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!