In the High Peaks

Monday, December 30, 2013

Final Thoughts and Best Books of 2013

Don't miss the last of the 12 Days of Christmas Links! I've always been sad that so few Americans celebrate the full twelve days of Christmas. Most don't even know what Epiphany, January 6, is all about, though Latinos do celebrate this wonderful holiday. I, for one, would never take down a Christmas tree before the 7th of January. After all, it takes so much work to put it up!

Tracy of Bitter Tea and Mystery has two substantial Christmas posts:
The first is about Christmas films.
The second is a Christmas mystery by Oscar Hijuelos.

I have just finished counting the books I've read during 2013: Forty-four in all, which makes it a very good year for me, considering that I read only 21 books in 2012. I'm sure I could have surpassed my 2011 record of 46 books if I had found a way to listen to audiobooks throughout my fall semester commute. My 2011 all-time record was achieved because of the beloved golden retriever who came to our home that June at nearly three years of age. Older dogs have a very hard time adjusting to new homes, and as a result, I discovered that her two hours of "wilderness hiking training" each day coupled with very long hours of sitting with her quietly, reading, made all the difference. All that reading helped her to relax and helped her to bond with me.

In 2014, I would like to surpass 44-46 books read, but I realize that my time will be so full despite the fact I won't be teaching during the spring semester. Too many projects!

My favorite books of 2013 are the following:
The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
The Last First Day by Carrie Brown
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Demian by Hermann Hesse

Friday, December 27, 2013

Gorging on Library Books Before TBR Triple Dog Dare

The last ten days of 2013 have been outstanding from a reading point of view. Somehow or other, three excellent books published in 2013 dropped into my lap without any recommendation from anyone, and each has been so worthwhile!

First of all, a hearty, full-throated yahoo for Final Reckoning by Susan Moody, which I featured in a previous post. I wouldn't recommend it to someone who doesn't like a real gothic. And yet, it's true, it's a bit more than gothic because of the murder/crime-solving element. But if you ever harbored a liking for Victoria Holt or Daphne Du Maurier, you will find much, much pleasure here, I am convinced.

Robert Kolker's nonfiction book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is captivating and abundantly clear in the message that state and local police forces as well as the criminal justice system refuse to believe that prostitutes are anything but sub-human creatures completely unworthy of any kind of police protection afforded all other citizens. Kolker's investigative journalism covered the still unsolved case of one or more serial killers' murders of 5 prostitutes in Long Island, New York. Who cares about these women? As the investigation makes clear, no one but their relatives. Shocking. Talk about police and detective bungling. Lovers of crime fiction, take note!

And now I'm enthralled by Carrie Brown's The Last First Day about a married couple of 50 years, soul-mates, in their mid-seventies, dealing with the end of their stamina, fortitude, and livelihoods as headmaster and wife of a New England prep school. I love books that highlight characters in later life, in which the critical, heart-rending issues older adults face are presented. There are so few of these novels and they receive no notice, so I'm delighted when I stumble upon one of them. This one is so brilliantly written! Carrie Brown has won many prizes for her work, and if you like reading about people facing crises in their lives who are a bit older than you and I, do read it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A New Trio of Blog Links to Christmas Books and Music

A trio of Christmas-themed posts published on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Oh, yes, I fully celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. So for your Boxing Day and St. Stephens Day pleasure, read on. I'll be singing all the verses of "Good King Wencelas" out in the woods today. It's snowing, too. Perfect.

Katrina at Pining for the West: "Christmas Carols"

Bitter Tea and Mystery: "Children's Books with a Christmas Theme"

RickLibrarian: "White Christmas, A Song by Irving Berlin"

Monday, December 23, 2013

Three Christmas Blogger Links & Two of My Treasured Christmas Books

Today's Christmas Blogger Links:
Tracy of Bitter Tea and Mystery: "Christmas Mysteries"

Stu of Winston's Dad's Blog: "A Couple of Great Christmas Songs and a Bonus Story"

Katrina of Pining for the West: "Christmas with Miss Read"

I love each and every one of the Christmas books I've collected over the years equally. That's a lie, actually. A truer statement would be this: I cherish the unique aspects of each book in my collection so that each volume is equally special to me. Yes, that does it, I think.

The original 1949 first edition of The Pussycat's Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown! It's Christmas Eve, with all the sights, sounds, scents, and magic as experienced by an irrepressible young cat. The best part of the book is what the little cat hears, sees, and smells while the family goes to church for the midnight service. I've loved it since early childhood. Reading it still gives me chills. Brown's text is truly inspired. The original, incomparable 1949 illustrations by Helen Stone usher the reader into the essence of the cat's world. If you ever find a way to see them, you will be so rewarded. In 1994, the book was published in a new edition with new illustrations by Anne Mortimer. Nice pictures, yes, but the magic of the original is lost. My copy is falling apart, and I must splurge and have someone rebind it for me, with a new cover. The dustcover on my inherited copy is long gone, though I have seen the original in a library. Oh, sigh.

The Annotated Christmas Carol, published by W.W. Norton. Well, you already know I love annotated classics. Annotations do have a way of keeping me from turning the pages too quickly. The book is filled with historic illustrations, the history of the classic, and enlightening information that a modern reader just can't get without the editor at their elbow.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Links & How Many Books Left in 2013?

Christmas Book Discussions on Favorite Blogs!!
 Pam of Travellin' Penguin:  Pam is back home in Australia after her travels in North America!
 Ordinary Reader
 Lyn of I Prefer Reading  
 When I discover more blogger discussions of Christmas and New Year's books, I will post!

 As of this morning, Saturday the 21st, I began with a whim to see how many books I can finish before midnight on December 31st. I'm hoping Ken will join me on this last-minute, winter-solstice quest. He's currently in the middle of the Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin's Standing in Another Man's Grave. Ken has read more books than I have this year, and I must pull together his list, if only to avoid picking up books in 2014 that he read this year. He really loved Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling and is waiting for the next book in the series.

I spent part of the day galloping through the gothic I mentioned yesterday, A Final Reckoning by Susan Moody. Still luxuriating in it, and am well over half-way through. I will try more of Susan Moody's books. I'm setting my end-of year goal at reading two additional books before New Year's Day. One is a creative nonfiction piece of investigative journalism, Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker, which made many "Best of 2013" book lists and runs close to 400 pages. The other is fiction, but I can't recall the title or author at the moment! I will inform soon.

The weather is so dreadful. A bad storm, pouring rain for two days, temps up to 47 degrees after temps of below zero. Ridiculous.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Truly Gothic! Susan Moody's A Final Reckoning

My Adirondack Life calendar has informed me that this year the days December 20-December 23 have approximately the same amount (lack) of daylight: just 8 hours and 51 minutes. Winter Solstice! If only I had the energy, I'd do a dance, drink some mead (champagne), and perform a few graceful leaps in front of the fireplace. Given that I gave my last exam yesterday and the week past has been hellish [why oh why am I totally exhausted?], I took a nap today, am cooking Coq au Vin at the moment while enjoying a glass or two of a California red wine blend.

I'm also reflecting on a wonderful new (!!) gothic novel. I am inhaling A Final Reckoning by Susan Moody, which is set in a very old "country mansion" in the Cotswolds. It's only by chance that I came upon it at the library, so it feels like it's heaven sent. If you like a good gothic change of pace every now and then, do look this one up. Some commenters on Goodreads were a bit negative, I'm surprised to find, although Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly all gave positive reviews.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dickens's A Christmas Tree & Hawthorne's The Shining Tree: Two Victorians Bring the Tree Home

First of all, not to mislead, the Hawthorne in question is Hildegarde Hawthorne, grand-daughter of Nathaniel and daughter of Nathaniel's son, the writer Julian Hawthorne. It is she who wrote the Christmas story (based on the facts passed down to her) about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's encouragement and introduction of the German tree tradition to his Cambridge, Massachusetts, friends and neighbors. Wadsworth and Dickens were contemporaries, of course.

Katrina of Pining for the West has written about Dickens's A Christmas Tree in this post. Great cover! I told her I must find it somehow, thinking that I'll probably search Project Gutenberg first to satisfy my curiosity. 

So, until I manage that task, I'll mention that I read "The Shining Tree" in a small Christmas story collection published by Knopf in 1945 entitled The Shining Tree and Other Christmas Stories. I found this little gem in a rare and used bookstore in Northhampton, Massachusetts.
Wadsworth, the American poet so highly esteemed in his own day, visited Germany on a European Grand Tour and shipped home many brilliantly colored items with which to adorn a Christmas tree. Because Louisa May Alcott was around 14-16 years old in the story, it's likely that the tale is set on Christmas Day in 1854-1856 or so. Lots of details about the tree in this fabulous Christmas party that Henry and Fanny Longfellow gave for their friends and, most importantly, their children. It's so interesting to me that the native tree to Massachusetts that was cut was a "spruce!" This can only mean a red spruce or a white spruce. Both DID NOT and do not grow in Massachusetts in the late 20th or the 21st century. This fascinated me. Did these spruces grow on the hillsides west of Boston in the 1850s?? Mystery! They grow here in my Adirondack neighborhood, but we live to the north and west of the seashore climate of Greater Boston.

Monday, December 16, 2013

TBR Triple Dog Dare and A Literary Christmas: An Anthology (2013) Kipling & Wodehouse

A resounding yes to the TBR Triple Dog Dare, hosted by James Chester of Ready When You Are, C.B. 2014 will be my first winter participating, though the fourth year for the TDD. I have so many, many books that I'm desperately eager to read. I know many browsers of this blog are already signed up, but I'm passing the word along that James and all the rest of us want more company. So much more fun that way. I was afraid to sign up until I discovered by reading the small print that I can still read a 2014 title or two if I wish. Others of you will learn that you can continue your book group participations and other distractions and still JOIN us. If only I could meet Dakota, James Chester's literary Bassett Hound. Sigh. More than 3,000 miles away. Anyway, as we draw closer to New Year's, I'll post some of the titles I'm hoping to read for the TDD.

Today's Christmas reading found me really digging into a new book for my Christmas Book collection, A Literary Christmas: An Anthology, published by The British Library. Have you seen it in bookstores? At first I was concerned that some of the excerpts from novels or other literary works were very brief, but now that I have perused more thoroughly, I have changed my opinion entirely.

What I read today from A Literary Christmas: (With great pleasure!)
"Christmas in India," a poem by Rudyard Kipling. What a revelation! It's delightfully sardonic and cynical, and renders a view of how India entrapped the middle-class English who sought their fortunes (or livelihoods) there. The poem is probably available elsewhere--do look it up! Not what I expected from the author of Kim, which I endured only because it was a long-in-the-past book groups choice. Later in Kipling's life, he spent a great deal of time in Vermont, a stark contrast to India. P

"Another Christmas Carol," a short story by P.G. Wodehouse. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I've never read any Wodehouse, but as a result of the humor in this story, I will be reading him again. Just loved it! Do you know it?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Open House: Sherlock Holmes Christmas Story

As soon as it reached 5 degrees F this afternoon, Ken and I shuffled out in the snow for a traipse on our trails. I was warm but regretted immediately the decision to go without a scarf to cover part of my face. A December snowstorm is on our doorstep, though it's not expected to exceed a foot of snow. Just as well.

The crows, when it is deep horrible winter, make some of the most peculiar noises I've ever heard. What amazing, very smart birds! Highly underrated. Nearly a hundred goldfinches are swarming our bird feeders, and the chickadees appreciate their own "secret" feeding station within a grove of balsam fir trees near the barn that they guard from all invaders.

We stomped home in the quasi-darkness. Time for tea! I pulled out my beloved The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume One, (W.W. Norton, publisher) that I'd set aside in order to read the only Holmes story set at Christmastime: that is, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. So off I went on a journey to late-Victorian London for the hour between dusk and darkness. I hunkered down into the green couch while the gas fire radiated light and warmth. A most pleasant hour well-spent. And what is a "blue carbuncle," you might ask? Well, according to the annotator, it turns out that only Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knows for sure, but judging from the clues available, the gem might possibly have been a "star sapphire" or a "blue diamond," according to Doyle "scholars."


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Let's Celebrate--Reading Gluttony Begins!

Christmas Open House on December 12:
First off, Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery has a fascinating and amusing crime-worthy Christmasy post today. Her discussion of 1939 crime titles lead me to my Christmas Book Collection fantasies. Would it be possible for me to collect the title(s) she discusses? I never know until I begin the search. I can't afford to go about genuine book collecting for everything that fascinates me, yet her selections seem too good to pass up. I will investigate tomorrow, on Friday the 13th! A perfect day for searching for books of crime, mystery, and such.

I don't know where my reading will take me tomorrow. I have to rethink the entire goose. I will begin the morning finishing Rhys Bowen's The Twelve Clues of Christmas. I've read so much of it now that I can exhort you all not to miss it. I heartily recommend. It will put you in the Christmas spirit immediately and cheer you up if that's what you need.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Immersion Is Imminent: Last Class Tomorrow

Winter has settled in. It's frigid. It's been really cold for a long while. It snows an inch or two every day. I like it! Hunting season is over--hallelujah! No need to sing, talk loudly, and stomp through all the woods and fields. I can be quiet at long last and observe the animals and experience the silence.

Christmas Open House blog posts coming right up!

My desperate students have oh so limited a time to be desperate. Tomorrow. That's their last chance to whine and complain about their low grades after a semester of doing nothing. Mind you, many students do well! But we have lots of slackers who think I owe them. Huh? Come again?

I want to celebrate! I feel as though I'm beginning another stage of life after tomorrow's class ends. Yes, I'm taking the January-May semester off. But will I go back to the college? Or can Ken and I make ends meet without that (pitiful) income? We pay dearly for that income. It's an hour's commute each way and I make peanuts. The wear and tear on the car, the gas, the meals. How much do I clear? It's oh so minimal.

I think we can make it work. It is obvious to me and to Ken that the wear and tear on me exceeds the little bit of compensation I receive. Truly, if I told you the wage, you would be shocked and would agree that what I've done has been volunteer work. The life of an adjunct (part-time) instructor.

So! I'm very, very excited about beginning this new life. Reading!  I'm participating in James Chester's TBR Triple Dog Dare 2014. I'm reading Ivanhoe with Katrina of Pining for the West and others, which relates to a Scottish challenge, whose title I can't remember at the moment! Help. I will post again about it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rhys Bowen: 12 Clues of Christmas and a Christmasy Link

First off, you'll enjoy visiting yet another of Katrina's "Christmas/Winter Books" posts at Pining for the West.

I'm luxuriating in the reading of one of Rhys Bowen's "Her Royal Spyness" mysteries, The Twelve Clues of Christmas. My stress level drops into an abyss when I pick it up and become immediately reabsorbed. Lady Georgiana or "Georgie" is young with a humorous outlook on life, and not pretentious a bit, despite being a great grand-daughter of Queen Victoria. She wants to make her own way, which is terribly difficult in early 1930s England during the Depression. After all, she's only 25th in line to the throne and must make her own way, given that her father, the Duke of Rannoch, is dead, and her brother inherited everything, including Castle Rannoch in Scotland, and her mother has not enough income to share with her.

So Georgie answers an ad to be a hostess at an upper-class country house in Devon for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. She is to provide the "proper" atmosphere and help out with the paying guests who will be staying over Christmas and New Year's. Even before Georgie arrives, people start dropping dead in  the village. Sinister doings there, mixed with lovely cosy and yes, enchanting, settings, wonderful characters (perhaps more than slightly stereotyped, but such endearing stereotypes!), and lots of fun.  Very highly recommended!! I borrowed it from my local library. I think I should buy it--would love to read it again and again!

This afternoon I turned to another book, all because I don't want to come to the end of this one!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Delightful! A New Compendium of Christmas Mysteries

So I'm back from a week of ultra-high stress. Desperate students clamoring by email, "Yes, I know I've done almost no work for the whole semester, but there must be some way I can make it up by next week!"

Christmas Open House Contributing Bloggers:

Katrina of Pining for the West
(I believe there may be other participants who have posted, so I'll search this pm.)

My battered brain has been comforted by The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler and published this year by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard original. The cover art is so well done--vibrant color. An enormous collection of well-chosen older stories and more modern ones. Excellent for gift giving. I read three stories last weekend and enjoyed each one, though I'll admit a special fondness for Mary Roberts Rinehart's "The Butler's Christmas," written in the middle years of World War II. From my perspective, it hit all the right notes, especially from the point of view of the characters and the situation. Another I liked a lot was Ron Goulart's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas." Offbeat, very funny, with a sizzling twist. The third one I tried is a long one--"An Early Christmas" by Doug Allyn. I haven't quite finished it. The story starts so humorously, with a great character, but he is killed by the beginning of the third page. I was extremely disappointed that the most interesting character in the story was knocked off so quickly. What a letdown!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas Open House: Dec. 1-31. An Important Introduction

This event is for speakers and readers of all languages! Please share books and stories that are native to any language you speak.

My collection of Christmas books, both for adults and for children, is not enormous. But it is huge for me, because many colorful volumes are filled with dozens and dozens of Christmas tales. Over many years (40 years--(gasp!) from the time I was a young college student), I have carefully selected books that are: 1) magical to me from prior readings, 2) new or used titles I've stumbled across that are rich with excellent writing, characterizations, well-researched information (nonfiction titles), and, those resplendent with  imagination and originality. Christmas prose and poetry that is simply Magic, of course!

I want to share some of my favorite stories with you, and I want to tell you about new stories I've discovered this December 2013.

But I can't wait to have YOU tell me about the following:
  • Christmas stories that have been special to you from childhood or in adulthood
  • Christmas stories that are in your native tongue that may or may not have been translated into English! What a treat it would be to learn about these books!
  • Any other prose or poem that is December-related, not necessarily Christmas.
  • Christmas novels of all varieties that you're reading this year and have loved in past years
  • **Novels and stories set in December or at New Year's.
  • Children's books, out of print or in print, it doesn't matter. Same for adult titles.
Sunday, December 1--Tuesday, December 31--At any time this month that you have the time, when you feel like celebrating, discuss any titles and your thoughts about them, as indicated in the previous list. We'll all be so interested in all you have to say.

Saturday, December 14-Friday, December 20: If you wish, this is the week to share your thoughts about any Christmas "chapter" or sequence in any novel of your choice that covers a much broader span of time than just Christmas. For example, the Christmas chapters in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Saturday, December 21: I'm participating in Beauty is a Sleeping Cat's The Christmas Carol Readalong. Would you care to participate? Please click on the Dickens Month icon to the right.

Sunday, December 22-Tuesday, December 24: Please share your favorite all-time Christmas films, and please DO include all those that are difficult to obtain and perhaps unattainable (sigh).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Demian by Hermann Hesse--German Literature Month

How I loved this book! It has the same spirit and energy, and introspection and philosophizing, as I remember in Hesse's Steppenwolf. It reminded me also of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I've read twice, both times before age 22.

Demian is a vibrant, invigorating, and a read that is ultra-challenging to a reader's innermost self. It was a bit like rubbing snow all over one's flesh. It's very brief, yet one cannot sit back with a book that demands so much of the reader and say, "Interesting," or "I liked it," or "Very entertaining." I believe the novel challenges the reader to confront him- or herself, just as Emil Sinclair painstakingly does--with all the painful internal and external soul-searching. This book is the ultimate choice for anyone enduring the psychic pain of an identity quest, regardless of age.

This novel is the story of a boy's and later, a young man's search for his moral compass, his universe, and himself, which makes the reading riveting. I especially liked Emil's enigmatic and mystical relationship with Max Demian and with his mother, Eva, both of whom "bear the mark of Cain on their foreheads," as does Emil Sinclair. The climax's segue into the long-prophesized calamity of the European continent, World War I, pushes the book outward from the internal sphere inhabiting the characters.

Hesse wrote the book in 1917, in the midst of World War I, and, most importantly, a year after he suffered a series of profound personal losses.

I would enjoy reading a biography of Hesse as well as literary criticism of Demian. Hesse, born in 1877, experienced psychoanalysis with a Jungian analyst in Switzerland. I'm not sure of exactly when this occurred, but it fell within the era that Demian was written.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christmas and December Titles: Please Add Your Suggestions!

Every reader and blogger is invited to my Christmas Open House, which will begin on December 1st and end on December 31st. If you'd like to participate, you may leave a comment on this post or leave a comment by clicking on the Christmas Open House Icon.

Today I've been researching books that are either set in the darkest month of the year or that have Christmas as a theme or setting.

I'm trying to amass as many titles as I can for our all-out December Reading Blast!

Please share your favorite titles so that we can all suggest books to each other and borrow from libraries and order from bookstores!

I will add the titles you suggest to my next post.

Here are some of the books I haven't read that I'd like to read in December. (Have you read one or more of them?)

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks  (3-star reviews, mostly)

A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve (3-4 star reviews, mostly)

A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor (high marks)

The Tenth of December--a short story in the collection of the same title by George Saunders.

A Christmas Hope by Anne  Perry (2013). This one is getting 5-star reviews. As you are probably aware, her Christmas mysteries are set during the Victorian era. This one's synopsis got me very interested.

What I Have Read So Far:
Starry Night  (2013) by Debbie Macomber.  My first Macomber read! Gulp. This is a book that I reserved for "bedtime," when my mind is extremely dull and limited. Reading a book like this late at night enables me to remember the limited number of details about characters and plot. Late at night is my witless time of day. Yet the lack of consistency in the characterization of the male lead disturbed me. But, what me, worry? At 11pm at night? No way.

Now reading another Christmas cozy mystery, before bed only!: Murder of a Stacked Librarian: A Scumble River Mystery by Denise Swanson (2013). Mildly entertaining as only a cozy can be. A comfort late at night for the exhausted and witless reader. Here, here!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My JFK Most Notables and German Literature Month

Yes, being a Boston girl (before moving to the ADKs in 2005), from an Irish Catholic family on my father's side, and having been enthralled with JFK since his 1960 campaign when I was a mere seven years old, I have been collecting quality JFK books for all of my life.

To my mind, the most authoritative sources on JFK's public and political and presidential life:

Robert Dallek   An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
Richard Reeves. President Kennedy: Profile of Power
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. A Thousand Days.
David Talbot. Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

Quality books regarding all the conspiracy theories:
Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi (1648 pages)
An exhaustive (sigh!) examination of every speck of evidence, every conspiracy theory, etc.

I would add this year's publication of Philip Shenon's A Cruel and Shocking Act to this quality conspiracy list, absolutely. An incredible work of investigative journalism, although Shenon is not an historian.

German Literature Month:
I'm finishing Demian by Herman Hesse tomorrow morning. A 5-star reading experience! My review will be up on Sunday or Monday.

And, I can't believe it! I'm reading a fifth German literature title to finish the month. I'm ecstatic! I'm reading Gudrun Pausewang, a renowned German children's and YA author. I've started to read the YA novel The Traitor, published in the U.S. in 2011. I've downloaded it onto my Nook--its main storyline is about a young German (Sudentanland) girl who protects a wounded Russian soldier. I have much more to say about it!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mesmerized by Alissa Walser--German Literature Month

Alissa Walser is the first German novelist I've read during this year's German Literature Month. Anna Kim and Wolf Haas, the authors of my two previous German-language novels in translation are both Austrian.

I gravitated toward Mesmerized because it's set in 18th-century Vienna, at about the same time as my previous read of the Canadian Eve Stachniack's novel about late-18th century Russia, The Winter Palace, which depicted the early years of the Saxon Princess Catherine in St. Petersburg, before her reign as Empress.

First off, I must say that until I ordered Mesmerized, I knew about Franz Anton Mesmer but had no idea his most significant legacy was a result of his work during the late-18th century. Because he realized the integral connection between body and mind before others, I always assumed he lived in the early-19th century. But that late-18th century--the time of the Enlightenment--was truly a time for revolutionary ideas and "thinking outside the box."

I liked the novel and most enjoyed being immediately ensconced into the Mesmer household, which was not only a place of daily treatments for patients, but also a rooming house for many of Mesmer's clients. The depiction of Maria Theresia Paradis's world as a blind and tormented young woman was exquisite and highly original, and was the best part of the book for me.

The ending was problematic from my point of view. From the time Mesmer enters Paris until the end of the book, I lose him as the character that was developed in the main body of the novel, and despite a rereading of the closing Paris chapters, I still was not able to find anything that connected me to him in the earlier chapters of the book. So much to me felt as though it was left mysterious, and, if I may use a word that may not make sense, too ethereal--not concrete, definitely vague.

I agree with Caroline's observation of the staccato sentence structure. For some reason, I was not distracted by this element at all, which surprises me! Perhaps, as Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat suggested, the English translator managed to smooth this out somehow--I don't know. But I do know what Caroline means when a seemingly disjointed style does not work. I have encountered that a number of times and have just had to toss the book. Style is extremely important to whether one can get into a book or not.

All in all, I would recommend this book, particularly to those who love historical fiction.

German Literature Month Alert: I am going to try to read a 4th book, a Gents' book. I believe I mentioned I wanted to read Demian by Herman Hesse. I've got to next to me right now.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy

I'm aware that I'm always saying that I was lucky to get this, lucky to grab that, as far as books are concerned. But I really and truly lucked out, when in the month of the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK, I was able to get a hold of the 8 hours of CD audio interviews of Jacqueline Kennedy sharing her memories with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the historian and colleague of President Kennedy, who wrote A Thousand Days, not long after President Kennedy's death.

In March 1964 he sat with Jacqueline Kennedy in her Georgetown townhouse, a mere three and a half months after the assassination. Schlesinger, a man Jacqueline trusted implicitly, probed her memory for details of her life with John F. Kennedy since their marriage in 1953. He also asked her to describe in depth her role as First Lady, including the story of her restoration of the White House.

When Schlesinger wrote the first drafts of A Thousand Days, he incorporated this material, of course, but when Jacqueline saw the book in a nearly finalized draft, she freaked. By this time, she had been unrelentingly harassed and hounded by the press, who never strayed from the sidewalk outside of her home. Driven frantic to preserve some vestiges of her privacy, she demanded that Schlesinger omit all references to her relationship with the president, including her views on all issues dealing with her husband's political and family life.

Schlesinger reluctantly complied and omitted every reference.

Jacqueline insisted that the taped interviews be vaulted until 2013, fifty years after her husband's death. Jacqueline died in 1994. Caroline Kennedy, as the sole legatee after John Jr's' death, decided that the tapes should be available to the public in time for the 50th anniversary of her father's death. So, by 2011, these conversations were made available in book form and in audio CD, with a long, illuminating foreword by Caroline Kennedy and an introduction by Michael Beschloss, the well-known presidential historian.

 I'm halfway through the 4th of  8 tapes now, and I'm delighted to hear Jacqueline's personal views and insights of her husband and the politicians and political world surrounding him. She hid a great deal, but the depth of her love for her husband is evident.

If you have any interest, I urge you to listen to the inteviews, because they provide a unique viewpoint and perspective that has NEVER been presented in histories thus far.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Austrian Crime Novel! Brenner and God by Wolf Haas

A heartfelt thank you to Melville House for publishing Annie Janusch's English translation of Brenner and God by the Austrian crime novelist Wolf Haas.

I found Haas's hero, the ex-detective and mildly dysfunctional Simon Brenner to be a touchingly droll and endearing hero, as inept a chauffeur and baby-watcher as he is. My only disappointment was that there were not more scenes of Brenner conversing with the baby as he drove her for hours on end on the Autobahn. Brenner's relationship with the tyke was such a great hook!

Fortunately all the criminals and evil-doers were absurdly and enchantingly stupid, or Brenner would not have had a chance to come out on top. But... If you like rooting for the underdog and for charmingly not-too-bright detectives, AND if you have an absurdist sense of humor, Wolf Haas is without a doubt an author you should read.

The only other book that's available in English translation is The Bone Man, also through Melville House. I'm very tempted to read it!

I should add that Haas is very highly regarded in Austria and has won crime fiction prizes for his novels. Also! Three of his Brenner novels have been made into films. Wouldn't it be nice if they became available in these parts?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

German Literature Month Chez Moi

Just an update to let you know the books I'm burrowing into and the ones I've read for German Literature Month. Of course, you already know, from a recent post, that I read Anna Kim's Anatomy of a Night for Lizzy's Readalong. In October I enjoyed the mystery Brenner and God by the German writer Wolf Haas, which I'll be posting about this week, which is Week Two--Gents' Week.

My UK paperback copy of Mesmerized by Alissa Walser arrived last week and I'm very pleased with the quality of the binding and the covers. I dipped into it before bed the night it arrived and had to force myself to put it aside or I wouldn't sleep, so I'm finding the story compelling from the start. The link will take you to my previous announcement post about this title.

I'd like to do a Gents' title for the fourth week of November, but at this moment, I'm not sure if I will, and if I manage it, what I'll read.  If I could squeeze it in, I'd love to read Demian by Herman Hesse.

Yet I so want to dip back into my rather vast collection of John F. Kennedy titles. (I wrote three separate children's books about him, for the school library trade.) I'll post about this incredible experience in a future post, and I'll include the titles I think are the most worthy and interesting and fun, in that order.

I was forever wild about Steppenwolf when I read it in college, not as an assignment, but because it intrigued me. I identified with the protagonist intensely, so intensely as only a young person at that age can. Hesse was extremely popular among college students during the Vietnam War era and immediately after. I read Steppenwolf while recuperating in the college infirmary, once I'd recovered enough from illness to enjoy reading. (For those of you who've read previous posts about my college adventures, this occurred at the college where I landed after I transferred, a school I loved.)

As I recall, I was there three full days, and on the fourth morning, the doctor, a kind man, very kindly kicked me out. Sigh. I loved that respite, the snowflakes falling gently out my window, the absolute quiet, and the motherly nurses. At the time, my parents were in the midst of a horrific divorce, and it was so nice to be swept away from their intrusive, upsetting phone calls.

Isn't it fascinating how certain books, songs, and movies can call up such a broad sweep of memories?

My paperback copy of Demian is quite newish, very clean, totally intact, unmarked. I was lucky to pick it up for 50 cents at a recent book sale.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mourning the Deaths of Favorite Authors

This afternoon I had to break the news to Ken that one of his favorite authors died, at the young age of 71. Yes, Michael Palmer, author of medical political thrillers and a regular on the bestseller lists, who was a doctor himself, died yesterday. Ken thought so highly of him.

And just a couple of months ago, another of Ken's cherished political thriller writers, Vince Flynn died, and this poor man was only 47. And, early this year, Elmore Leonard, another of his favorites passed away! (He was 87.)Last year, Ken mourned the loss of Boston's famous mystery writer, Robert Parker.

The links are to New York Times obituaries, which are considered the best among U.S. newspapers. If you find these links take you nowhere, would you drop a comment? They work for me, but I don't know about others. Michael Palmer's struggles are especially interesting to me.

I've never experienced the like of this. My favorite authors seem to get very old and then retire from writing. I've not experienced the stunning loss of an author in the midst of his or her life's work in recent years. Although, as I've stated before, I do worry about Paul Auster, who's about 67 and does not take care of himself.

So how do you manage the pain resulting from the loss of a brilliant writer? Please share!

I'm going to cope with Ken's losses for him. Because I'm his personal librarian, I'm going to seek out all the books of each writer that he hasn't read. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Anatomy of a Night by Anna Kim and German Literature Month

Anna Kim is a South-Korean born Austrian who has won many prizes for her fiction.

Her Anatomy of a Night was a stellar read for me from the point of view of imagery. Her view of the fictional east Greenland coastal village of Amaraq could not have been more artistically depicted. I saw it, smelled it, felt it through to my every pore. I heard the silence, the cracking of ice, the lone barking of a sled dog. In my view, the setting was the most important character in the book.

I must confess I had difficulty keeping track of many of the characters--and weren't there a lot! I know Kim spent time in an east Greenland coastal town and it shows.

In some ways, I'm confounded by all the suicides. We don't really get to know any one character particularly well. They all come from life situations that are painful, sad, and depressing. And certainly the Danish policies over many, many decades has caused such a disruption in Inuit culture so as to cause these disconnected, empty lives deprived of meaning.

But I'm still not certain exactly what Kim most wanted her readers to carry away after reading the novel. I'm not at all sure of her purpose, her intent. I feel this must be my lack somehow.

As much as I was uplifted by the landscape imagery, I was downcast by the constant, unremitting acts of suicide. Without relief. But my emotions about this were not so intense that I could not appreciate the artistic aspects.

I am now very curious about the history of Greenland and would like to read much more about that.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Your First Invitation to My December Open House

If you would like to sign up, please leave a comment. Thank you!

Well, now that you know you're all invited, you're no doubt wondering what exactly is this December Open House at Reader in the Wilderness? (I'm announcing the event early so that you can be brainstorming, thinking, planning!)

Do you enjoy reading books with a holiday theme in December? Or, are you enchanted by novels and stories that are merely set in the month of December, during the darkest time of the year?

If so, would you be willing to share at least one of your all-time favorites with us?

This is going to be a month-long party! That's right: This event begins on December 1 and ends on December 31. (Just in case you have a book or story with a special New Year's focus.)

All it takes to participate is at least one blog post discussing your thoughts, personal experiences with, or whatever else you want to say on a book or story that's posted on your blog and that's focused on one or more of the following:
  • A favorite Christmas or Hanukkah novel or short story that you are especially fond of
  • A novel or short story that's set in the month of December or at New Year's
  • A favorite children's Christmas or Hanukkah novel or picture book
  • A special December or December-holiday chapter in a novel
  • A special nonfiction book that's December-holiday related
What's the point of all this? To share and learn more about this special genre of literature and to enhance our appreciation of this special time of year.

All books and stories, all nonfiction and fiction are welcome. Don't forget cookbooks, 19th century literature, and works in translation. And remember those children's books and stories. High-brow, low-brow, every title is welcome!

I need a button for this. I've never done a button. Research needed there. Stay tuned.

I'll investigate Mr. Linky, but I'm pretty clueless at the moment. I'll present more information on how to communicate your blog entry in a few weeks.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Cruel and Shocking Act: First Book in This Week's Stampede

How positively delightful when new books flood over the dam!

On Monday, I had the pleasure of listening to National Public Radio's Fresh Air program. Teri Gross's interview with Philip Shenon, renowned New York Times journalist and author of the just-published A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, published by Henry Holt no less, was the highlight of the day--and I'm so glad I caught it. I immediately ordered the book from Barnes and Noble, and it arrived at my door in 36 hours, which must be a new record for me way out here in the mountains of northern New York.

Shenon, has a stellar resume and a lifetime of journalistic achievements both in Washington and abroad, including his on-site reporting in several war zones. His most recent coup was his highly- regarded study of the 9/11 Commission entitled The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission. 

In A Cruel and Shocking Act, which I've already started to mine, Shenon taps the stories of the many cream-of-the-crop young lawyers from all over the U.S. who were the junior investigators for the Warren Commission, which was headed by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren after President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Its role was to investigate exactly what happened, who was involved, and why.

But, as Shenon illustrates in his book and in the interview on Fresh Air, the evidence that many former junior staffers uncovered was never investigated further. These lawyers and staff are now very old, several have already passed on. Shenon collected their stories, which was followed by his copious research in the National Archives  and other pertinent federal depositories. In September 1964, just 10 months after the assassination, Earl Warren and other top leaders at the time chose not to pursue leads and stories that, by their nature, demanded investigation.

According to previous reports I've read, Chief Justice Earl Warren was desperately concerned for the country in the months following the assassination. It was his belief that continuing controversy would cause people to panic and would weaken people's faith in the government at a vulnerable time.

The evidence that Earl Warren ordered his junior staffers not to pursue evidence makes today's historians positively crazy, yet it does make for fascinating reading. I could go on, but dinner is percolating.

More on other new books tomorrow!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Great Week in Books for a Person Who's Feeling Much Less Than Great

The ups and downs of life, I've discovered, are keenly connected to our appetite for books. I'm plagued by the worst bout of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue since I was in my early 40s. My first onset attacks were the worst, at 25 and 31 years of age. So because I've been so free of the mess for so many years, I was tremendously surprised when my body started unraveling in a big way in mid-September.

But, what's so interesting is I've become much more interested in books, book blogs, book review magazines, book reviews in newspapers and on radio--all in the drive to escape and to populate my brain with a world that pain and sadness can't touch. And it helps. You all help.

I had a spectacular week in books this week. A book I can't wait to sink my jaw into arrived two days early on my doorstep, with a dog biscuit on top. Carson, our UPS driver, never forgets our Sasha. Two books I was waiting for zoomed in for me at the library. And I found one that I can't wait to share with you. The first part of the title is Novel Cures. It's an extremely funny take on bibliotherapy. Ken and I laughed uproariously last night when I shared bits with him. Fun, escape, distraction, and, more important, an entrance to our deepest intellectual selves, which, from my experience, don't feel pain.

This post was inspired by LitLove's honest rendering of her life at the moment. I have been holding back, but my dedication to reading and books WILL BE STRONGER for sharing what's been driving me deeper into books.

Much More Tomorrow with updates on all those great books coming in this week.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

All the Books that Swept across My Threshold Today

I can't believe I started this post last Thursday and am only finally finishing and publishing it today.

Just an ordinary Thursday, though it is United Nations Day (Oct. 24).

At the college library this noontime, I experienced the magical opportunity of being one of the first to view a clutch of new titles that hit the "New Books" shelf late yesterday afternoon. Very, very lucky.

I grabbed a new biography, Jack London: An American Life, by Earle Labor, foremost among London scholars. I've mentioned that I'm an annual reader of London's famous short story, "To Build a Fire." From living in wilderness I comprehend how easy it is to succumb to the forces of nature, yet nature is our life's breath. As of today, I'm determined to read London's White Fang. I've foolishly protected myself from this novel for my entire life. Today it occurred to me that there's no need. I'll just sweep past the pages in which the brutalization of an animal occurs. Earle Labor documents, in detail for the first time, the extent to which London was devastated by the loss of his animals and the abuse of others'.

I also grasped a new release, The Best American Short Stories of 2013, edited (and selected) by Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge. I never manage to read all the stories in the annual collection, and I'll admit I'm partial to the stories penned by relatively unknown writers.

When I noticed that a story by Canadian Anne Munro's is included this year, I did a little investigating. I didn't realize until this week that The Best American Short Stories, published by Houghton Mifflin, selects their stories from all those published in American and Canadian literary magazines and journals, yet the front cover and the back cover blurb of the paperback do not specify this fact. (The information is disclosed within the first few pages.) I think this is unfortunate. Would you call it an opportunity lost? Does Houghton Mifflin think the collection won't sell as well if the title were The Best American and Canadian Short Stories?

Then, at the post office, I picked up the two Mary Stewart novels I ordered! They're beautiful editions, but The Ivy Tree, despite being a trade paperback, has tiny print and mini-spacing between lines. I've decided to try to ignore it because I'm that happy to have the book in the house at last. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reading The Butterfly Sister and the History of Predatory Professorial Relations with Students

Madness in women's literature and among women authors, and the disappearance of a beautiful young woman that mystifies her classmate "from down the hall" at a women's college on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. The curious classmate has a past that haunts her as much as her passion to find out what really happened to her dorm mate. Several ghosts, descriptions of an other-worldly trip to glorious New Orleans in the days pre-Katrina, and predatory college professors make for a combustible mix that so far has had me turning the pages like lightning. But, but, I say! I've got papers to grade! Oh, dear.

Readers, before you rush off, I will admit I'm only halfway through, but this debut novel by Amy Gail Hansen so far has had me by the tail.

And now for a bit of U.S. cultural history:
Read on only if you want to be amused or informed by this topic. And please add to the discussion!
Let's talk about predatory professors and how they've been regarded over the years: Since the early 1990s, intimate professorial-student relationships have been absolutely verboten, and if they occur, they have had to be hidden by all parties concerned, or the professor will find himself without a job.

Yet when I was attending a highly esteemed co-ed college in Vermont during my freshman year in the early 1970s (I transferred out after that year, by the way), my English professor slept in the dorm with my roommate, who was--yes, she was--blonde, voluptuous, beautiful. And where was I? On weekends I usually slept in a friend's room because of the variety of male company that filled my so-called dorm room. One of her boyfriends allowed his flea-ridden dog to sleep on my bed. Dozens of flea bites later, I was near the end of my rope. The final straw came when my English prof slept in the dorm with another blond, beautiful young woman--this one was my classmate from high school. Geez. And yes, they were both pitifully poor students. How did they ever get into this college that accepted only one in fourteen female applicants?

Of all the profs who dallied with women students at this most prestigious college in Vermont, he was definitely the most blatant, and I've been told that administrators looked the other way because his wife had died a tragic death during the previous year. The funny thing is, my cousin Wendy attended this college 15 years after I, in the late 1980s. Because she was an English major, I naturally warned her about him. She told me he was still visiting women in the dorms.

In the early 1990s, an immense scandal occurred that became a cover story for Boston magazine, a publication which was a much bigger deal in the '90s than it is today. Another English prof at this very same respected Vermont college had had numerous relationships with many male students, many of them to their detriment. This event, in particular, and its repercussions, blew the lid off of predatory professorial relationships with students. It really did. This enormous scandal forced all colleges in the region to reexamine the nature of professorial-student relationships and to set new standards and restrictions. My reaction? I was elated, of course.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Another 18th Century Historical and a Rash of Mary Stewart Purchases!

This morning, after too much research, I finally ordered the historical novel Mesmerized by German author, translator, and painter Alissa Walser for my second novel by a women author for German Literature Month. Set in eighteenth-century Vienna, during Mozart's era, the historical figure Franz Anton Mesmer begins to explore the vibrant connection between mind and body as a means to cure patients, particularly those whom other doctors have abandoned as hopeless.

I discovered the book through the New Books in German website. Mesmerized was translated into English and published in the UK in early 2012. It is supposedly going to be published in the U.S. as well, but not this week. And I need the book now, so I can finish it by the third week in November. Thankfully, I was able to order it from The Book Depository via Amazon, and it was a very inexpensive purchase.

And I am announcing that I'm placing a long, long overdue order of two Mary Stewart titles. Yahoo!  The Ivy Tree, which I've never read, and Nine Coaches Waiting, which I besottedly adored reading so many years ago. These titles have been re-issued as trade paperbacks, the slightly larger paperback size, which I prefer.

Bit of a problem, though. I so want to read Airs Above the Ground, but this title is only available in a mass-market paperback edition. Both Ken and I now have trouble reading mass-market paperbacks. It's the eyes thing! Tiny type and no space between the lines. I'll hold off for now.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Which German Books Get Published in the U.S.?

Two books by men, two books by women--a wonderful idea to balance this November's German Literature Month! To participate, please visit Lizzy's and Caroline's websites. You'll find the links to Lizzy's Literary Life and Caroline's Beauty is a Sleeping Cat in my "Blogs of Substance" list.

And a note to my readers who want to join in, the authors do not need to be ethnically German--the authors' works need to have written and published their works originally in German.. The authors may be nationally or ethnically Swiss, Turkish, Austrian, Czech, Hungarian, I could go on but you get the idea.

The reason I wish I could read German: I really don't like publishers' marketing departments deciding which books in German will be published and translated into English for American readers. I want to choose the German titles I want translated, not marketers' skewed ideas of what will sell.

Now this may seem an unreasonable desire for a person who hasn't managed, after all these decades, to learn to read German, but there it is. If I, if we non-German-literate English language people want to read works by writers of German lit, we have to read what they decide we will buy. Phooey on that, I say.

Now that I've said that, I must congratulate the serious efforts of German Book groups, based in New York City and elsewhere, to influence U.S. publishers, and I want to thank the many independent and university publishers who, as is said in the trade, "take a chance" on these titles.

To go a step further, American publishers love to publish and promote German titles that depict 20th-century historical Germans in morally compromised situations. I'm thinking of dozens of German titles translated into English, but for now I'll mention The Blindness of the Heart by the German writer Julia Franck, which won the German Book Prize in 2007 and was a finalist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. [And for goodness sake, will someone tell me the reasoning behind this English title for the book? Think of the negative connotations. The German title was Die Mittagsfrau. What an English corruption of the original title!] 

So what is my point, exactly? I wish the time would come when we can publish novels about Germany and central Europe that reflect their contemporary society and history. Of course, all societies and cultures are forever affected by their histories, but to play with a tongue-in-cheek metaphor, does every  U.S. novel about Germany have to have a swastika on the cover?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Book to Sweep Me Away from Back Pain

Well, let's face it, from time to time we need a book of the sort that provides extreme distraction from pain of one sort or another. It's amazing how just the right book can do that.

I do stretches, exercises, walk, and hike, but nevertheless I've been knocked down by back pain. I finished Brenner and God and realized I need a saga, a book that will engage all of my senses and my imagination.

So I picked up The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by the Polish-born Canadian writer Eva Stachniak, which I still have out from the library. Yes, I've mentioned this title in a previous post--perhaps in August. But only now have I become completely engaged in it. I love it!! Just what I need right now. I hate being off my feet so much, but this book is keeping my thoughts afloat.

Ken asked me, "Is your back injury a political comment, or what?" Enough said.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

German Lit Month: For November 7: Anna Kim's thriller Anatomy of a Night

I'm so fortunate that South-Korean born Anna Kim's novel Anatomy of a Night was available for only $6.49 on the Nook, because it wasn't available in any of my network libraries. I'm excited to read it-- a plague of sorts is afoot in Greenland. I don't want to give anything away. It was the Ladies' Choice for German Literature Month, chosen by participants. But if you have time and interest, please participate! For details, please visit Lizzy's blog in my "Blogs of Substance" list. Anna Kim is a contemporary Austrian novelist who has won the European Prize for Fiction.

I have a personal announcement, which will have a huge impact on my reading in the first five months of 2014. I'm taking a semester off to deal with pressing matters at home and in my family. Great news for my reading life because those winter early morning hours will be devoted to reading. Ah, yes, I'll be seated on my green couch cozy by the gas stove/fireplace.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Planning and Reading Now--November is German Literary Month. Come on Board!

One of my big challenges for this first weekend of October has been to prepare for German Literature Month in November, hosted by Caroline and Lizzy. Please visit their blogs! You'll find the links in my "Blogs of Substance" list.

Yesterday in the late afternoon I was desperate to begin reading a mystery or thriller by a German novelist. I discovered Wolf Haas and downloaded Brenner and God, a mystery novel, onto my Nook.

Pure enjoyment! Original, imaginative, super-funny, and a book I was needing, though I didn't know it. It's relatively short as well. A superb! beginning to all the German novels I hope to read in the coming weeks.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Hundred Summers and The Hurricane of '38

I succumbed to the rave customer reviews for A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, a story about [a] doubly triangulated romance(s) that ends with the winds howling like the end of the world and a Bang! Although I found the beginning chapters a bit predictable and slower-going, from mid-point in the novel until the end, I thought the pacing was excellent, the surprises many, and the last 50-80 pages stellar!

Setting: An exposed coastal setting in Rhode Island; May--September 1938. Yes, for those of you who have family history in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, you've heard about the incredible devastation of "The Hurricane of '38." Family stories abound for me, even though my family weren't present on the southern New England coasts at the time. It was devastating inland as well.

So, if you like a romantic novel with a few sophisticated complexities that elevate it above the Harlequin, and if you like the time period with a historic storm thrown in, this is the book for you. Very inexpensive as an e-book, though it was published this year.

Spoiler Alert! 
I've just got to add a family story that relates to the book AND the current American emphasis on post-hurricane rebuilding on the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in the U.S.

My nana, my father's mother, grew up in the seaport city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, very close to Rhode Island, and a coastal region badly devastated by the hurricane. She did not live there at that time, however. In 1938, the year of the hurricane, she and my grandfather, my father, and my aunt lived in a suburb of Boston, so Nana and the rest of my father's family did not experience the worst brunt of the storm, even if suburban Boston did lose millions of trees.

However, immediately to the west of New Bedford, was the once-bustling summer community of coastal Westport, Massachusetts; in particular, the cottage community that surrounded what is today called Horseneck Beach. In my youth, my family and I would drive to Horseneck for a day of fun in the surf and sun. I always marveled at how incredibly flat the entire region was. There were hills until a point two miles or so from the shore. Only one building stood at that time.

I asked Nana about this, because I knew she and her parents frequented the summer community for a day at the beach. But Nana told me that when she was young in the early 1900s up until the Hurricane of '38, there were dozens and dozens of cottages, little restaurants, a club, and other shops for tourists there. It wasn't the flat wasteland of sand dunes that I knew, but a place with trees, lawns, landscaping, little hills, yet the Hurricane completely leveled the land and swept everything out to sea.
And here's the thing that stunned me then and amazes me now--No one rebuilt. No landowners rebuilt their cottages. I find this incredibly interesting, considering all the ambitious rebuilding that has taken place in coastal New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Even after Hurricane Katrina. I'm not talking about New Orleans here, but the vulnerable, extremely flat, Gulf region that's at sea level or below.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Had Too Much Fun at the Nook E-Book 50% Off Sale

And a good time was had by me. The stars were aligned last evening. I had a Barnes and Noble gift card of $25 AND this weekend Barnes and Noble is offering 50 percent off selected titles of best-selling fiction and nonfiction.

What did I get?? I was stunned, when on  Friday night I discovered that Marisha Pessl's Night Film was available for $6.49. (Do visit the discussion and interview about the novel's unique features!) I wanted a captivating title for the weekend and expected to pay much more for it, but surprise!  In 2006, I read Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics and was awed by her vision, talent, and, for a very young woman, her craft. I loved the book and could not race through it because I kept rereading passages that were so elegantly handled. The entire book struck me that way. Night Film is Pessl's first novel since 2006. I'm not far into it, but by page 20, I was already doing that "rereading passages" thing again because I'm so bowled over by the way she writes.

What else did I purchase in this price-slashing of e-books for the Nook?
The Bat by Jo Nesbo
The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo
B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton--very cheap, but not on the bestseller-slashed price list 
Murder of a Stacked Librarian (A Scumble River Mystery) by Denise Swanson--very cheap- not on the list
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan  
This title may surprise some of you as one of my selections. It's nonfiction and is a historical analysis or reconstruction of the life and times of the real-life Jesus and the years immediately after his death, as best as can be sorted out. I researched the author and reviews of this book thoroughly, quite painstakingly, in fact. It has received excellent reviews for being authoritative and scholarly, although completely within the grasp of the non-academic reader. I like that fact and have started reading it. I will say I've always been interested in the historical aspects of the man--the world he grew up in and the messianic aspects of first-century Palestine. I'll admit my friends find this interest a peculiar fact about me, because I'm an enthusiastic agnostic.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mary Stewart: The Stormy Petrel Fiasco, Future Plans, & Corrections

First off: A correction of yesterday's post! I believed I was on the Mary Stewart page when I ordered The Ivy Tree for the Kindle. I really did. I was there. It gave me permission to order. But! And this big but I will ascribe to user error. Somehow or other I ordered The Ivy Tree, a completely different novel, written by another writer.

So, as of now, I'm doubtful that The Ivy Tree can be ordered for the Kindle. Sorry, readers!

And my plans to read The Stormy Petrel went Poof! as soon as I realized it's the Mary Stewart novel I read most recently, although probably 15 years ago. I remember parts of the novel vividly, especially the heroine's arrival on the Hebridean (sic?) island on the West Coast of Scotland and her early, lonely days there while she waited for her brother to arrive--her solitary communion with the seabirds, the rugged terrain, and the isolation.

My Plans: I intend to purchase a complete paperback set of her novels, most of which are available from Amazon, and I believe from Barnes & Noble.

Please visit Gudrun's Tights for more Mary Stewart discussions! A great week.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mary Stewart Week and Me

Gudrun's Tights is hosting a Mary Stewart Week this week. Darn! I didn't find out about it soon enough to make it as prominent event in my life as I would like it to be. Because it seems to be an annual event, I'll make a note to myself for next year.

Of the many Mary Stewart novels I have voraciously consumed, the only one I didn't like was The Moon Spinners. This may have been due to my earlier viewing of the Walt Disney film starring Hayley Mills. Perhaps I was disappointed because it was not more along the lines of the romance portrayed in the movie. But, to be historically accurate, I was truly bored by the book, which surprised me because it was in stark contrast to my experience reading her other titles.

Nine Coaches Waiting enthralled me beyond reason.

Mom and I went crazy for the three books that were once called The Merlin Trilogy: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment.  The fourth and fifth books, The Wicked Day and The Prince and the Pilgrim, which tagged along afterward, I haven't read. They may have been published at a time when I wasn't paying attention. What were your impressions?

Wildfire at Midnight and Thunder on the Right were just so much fun! If only Stewart had written more books!

I haven't read The Ivy Tree, but I purchased it last night for the Kindle for $2.99.  Stewart titles for the Kindle abound, but very, very few are available for the Nook. Even on Amazon, I had to fiddle around, using various search phrases before I found the Kindle versions of Stewart's books. Don't give up! Keep trying!

Early this week I borrowed The Stormy Petrel from Crandall Library, the large library in Glens Falls, the closest city to us. The only other titles were so unbelievably old and beaten down and covered with dust! I must encourage Crandall to buy the new paperbacks available.

Please share your personal history with Mary Stewart!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

What Fun! Georgia O'Keeffe & Reading A is for Alibi: Grafton in the '80s

Yesterday I managed to make it, at long last, to the final day of an exquisite exhibition of Georgia O'Keeffe's early work--paintings she created while spending the non-frigid seasons in a shanty on Lake George in the southern Adirondacks with Stieglitz, with works dating from around 1918-1926 or so. The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York, went all out for this exhibition, gathering her paintings from many small and large museums from all over the U.S! I was so impressed with the effort, but even more impressed by her Lake George work. Of course, being a nature nut, I loved her paintings of leaves and trees most. They inspire me to joy! Naturally, I bought the exhibition book published by Thames & Hudson. I'm thrilled beyond words with it. Well, you see, I love to paint and draw leaves and trees, and seeing this work collected was just the artistic boost I needed for the autumn season.

By the time we got home, we had eaten dinner, and because Ken had to work, I dug into Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi, which I bought for $2.99 for my Nook. (Please see my previous blog entry for links.) Three hours later, I was still reading. I really like Kinsey, the female private detective, and I admire Grafton's descriptions that allow me to picture every detail in a scene. The 1980s details were lots of fun...Remember teak furniture? And the clothing! Men's and women's hairstyles! Shag rugs! Just the overall culture. I highly recommend this book, and I was swept away. Right now Kinsey and I are in Las Vegas investigating a potential suspect. Can't wait to get back to it. Do check her out if you like no-nonsense heroines and storytelling and FUN.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Are You Reading This Weekend? About Sue Grafton

A Post with lots and lots of questions for you, especially for mystery readers!

Slight Diversion: We reached record high dewpoints on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, it was more humid than we've ever experienced in our eight years here. Ghastly wet steam! So warm and wet that walking out the door was like smashing into an enormous steaming hot washcloth. Also, record-high temps for this time of year. More humid air than at any point all summer. I've been staggering under the weight of it. My brain? Dull, limp, useless!

A vast change is underway as we speak. So I'm hopeful that reading will be possible again.

I heard a fascinating interview with Sue Grafton, in which she talked about her books, her life, and her career--and her reactions to her much-maligned recent comments about the "laziness" of self-publishing today. Actually, although those remarks were taken out of context, the issue remains.
Oh, by the way, she is still mourning the loss of her favorite author, Elmore Leonard.

Grafton is 73 years old now, has a new book W is for Wasted, and hopes to finish the alphabet by the time she is 80, at which time she believes she may retire from writing. I found the interview on National Public Radio's "On Point" program with Tom Ashbrook absorbing. I'm now dying to read one of her novels. After hearing so much from Grafton and her readers about Kinsey, her lead character, I wonder if I should start with A is for Alibi, or should I select another? I don't intend to read the entire series, so if you have a favorite Grafton novel, do please let me know!

Do tell: How is Grafton regarded in countries aside from the U.S. Is she read in the UK and Australia? Ireland? In translation in Europe and elsewhere? OR, is she really too REGIONAL to be read outside of the US?  Dying to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nature Writers

A perfect early autumn/late summer day in the Adirondacks. Sue and I were gushing with superlatives throughout our hike on the eastern slopes of Eleventh Mountain. My nature walks recently have been crammed full of one-of-a-kind plants, trees, and animal happenings and discoveries. Surprising! And so welcome.

I've been closely examining and studying native trees for well over a year, and I'm finally getting to the point where I really know a great deal about the trees in the South-Central Adirondacks. But! I'm always adding new information and discoveries to my reservoir of knowledge.

Sue is a nature lover whose main residence is in the San Francisco Bay area. She and her husband spend three months of the year here in a cozy, quaint old cabin once belonging to her husband's parents. Today she told me about the New England nature writer she's been reading, someone I don't know, which surprises me. I must get a hold of some of Edwin Way Teale's books.  Like many of our wonderful nature writers, he's been dead for several decades, but his work continues to captivate. Can't wait to read him. From his Wikipedia listing, he's authored many fascinating titles. An intriguing life.

My favorite nature writers:
Bernd Heinrich: I own most of his books. My favorites are Winter World and Trees in My Forest. He's a wildlife biologist who was a professor for many years at the University of Vermont in Burlington. As far as I know he still owns a  place in northern Vermont as well as a remote cabin in the wilds of northern Maine. He's still observing and writing. I find his writing fascinating. Although he's in his early 70s now, he has always not let the environment, the harsh climate, or anything get in the way of his nature study. He is the author of many books.

Henry David Thoreau. Well, of course.

Who are your favorite nature writers that observe the environment in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How do you listen to Audible books (or downloads) in your car? That's the question I'm dying to have answered today.

Ever since I started listening to an unabridged library audiobook of A Woman in Charge, a biography of Hillary Clinton by Carl Bernstein, published in 2007, I've been longing to listen to a copy that has not been scratched by other eager, careless library borrowers. Audible has the unabridged version, but how do you listen to Audible in the car? As fate would have it, the unabridged version is no longer available as a regular CD audiobook. Any editorial comments you have on this title are also welcome!

As you can see, I'm beginning to line up my fall traveling reads.

An abridged CD version is available, but I loathe abridged books! Publishers delete all the interesting parts, at least from my point of view.

Please share all of your audiobook habits (and secrets) with me!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Boston Trip and Fall Reading Plans

A Word to the Reader: This post is less about books than it is about my current life situation as it pertains to books.

My Boston trip had some wonderful highs and a few unexpected lows. The good news is that my mother and I had a spectacularly beautiful day on Saturday to drive to our old haunts and to the cemeteries where our loved ones are buried. We had a splendid lunch at Amarin, the best Thai restaurant in the Greater Boston area. Mom loved her meal and I was so pleased she liked it as much as she did. Sunday we had a wonderful heart-to-heart talk about some family issues, the best we've had in I don't know how long. The low points for me involved the realization that aspects of her finances that I thought were being managed well are not, and aspects of her health care directives are not being adequately addressed the way I thought they were. So I need to make many, many more trips to Boston this fall.

And all of this leads to more READING. Five hours to and five hours fro.

Listening to audiobooks while driving is pure survival. This weekend I listened to Maeve Binchy's A Week in Winter, and I'm not done yet, though I am enjoying it.

FYI: I don't know about you, but I can't concentrate on literary fiction while driving. I can do biographies, memoirs, and light fiction. Anything else is begging for an accident.

And to rest and relieve stress, I need to force myself to sit down on my favorite couch and read regularly. The problem is this: If I'm busy, I feel I need to work and take care of business, but this fall I'm going to need to do everything I can to make stress relief my #1 priority.

I'm really enjoying The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. I need to take my own advice and give myself permission to sit and read in the next week. My classes start Thursday, September 5.

Lots of excellent new books on the horizon! I'll try to keep you informed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

At Summer's End

Late summer is a beautiful time of year and I've always loved it. But just when I'd most like to savor the season, I must rush to finish what I've put off all summer. And on Friday, I take off for Boston to visit my mother and my brother. I'll be staying three nights in my favorite hotel, which I choose because the beds are so comfortable and perfect for READING. Think big, comfy beds that put you up in the clouds!

Although I lived on the outskirts of the city for most of my adult life before moving to the Adirondacks, I find that with each visit to the metropolis, I have more and more trouble tolerating the boom and bustle of city life. Translated, that means the suffocating, incessant traffic and noise. Ouch.

Which books will I bring to comfort me in the jungle?

For over a year I've wanted to read The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by the Polish-born Canadian, Eva Stachniak, which was published in 2011. The book received good reviews, and now that I finally have the novel in my house, I love that it's written in first person perspective. From my brief scan of the entire book, I can see it's laden with atmosphere and setting, with lots of drama throughout. Just the way I like it! I want to drop out of society and come back when I've finished it.

I'll bring my Nook and also try to finish The Husband's Secret. And, knowing me, I'll bring a couple of other titles along.