would not be born until four months after his death.

The title comes from a remark made by a family member speaking of her father: Dean never needed a watch. He lived every day of his life by the sun.

Until Dean was about seven, when her mother Louise remarried, she lived with and was raised by her paternal grandmother, Maud, in Oxford, Mississippi. She also spent time at her maternal grandparent's farm - some of her favorite memories are of the peace and quiet of the country. And of course she was often at Rowan Oak with William and his wife Estelle.

She called William Faulkner "Pappy" and writes that he was devastated by his brother's death. William had bought the plane for his brother that dove nose down into the earth that day. 

This is the story of growing up with and around the Faulkner clan. She writes about the family early on in the book to get it all out in the open:

Over the generations my family can claim nearly every psychological aberration: narcissism and nymphomania, alcoholism and anorexia, agoraphobia, manic depression, paranoid schizophrenia. There have been thieves, adulterers, sociopaths, killers, racists, liars, and folks suffering from panic attacks and real bad tempers, though to the best of my knowledge we've never had a barn burner or a preacher.

Dean Faulkner Wells died just last year. She and her husband, Larry Wells, ran the Yoknapatawpha Press in Oxford for thirty-two years. This should prove to be an up close and personal look into the goings on at Rowan Oak. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Making a List...

As often happens, I have been too quick to pat myself on the back. Of the fifteen books I bought on the Grand Southern Literary Tour, I was thinking I had read almost all of them. After finishing The American Plague I see I have seven more to go. There are three books of essays; Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (which I have read numerous times); a book of humorous pieces by James Thurber; a family memoir by William Faulkner's niece; and Writers of the American South which features photos and text about writers and their residences.

Whew. I don't think I will make it through all of them by the end of the year as I had hoped. 

So I am going to be ruthless and pick two on which to concentrate: Every Day by the Sun by Dean Faulkner Wells and Thurber's Lanterns and Lances.

I will keep the book on literary landscapes of Southern writers by my chair to remind me to browse through it. Anyway, I don't think it is one that I would sit down and read all the way through. 

Besides, it might give me ideas for a Grand Southern Literary Tour Part Two. What fun.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Private Patient

I woke up this morning determined to read the last 50 or so pages of The Private Patient by P.D. James. It has been my nighttime read for about a week and I turned out the light last night just as the case was coming to an end. It was either that or try to stay awake another hour or so to finish it.

This mystery is the latest and perhaps last of the Adam Dalgleish series. It was published in 2008 and since Ms. James is now 92, I wonder if there will be another with detective and poet Commander Dalgleish.

Basically the story is of the murder of an investigative reporter who has gone to a private clinic/manor house outside of London to have a facial scar removed by a well-known and successful plastic surgeon. The wound was inflicted some 40 years ago by the woman's father when she was a child. He was a drunkard and slashed her cheek with a broken bottle.  She tells the surgeon that "she has no use for the scar any longer." (Neither he nor I could ever figure out what she meant.)

Ms. James, as usual, delves quite deeply into her characters and there are plenty of them here to deal with. And the rooms. Ms. James loves to describe rooms - bedrooms, libraries, kitchens. I used to hurry through those details - let's get on with the plot, thank you very much - but have taken to slowing down and appreciating the way she uses her imagination to create the scene for the reader. 

I am not sure the ending - there are really two - is very clear, but getting there was surely entertaining. And, with not as much philosophizing as in the recently read The Murder Room.

So long, Adam Dalgleish.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Yellow Fever - The American Plague

My reading has taken me to Memphis, Tennessee. The year is 1878. A yellow fever epidemic has vanquished the citizens of this Mississippi River city. Half of the city's 50,000 people - the lucky, wealthy ones - have deserted the town and fled to rural areas. The rest, mostly the poor and the black, are dying from the fever that causes piercing headaches, abdominal cramps, and black vomit brought on by internal hemorrhaging. The skin of the infected turns deep gold and the whites of their eyes turn bright yellow. Death is a welcome relief.

These are the conditions that Molly Caldwell Crosby writes about in her book The American Plague. That year, there were a 120,000 cases of the fever reported in the Mississippi Valley and the it took the lives of more than 20,000 people. In Memphis alone, 5,000 died in a few short months. The epidemic's cost of $15 million bankrupted the city.

It is chilling to read of the tumbrels canvassing the city and their drivers calling, "Bring out your dead." 

Just as the fleas on rats carried the Black Death of the Middle Ages, in the case of yellow fever, or yellow jack as it was sometimes called, the culprit was another nasty insect: aedes aeygpti, the Egyptian mosquito. The deadly mosquito found its way to the ports of the Western Hemisphere on slave ships. And just as in the Middle Ages, no one knew what brought on the fever and gruesome death of so many.

Much of the cause of the spread of the disease was the government's inability to take seriously the threat and business's refusal to quarantine ships which would mean an interruption to  trade. Unfortunately, that sounds all too familiar even today.

But, The American Plague is not just the story of death. It also the story of the search by scientists and physicians - one was Walter Reed - to find the cause and cure of yellow fever.  Although there is no cure, there is a vaccination against the virus which, according the the World Health Organization, continues to cause some 30,000 deaths each year worldwide. 

I bought this book in Memphis on the Grand Southern Literary Tour after a conversation with the historian at the Elmwood Cemetery where some 2500 victims of the fever - including doctors, nurses, and ministers who helped the sick - are buried. 

The author is from Memphis and has done a fine job of capturing the horror of the time.  It is a true story of a medical mystery.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Bookseller in Your Pocket

I finally took the time today to read Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores. I found it stimulating on the one hand and discouraging on the other.

Stimulating because here are twenty-five independent booksellers who obviously love books and have generously shared their picks of the fifty books they love to recommend. Discouraging because although I recognized many of the titles (and according to the book there are 1194) there are so, so many I have never, ever heard of. 

Of course there are the Faulkners, the Hemingways, the Austens and even the Wodehouses (a personal favorite) but I am not familiar with, just to name a few at random, Roberto Balono (The Savage Detectives), Patrick Leigh Fermor (A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube) or Dai Sijie (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress).

I see I have a lot of investigating to do. And that is what makes this slim volume so much fun.

I liked that each section included answers to a question or two by the store's owner or other bookslinger (as one fellow called himself) and that each person got to elaborate a bit on three or four of the books from his or her list. 

Also, it was nice to be reminded of titles of books that I had read and had forgotten. (The Phantom Tollbooth, for example. I want to run out right now and buy it.)

In a perfect world, though, the titles would have some sort of shorthand notation as to the type of book it is (for those of us not in the know) such as F, NF, SS, P, or J (Fiction, Non-fiction, Short Story, Poetry or Juvenile). 

I also find it surprising that the book is listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble -- at a discount, of course. Somehow I thought, or hoped, that maybe it wouldn't be. I mean, we are talking about indie booksellers here.  Just sayin'...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Photo album: Kentucky Book Fair

Samuel, the handsome bookseller, at the Kentucky Book Fair.
Joseph-Beth is an independent bookstore in Lexington and had people at the Fair taking payment for books purchased. I wandered up and down the aisles chatting with authors and picking up books as I went. I paid for all on my way out. I couldn't resist taking Samuel's photo as he stood in line to meet one of his literary idols, Wendell Berry.

Author Bobby Ann Mason looks darling in her beret. She was wearing it in honor of her newest book The Girl in the Blue Beret. I bought and had her sign a copy of Elvis which she wrote in 2002. I had seen Ms. Mason at the Book Fair shortly after publication of that book, part of the Penguin Lives series, but in my ignorance failed to buy it. So, I had to settle for getting her autograph in the paperback edition.

Kentucky literary icon Wendell Berry. I bought a copy of his agrarian essays, Art of the Common Place, and joked with him that I was embarrassed to say that although I had read some of his work I didn't actually own any of his books but was putting that to rights today. He laughed and said, "If you can read them for free, why not?" He began the day wearing his jacket but by noon was signing books in his shirtsleeves. There was always a line of fans at  his table.

And now let me introduce three mystery writers whose books I bought and chatted with about murder most foul:

Gale Borger writes the Miller Sisters Mysteries.  Ms. Borger is a correctional officer, wife, and mother to a college-student daughter. She lives in Wisconsin and was smiling to be in Kentucky. She also is a master gardener and gave me a packet of basil seeds. I am looking forward to starting her books, Totally Buzzed and Totally Fishy.
Abigail Keam writes mysteries that take place in Bluegrass country and star Josiah Reynolds, beekeeper extraordinaire.
Death by a Honeybee is Ms. Keam's first book in the series. She has written four so far. Ms. Keam is a beekeeper herself and has won awards for her honey at the Kentucky State Fair.

Duffy Brown's Iced Chiffon is a cozy mystery featuring Reagan Summerside, consignment store owner in Savannah and part-time amateur sleuth. I love the city of Savannah and couldn't resist buying this first-in-the-series book. Besides, Ms. Brown looked so fresh in her yellow jacket and red carnation.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kentucky Book Fair

Cost of books purchased today at the Kentucky Book Fair: 


Lunch at Gibby's on Main Street in Frankfort: 


Chance to meet Wendell Berry, Bobby Ann Mason, and mystery writers Duffy Brown, Gale Borger, and Abigail Keam: 


Friday, November 9, 2012

I Capture the Castle and Book Marks (but not the kind you might think)

Swans in the moonlight
Moon rise, moats, swans, sunsets, first love, heartache, writer's block, trains, fur coats, religion, faith, bathing, candlelight, America, music, dance, fashions, jealousy, photography, tea, bears, poverty, luxury, wildflowers, dogs, cats, journal keeping, picnics, strong drink, the Devil, paganism, Midsummer's Eve, villages, homework, hand washing, tinned meat, shopping, aunts, beauty, prison, first kiss, brothers, sisters, art, enigmas, champagne, nudism, rain, four poster beds, country homes, wheat fields, gramophones, London, Hyde Park, crossword puzzles, blue skies, wedding trousseau, and Love.

My, my. This is just a partial list of the many things addressed in I Capture the Castle. Like Blake's "world in a grain of sand", Dodie Smith captures not only the Castle but All of Life in this book.

I won't even attempt to plot the story. If you want to know what happens, you will simply have to read the book which I highly recommend. 

I do believe the most enchanting scene was Cassandra's (the narrator) swim in the castle moat in the moonlight. (That alone should tempt you to read the book.)

I must say though, that because I read for plot (which is why I adore a good mystery), I did sometimes want Ms. Smith to move it on a bit and at the same time I kept thinking I must write down some of her wonderful observations and descriptions.  

This book has been in my possession and on my TBR list for so long it is wonderful now to have finally read it.

Now, a brief note on people who mark in books:

I bought my hardback copy of I Capture the Castle as a used book from Powell's Books in Seattle. When it arrived in the mail I was happy to see it was in such excellent condition. Or so I thought, that is, until I began to read and stumbled on the oddest check marks, ticks, circles, and squiggly underlines throughout the text. I could not fathom what the previous reader was noting. The marks were all so random. It drove me crazy. I started erasing as I read but then took to turning the book upside down and erasing the marks in each chapter before I read it. It was most annoying and I do feel all that manual labor ruined the flow of the prose for me. At least that carnal book lover didn't use a pen or highlighter. That would have been just too, too much to bear.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On Being Billy Boyle

Billy Boyle is a Boston cop. His dad and his uncle are both Boston cops and both served in World War I. Billy's turn to join the military comes in 1941 when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and the United States is thrown into war. 

Billy signs up for Officer Candidate School and ends up in London working for a distant cousin that he calls Uncle Ike - General Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

His first assignment is to use his investigative skills to find a German spy. This leads him to Beardsley Hall, an English country house, where the king of Norway and a group of his aides and military commandos are living in exile after the Germans had invaded and occupied their country.

There is a murder, a romance, a car bomb, a theft. The plot also involves the true story of a plan that got gold out of Norway (as the Germans were invading the country) and safely ensconced in American banks. 

Billy is a bit of a fish out of water in England, a bit brash, but seems to have a good heart. He wants to complete his mission: find the murderer and determine the identity of the spy.

Billy reflects on war and why one death (the murder of someone he barely knew) should mean so much to him when all around thousands are dying. He struggles with British nomenclature and teaches his new-found friends some American slang.  He falls in love at the drop of a blackout curtain. But, he never does get used to drinking tea. 

This is the first in a series of WWII mysteries starring Billy Boyle written by James R. Benn.  I liked Billy. His observations on British life are sharp and he comes into his own as a forensic detective even if he is sometimes in over his head. The writing is lively and entertaining. The climax was exciting and it was served with a twist.

All in all a good read.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pages of a Nature Journal

I was thinking about the book I mentioned the other day, The Shape of a Year by Jean Hersey, and was reminded of the year I kept a nature journal. It was quite exhilarating to record the year's daily changes from the pink sunrise on January first, to the first blossoms of April, through the dry heat of August, to the astounding colors of autumn.

Out of curiosity I pulled the journal  - a black and white composition notebook - out of the cabinet where I have all my journals stored. I see that the year was MMIV (since 2000 - MM - I have taken to using Roman numerals for the year). I actually carried on writing in it until the 31st of March of MMV which finished out the pages of the book. Very tidy. 

Each day I recorded the time, the temperature, and what was going on outside my window: snow, rain, lightning, sunshine, clouds, the moon, the color of the sky, what the squirrels and birds were up to. 

I took photos, collected 'specimens'...well, leaves and dried petals and such, and if I had thought of it I would have done some sketching.  It is certainly not The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by any means, as I live in the city, but my back yard offered plenty to record. 

There are photos of the first fluffy snow, the first green shoots announcing daffodils to come, broken tree branches in the yard from a big windstorm, a pink climbing rose in bloom. I am amazed to see that I was making entries as early as 5:45 a.m. Wow! I don't get up quite that early nowadays.

I also recorded a bit about the history of each month, the number of days, the astrological sign associated with it, and the name and date of the full moon.

I don't recall what source I used for the information, but for example, I recorded that November is the eleventh month in our calendar but was named for the ninth month in the old Roman calendar. The ancient Celts began this month with Samhain, Gaelic for "summer's end," a day to bid goodbye to warmth and light. The month has 30 days and is associated with Scorpio (water sign/resolute). The full Beaver Moon was on November 26. 

Here is the entry for November 7 of that year:

42 degrees and steady at 7 a.m. Clear, sunny and very cool today. Expecting a freeze tonight. Clipped the roses and brought in the plants off the porch. 

Also two tiny golden leaves no bigger than a thumbprint - they would be eight years old now -were pressed between the pages and slipped out when I opened to the date. How extraordinary.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

Lever voting machine

I remember as a very young girl going with my mom when she voted. Those were the days when you stepped into the voting booth and pulled a big lever that closed the curtain behind you. You faced a wall of small switches that you flipped to cast your vote. With each vote a definite click was heard.

Being behind the curtain, holding my mom's hand, hearing the sound of the clicking made the act of voting seem so important.

It was a lesson I learned very young. You vote. Period.

Nowadays, the voting booth - well, it is hardly a booth - is quiet. The whisper of the pencil filling in the circle next to the candidate's name is the only sound. 

Not quite as dramatic as the old way, but important all the same.

Please remember to vote today.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Three new/old books

Jean Hersey
The Shape of a Year
Lucky me! I scored three new/old books today and that always makes for a good day.

Read This! Handpicked Favorites from Indie Bookstores:

This little red book is, according to its back cover, "a reference for those who can never have enough to read. It offers booklovers an insider's guide to the treasured titles that have flown under the radar, but off of bookstore shelves."

In it 25 independent booksellers offer their picks of 50 books they love and love to pass on to readers. Michael Bogg's, co-owner of Carmichael's Bookstore in my hometown, has a list included here. Of his 50, I have read eight. I guess I have a lot of catching up to do. 

I hope to interview Mr. Boggs for Belle, Book, and Candle and will keep you posted on that project.

The Private Patient by P.D. James:
I picked this paperback copy off the Books for Sale table at the library. I just finished James's The Murder Room published in 2003. This is her latest (and last?) Adam Dalgliesh mystery published in 2008. 

The Shape of a Year by Jean Hersey:
This is a lovely prize also found on the library's sale table. According to the flyleaf, "it is a month-by-month chronicle of events in one woman's life, in her Connecticut house set in a meadow bounded by a rushing brook and hills covered with maples and hemlocks." 

It was published in 1967 and has chapter illustrations by John Pimlott.

I do so love a journal written by a woman that features the turning of the seasons and comments on daily life. It is in excellent condition for a hardcover book that is 45 years old. Not a tear or a bent page.

Here is her opening entry for November:

November is chill, frosted mornings with a silver sun rising behind the trees, red cardinals at the feeders, and squirrels running scallops along the tops of the gray stone walls.

Ahhh. A treasure indeed.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Capturing the Castle

I love this cover image for
I Capture the Castle
Haven't you just always wanted to live in a castle? I have and have once again picked up Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. It seems a lovely place to live even though its elegance is way beyond faded. 

The castle is occupied by Mr. Mortmain, a 'one-book' author; his wife, Topaz, a former artists' model; his older daughter Rose; young son Thomas; and a fellow, Stephen, who lives with them and is sort of a hired hand even though he never gets paid. The story is told, or rather written in her journal, by Cassandra.

She starts her journal this way:

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board  which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea-cosy. 


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Read This! postponed

Carmichaels's Bookstore
featured in Read This!
I headed out to Carmichael's Bookstore to pick up the copy of Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Booksellers that I had on hold. And therein lies the tale...

I browsed a bit in the store and then went to the counter to get my copy of the book. No problem. I took it with me next door to the coffee shop and as I was waiting for the barista to froth my latte, I carefully paged through the little red book. To my chagrin, on the title page there was a handwritten inscription. 


I finally deciphered the writing and saw that it was signed 'For Michael' by  Hans Weyandt the fellow who put this book of lists together. Michael is the owner of Carmichael's and his pick of the 50 books that he loves to hand-sell is included in the book. There was a personal note as well, so after I got my coffee I headed back to the bookstore. 

Unfortunately for me, the only other copy of Read This! in stock was the counter copy that had been manhandled and thumbed through and was not in pristine condition which is how I like my books to be. 


Jay, the nice clerk, called their other store and a copy is on its way to me either tomorrow or Monday. A disappointment for sure but something to look forward to another day.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Read This!

Last weekend, when I was in Poor Richard's Bookstore in Frankfort, I picked up a red bookmark from a stack sitting on the counter because in my experience one can never  have too many bookmarks. In large type it exclaims Read This! and I just got around to actually looking at the bookmark to see what it wanted me to read. 

It is an announcement of a new book entitled Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Booksellers in which "twenty-five independent booksellers across the country share the joy and wonder of books with their own must-read lists that put a 'bookseller in your pocket.'"

After a bit of research, I discovered these two articles about how this palm-sized book of lists came to be. You can read about it here Read This! and Read This! too.

Of the twenty-five independent bookstores included in the book, which has an introduction by author and independent bookstore owner Ann Patchett, one is Carmichael's here in my hometown and of course I have visited it often. Another is Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi which I visited on my Grand Southern Literary Tour. 

This book calls to mind a novel I read last year, A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse, about a bookstore in Paris which stocks only books recommended by a select committee of writers. I say that because the idea of opening a bookstore that only carries books on these lists (there are 25 booksellers times 50 books each) would make for mighty interesting shelves. Especially considering that Hans Weyandt, the blogger (Mr. Micawber Enters the Internets) who started this project, received all sorts of replies to his request for lists and the shelves could grow and grow as more indie booksellers recommended the books they love to hand-sell.

I am on my way to purchase Read This! (who doesn't love a book of lists of books?) published by Coffee House Press and costing a mere $12 (the royalties of which will be donated to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression).  

So there you have a fine example of the power of a blog and a bookmark.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On Meeting Senator George McGovern

Senator George McGovern
holding his book about Abraham Lincoln
Photo source: Jake Ross/Associated Press
I was saddened to read of the recent death of former South Dakota Senator George McGovern. In my younger years, when I actually had the energy and the stomach for politics, I was quite a fan of his. It still astounds me that Richard Nixon won the 1972 election and sent us into the nightmare that was Watergate. 

But I am not here to talk about politics. What I want to tell you is that I met and have a book autographed by Senator McGovern. He was here a year of so ago in conjunction with our state historical society, The Filson Club.

There were so many who registered for the free event, that it had to be moved to a church to accommodate all the attendees.

Senator McGovern looked quite frail at the time, but his voice, his sense of humor, and his opinions were strong. He mostly spoke about his book, Abraham Lincoln, which he wrote as one of the American Presidents Series published by Henry Holt and Company.

The book was on sale in the lobby (supplied by an independent bookstore, thank you) and I bought a copy on my way in. I am glad I did. After his talk, I got directly in line to have the senator autograph my copy. 

Here is what happened:

As I approached the table where he was sitting with an assistant, I spotted a pad of orange Post-It notes. I grabbed one and printed my first name on it which I knew would speed the process along when it came to signing the book. When it was my turn, I handed him the book open to the correct page for his signature with the orange note  stuck to the top of the page. 

He looked up at me. He was confused. He asked if I wanted him to personalize the inscription. I replied, "Yes, sir. And thank you so much."

Oh dear. His assistant was not happy. Apparently he was only supposed to sign the books. No personal inscriptions. 

Oh well. I may be the only person there that actually had that intimate moment with Senator McGovern. I have the book, his autograph with its inscription, and the orange Post-It note. 

And that is my tale of meeting Senator George McGovern. 

Rest in Peace.