In the High Peaks

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Oh, Gosh! Can't Find Any Good Reads To Be Published in January 2021--Have You?

 Happy New Year!! I think I'm going to have to go deep-diving into my personal library stacks to find reading for January. I have scoured all the new books coming out and none of them have the slightest appeal. I'm wondering: What are you thinking, and what are you planning for January 2021? Have you discovered books of interest to be published in January and February? I would simply love to know if you have.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Wishing You a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in Books!

Thinking of you, everyone, out there this Christmas Eve. I'm hoping that all of you are celebrating with loved ones, in whatever ways you can during this time.

We are very well here, though we're having torrential rains on top of more than a foot of snow that fell about five days ago. We'll be fine here, despite the deluge, but other areas of our region that received much more snow face severe flooding in the next 24 hours. It's been a strange late fall--early winter season so far. Severe cold followed by unusual warmth, then back in the deep freeze, and warm again, like a see-saw.

I'm in the midst of my customary December lull (read: FUNK), and hope to be back up to speed after New Year's Day.

I'm currently trying very, very hard to read The Mirror and The Light , the third and final volume about Thomas Cromwell during King Henry VIII's reign, by Hilary Mantel. I'm reading it in hardcover, and I must say the publisher has made the book very difficult to read. The paper of the pages is a poor newsprint quality, and each page is lighter  and more flimsy than newsprint, and a dull beige in color. The print itself is a light gray and does not stand out on the page. The font is tiny, with very little leading between the lines. So I tried to hang tough but struggled for two hours today to read only 38 pages of a 757-page book. And what has made this novel even more difficult--there are dozens and dozens more characters, although fortunately there is a five-page list of who they all are at the beginning of the novel. I made it fine through the first two novels in the series, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. But I was unprepared to be so challenged.  I know some of you have read this--so I will hold on. Frankly, I need MORE LIGHT to read. Perhaps I should have waited for summer light to read this. 

Now WHY COMPLAIN on Christmas Eve, really? Especially when I've read so many wonderful books this past year, and particularly this past fall.  I just finished John le Carre's final novel Agents Running in the Field, and loved it. I thrilled to Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, Monogamy by Sue Miller, and most compelling of all, the incomparable memoir Notes on a Silencing by Lacey Crawford.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Oh, Gosh...The Passing of John le Carré

 Ken often listens to the news after I head off to bed. Last night (Sunday) I came back downstairs to get a glass of water and was stunned by the headline banner on the television: "John le Carré, Dead at 89."  I was shocked and ever so saddened. Because le Carré, David John Moore Cornwell, has been so intensely productive in his eighties, even in his very late eighties, publishing two books within the past 4 years, I was hoping he would at least live on into his nineties. He would be around, I thought, and even if not writing, then just generally enriching our universe.

John le Carré,'s works are so monumental: I was thrilled this morning that The New York Times gave him such a lengthy, substantive obituary. It went on and on, and there was so much there to contemplate, so many nuances. (Even if you're not a subscriber, do search Google or your alternative for this obit. So well done, so many bits and pieces to savor.) 

Earlier this December, there came news of the death of the American novelist, Alison Lurie. Her novels spoke to me--even though she was closer to my mother's age than to mine, she understood the travails of intellectual women and the hard road of their romances, and of their lives. Sigh. A cut above the rest! Do look her up. Have you read any of her novels?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

As the Year Winds Down: A Regret and A Move Forward with Great Books

I've missed all of you since I haven't been posting regularly. I hope, indeed I do sincerely hope I'll be able to resume my customary posting. I have been so exhausted and overwhelmed by everything that has transpired in 2020, though particularly the events of the past few months. And as December and darkness came down the calendar, so, too, my initiative to blog about the loads and loads of books I've been reading has plummeted. Yet I have lots to report, if only. In other words, my interest and time spent reading has only increased, yet my reporting has been what has suffered.

As for this year, we thank goodness for Sandy, our effervescent canine companion. She has seen us through, with her exuberance, and frankly, her zany (!) yet lovable behavior. I don't know what we would have done without her to force us to take long, long hikes both in the morning and afternoons. Praise DOG!

Right now I'm enjoying Ken Follett's The Evening and the Day, his new historical that is touted as the prequel to The Pillars of the Earth, the book that won Follett the greatest accolades of his career. This one is set in the late 10th and early 11th century, at a time when the Vikings are still invading England. How the Vikings dream on and on of taking over the West of England, yet they have not been able to do so.  The principal characters are all English and, in one case, Norman French. The Evening and the Day takes place in the West of England and immediately wrapped me up in the doings of an entire community. Although this novel has not received the praise of Follet's The Pillars of the Earth, it is a fascinating, compelling read. Yes, it is 900 pages, but it is a quick read! I heartily recommend it. I purchased the hardcover, and I applaud the publisher for providing a most readable font for reading, and lots of leading between the lines, which makes the reading go faster. 

This year I have not devoted the month of December to Christmas-themed titles as I have in years past, largely because I have considered the offerings in 2020 to be rather poor.  I am finding that Anne Perry's A Christmas Resolution (2020) to be an exception. I have borrowed this from the New York Public Library, and have been totally wrapped up in this tale of mystery set in a suburb of London in 1872. Another very quick read, by the way. 

I will try to post more very soon about my best reading of this year, all of which happened since the end of summer.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Turncoat by Siegfried Lenz--German Literature Month

I read The Turncoat for Caroline's (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) German Literature Month/Literature and War Readalong for this last week of November, which is Lizzy Siddal's and Caroline's sponsored German Literature Month. (See Sidebars for Links, please).

The Turncoat fascinated me for many reasons. Siegfried Lenz, who had been in the German Navy and  served time as a prisoner of war, wrote this book with the go-ahead of his German publisher. When he finished the novel a couple of years later, his publisher informed him that it could not be published, because now, in 1951, the German public no longer wanted to read about the war. Lenz was told by the editor who had encouraged him just two years previously, "Your book could have been published in 1946, but not now." Of course, in 1946 Lenz had no manuscript because he was still a prisoner of war and had not even approached this publisher. 

The book begins in 1944 with a German infantryman, Walter Proska, who manages to miraculously survive an unsurvivable train explosion, crafted by partisans. When he becomes attached to a nearby German unit, taking shelter in a thrown-together wooden "Fortress," he has a hard time aligning to this motley group of disillusioned and disaffected and crazy, yes, mad dogs of hangers-on that know only that their days are numbered on the Eastern Front.  The absurd actions and speech of these individuals remind me so much of characters in the Americans' Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, though Lenz's book was written many, many years before these war novels. 

The "turncoat" element of the novel comes near the end of the novel, when Proska, after the death of his closest comrade, defects. He joins the partisans first, and then, after the war, becomes part of the Soviet bureaucracy, where he tries stubbornly to deny that his office co-workers are not disappearing daily. Proska, or the reader, realizes that as much as he was ensnared by the Nazi (Wehrmacht) command, he is entrapped by the Soviets. Freedom never existed, not for one moment.


Friday, November 13, 2020

Only Half-Trying to Remain "Composed:" On Living with Ignorance and Stupidity

 You all know me by now, at least in part. First of all, I blame our educational system. So unbelievably poor, and I participated in that. Not for my entire career, by any means. I taught sixth grade from 1975-1985. I was a writer and editor of American history from 1986-2008, and during that time I didn't feel I did anything that brought THIS MAN ADHERING TO THE HITLER PLAY BOOK to the fore, quite the contrary. But I can't help but feel culpable for the hordes of people who believe that "TRUMP IS MEIN FUHRER."  Only a person who has meticulously studied 20th-century European History can feel this unendurable pain, as I'm sure many of you, like me, have. Where did we as a country go so wrong that people are ready to discard the hallmarks of our democracy? 

In my county in northern New York, 30 percent voted for Biden and 69 percent for Trump. Many men in my town truly believe that DEMOCRATS are scheming to take away their hunting rifles. Ridiculous, but true. They are, in part, single-issue voters, but many more adore the way Trump flaunts authority, conventions, the laws. They eat it up!  Where are we all, considering this Mess?

Okay, okay, let's all skip along back to the bunker and to books. I'm thoroughly enjoying Julia Spencer-Fleming's 2020 novel, the latest mystery in her Russ Van Alstyne--Claire Fergusson series, Hid from Our Eyes. It's been a seven-year wait for this next installment, because of Spencer-Fleming's husband's illness and death to cancer, and the death of another of her close associates. I HEARTILY recommend this series and this latest installment. I hope Spencer-Fleming has more novels tucked away for us!   

My audio read of Inge's War: A German Woman's Family, Secrets, and Survival under Hitler by Svenja O'Donnell turned out to be one of my top five best reads of the year. But Inge wasn't just any German woman. She was a very, very young East Prussian woman, a teenaged mother, a refugee who barely survived the last year of the war and the early post-war years when there was next to no food available. Heartily recommend! And the parallels to Trump/Hitler are in abundance. 

Tomorrow I'll be beginning to read The Turncoat by Siegfried Lenz, a German novel in translation. Lenz was born in 1926 and this novel delves into the life of a soldier on the Eastern Front, which as has been so clearly explained in Inge's War, was a death sentence for German soldiers, not to mention the atrocities they committed on their way to Stalingrad. 



Friday, November 6, 2020

In the Bunker with Me and My Dog and Books and Knitting

I have definitely decided to start over at  WordPress. The timing is uncertain. First I have to get out of Bunker-Mode to do the changeover, and that may not happen for a while yet, and certainly not while CHAOS looms.

In the meantime, I'll continue to report on my reading (in the bunker). I do emerge from my nest to take long walks. And to do food shopping. But that is it. And, of course, I'm knitting like a fiend. Thinking of Madame DuFarge  in The Tale of Two Cities. She is my idol for the moment. I feel a definite kinship with her.

I'm so glad I decided to read/listen to Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival under Hitler by Svenja O'Donnell.  O'Donnell is a journalist specializing in Russian affairs, frequently stationed in Moscow and Leningrad, and she is Inge's grand-daughter. O'Donnell's father is Irish and  her mother German, yet Svenja grew up in Paris. What makes this book unique: Inge. Svenja's grandmother, was born and raised in East Prussia, a province of Germany bordering the Baltic Sea and surrounded completely by Poland.

In 1944, toward the end of WWII, East Prussia was the first part of Germany invaded by the Russians. And, due to the Yalta Treaty, this land was forfeited to the Soviets. Millions of Germans in East Prussia were forced to migrate to other regions of Germany, but not before at least 2 million of them perished due to starvation, a cruel winter of historic proportions, and Russian revenge. 

What I also have appreciated is how O'Donnell was able to recreate the beauty and culture of East Prussia in the years between the wars, through the reminiscences of her grandmother. Another lost culture to WWII, of which there are so many. This book is unique because  there is not another that reveals the lost culture of East Prussia as this book does.

Another Aspect I Appreciate: O'Donnell makes clear how Germans in East Prussia were afraid to counter Hitler and his edicts.

And I say, Hey! If I'm afraid to put a Biden sign on our driveway, for God's sake, maybe I have an inkling why people were afraid of the terror of the Brown Shirts and the Nazis. I am sorry to say I get it. Lots of Trump followers here are armed men. At least where I live.  That's all we need.  And haven't you noticed?? NO ONE dares put a Biden  political bumper sticker on their car. I remember Ken had an Obama bumper sticker on his truck years ago, and we were corralled by an enraged truck driver local pub. Just sayin 






Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election Day Night and Reading is Comfort Plus!

I retired to my reading comfort nook at an earlier than usual hour today. It seemed the only thing to do on this Election Day. We've had two bouts of snow, the last being last night, and I enjoyed hiking with Sandy on our trails this morning, though she was terribly disappointed that the snow had buried all scents of interest to the canine mind. And I mean very, very disappointed!

In the midst of everything I've been reading Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, and I recommend it highly, even though it is not the masterpiece that I considered American Wife to be. I have 65 pages left out of 417 pages. Still, Rodham is enormously interesting to women of our mutual age and era. DO read it, and I can assure you it will not be a waste of your time. So grateful a friend urged me to read it.

I have finished listening to The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (2007) by Jeffrey Toobin, and it was a revelation. I learned so much, and it has only piqued my interest to read more and more about the COURT and its Supreme Justices. Listened on audio, the narration was magnificent, so I highly recommend it.

Ah! And on the lighter side, where would I be this time of year without a dip into a few Christmas-themed novels? I have been very choosy this year after a few literary disasters last Christmas 2019. However, I am pleased to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying Sarah Morgan's One More for Christmas (2020), particularly considering I couldn't even finish her 2019 offering Christmas Sisters last year. The latter was just so tedious.   

Another Christmas Novel Disaster in 2020: I returned One Charmed Christmas by Sheila Roberts in early October. It was so terribly bad, I could not endure it, though its reviews and description had sounded positive.

I do have loads of other Christmas novels lined up, and I will report immediately if I find a good one.

And, do you know, I have the acclaimed historical novel Hamnet (about Shakespeare's family) by Maggie O'Farrell on loan for 11 more days, but as much as  I'd like to read it at some point, I've got other reads I feel I must get to this year first.  So I'm postponing Hamnet, though I hope to get to it in early 2021. 

My goals: Read The Thursday Murder Club (for sure), The Turncoat by Siegfried Lenz, just recently translated from German into English, and The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott, which is about Boris Pasternak and Olga, who was his inspiration for Lara in Dr. Zhivago. Must read that. (4.2 on Goodreads).

Tomorrow I have to do a HUGE food shopping, but then I just want to retire to my reading nook in these difficult days, though of course I'll be walking and hiking with Sandy (and sometimes Ken).






Saturday, October 24, 2020

My Reading While Coping with Insanity

There is no doubt that I may be going mad.

Well, who isn't these days, with all the craziness going on? I know my brain has been hit hard, and I apologize if I haven't visited your blog recently. I hope to catch up with you soon!

Yesterday I finished Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, published early this year, and which received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Have you read it? I appreciated its originality, most of all. In the first two short chapters, the narrator introduces himself and relates that he once published a blogpost for his bookstore, which described, as he sees it, eight perfect murders in crime fiction. And the tale explodes! (literally) from there. My suggestion to anyone interested in this premise: Download the sample onto your Kindle or Nook or other e-reader. A sample will include the intro and the titles and descriptions of the eight novels in case you wish to read any before you tackle the novel. You don't NEED to do this to enjoy the novel. It's a quick read, by the way. Entertaining, though a bit creepy as more and more unfolds, especially at the end, but I really enjoyed it.  The setting is Boston and environs, and spreads out over New England in WINTER. That part was loads of fun.

I am reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and am nearing the end. It's not a comfort read, but it is so true and real that it makes up for its lack of what we usually think of as "comfort." I do recommend it. A Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way. If you are feeling very, very shaky, then don't cross it off your list, but postpone it. The writing is brilliant.

I just started reading Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld this morning, an imagination of what Hillary Rodham's life might have been like if she had decided not to marry her friend Bill Clinton. It's so good!! I'm really loving it. Sittenfeld makes Hillary Rodham come to life, and so identifiable, at least to me. I'm so glad a friend urged me to read it.

Still listening to The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Lots more to go!



Friday, October 16, 2020

ELEVEN WEEKS to New Year's Day!

I've read more than my usual number of books this year, but I must admit that many were not of high quality. Perhaps I was madly chomping on junk food in a bunker? Yes, most assuredly so!

By the way, I've made a very cozy bunker. It's in my bedroom and has a beautiful view of trees and sky. I feel safe from the outer world up there. Before 2 pm, I do all my housework and loads of dog walking, and then I traipse upstairs with Sandy and the safety and calm of my comfy bedroom, where I read and read, followed by knitting to audiobooks.

After reading the Gothic HORROR novel Mexican Gothic (over  the top),  I've realized I'm dying for substantial meat and potatoes fare--high-quality fiction and nonfiction. And it's whetted my appetite for more.  Gosh--I didn't know Mexican Gothic was Gothic HORROR! Who knew? No review told me, thank you very much.

So what am I reading? I'm at the very end of a wondrous book by the noted Canadian author, Michael Christie, entitled Greenwood. I have truly enjoyed reading it, and because underlying all of its themes are trees and forests, and the history of trees and forests in Canada, which parallel those in the U.S., I've loved it especially. It's a sprawling epic, 500 pages, beginning in the year 2038 and reaching back in segments to the year 1908, then  catapulting forward again through the years to 2038. Different! Incredibly interesting. Highly original.

Listening while knitting: I happen to be knitting a very complex cable pattern to make a sweater vest that accentuates the shoulders, a style I selected especially because I have small shoulders. But while doing this complex craft, I decided I must listen to Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, published in 2007. I also managed to purchase the e-book as well, so I can go back and "re-read" sections that described court cases or incidents that are difficult to fully comprehend while listening to audio. This book explains so much of the background behind the Court today. I would like to learn more. Highly recommended.

Next Up: I'm definitely going to read Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld next. And, a mystery alongside it. Not sure which mystery I'll pick at this moment, but I'll keep you posted.

I TRULY REGRET that Blogger has made it IMPOSSIBLE to offer links. I do hope that if you're  you will follow via Google whatever name or link you'd like  to follow.



Monday, October 12, 2020

Four New Books in the Mail Today!

I so enjoyed my hardcover purchases in September (Monogamy by Sue Miller, The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves), that I bought another hardcover bunch, which arrived today.

My dear friend from Boston and her husband, who first introduced Ken and me to the Adirondacks, came to vacation in the area last week. She is a journalist, and more to the point of this discussion, was a former Boston Globe Book Review contributor of many years. Jan and I always  figure out a way to share books. When we met last week, she highly recommended Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, which I believe was published earlier this year. We  sat in the sun and discussed how much we both were surprised by and loved Sittenfeld's American Wife. She urged me to read Rodham, which is a novel about Hillary Rodham's life, as if she had never married Bill Clinton. I will read it soon, though I am in the midst of a chunkster at the moment.

Other books in today's UPS haul: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, recently published, and which is reputed  to be lots of fun and well done. "In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly discuss unsolved crimes." And soon become knee-deep involved in one.

Then the recently translated German post WWII novel about warfare on the Eastern Front The Turncoat by Siegfried Lenz. Lenz was born in East Prussia in 1926, a land that became part of Poland after WWII. He was a deserter from the Wehrmacht in WWII. Lenz has won numerous prizes in Germany. This was published in Germany in 2016, and was just published in the U.S. this month.

My last book was an impulse purchase: Love in the Blitz: The Long-Lost Letters of a Brilliant Young Woman to Her Beloved on the Front by Eileen Alexander. I would so love to say more but Blogger is giving me fits.  I should stop complaining and do something about this blogging situation.



Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Just a Few Words

It is extremely clear that Google does not want Blogger to continue. It is clear that this platform is very primitive. It's not user-friendly, and they rolled out this monstrosity of a platform with no guidance available. So I will be ditching it. Not today.

On another note, I LOVED my trip to Barnes & Noble in Saratoga Springs. Yes, 50+ miles away, but worth it. My first bookstore visit since November 2019. There is a great market nearby, so it makes the trip worth it. I enjoyed browsing around, but what I bought, actually, were a number of magazines, rather than books. So nice! 

In Reading: I simply loved The Darkest Evening by Anne Cleeves, the 9th Vera Stanhope mystery. I thrilled to it. It was exactly what I wanted to read. Ken is loving it now.

I am nearing the end of Monogamy by Sue Miller, published in early September. Extraordinary writing, and of all the books I've read of hers, this one cuts closest to the flesh. Extremely nuanced family relationships, equally nuanced dialogue and internal dialogue.  If I had read a review, I never would have read it. BUT I am so glad that I picked it up, not knowing what was to follow, and being surprised over and over again. So good to have a novel from Miller--she is at least a decade older than I, so I'm not sure how many novels we'll see from her in the future.

Also reading Mexican Gothic--marvelously gothic, creepy, and edgy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Books in the Mail--the Actual Mail--Today

Just a word...the new Blogger is threatening  to undermine this platform in every way imaginable.
But! While I still HAVE a viable old platform, I will announce that two new books arrived in the mail today.
First of all is Monogamy: A Novel by Sue Miller, which was published in early September. I have loved all of Sue Miller's novels. While I Was Gone was probably one of her most well-known novels, and I loved and admired it. So much depth!  I will have to dig back to name the other novel she wrote since that title that I also liked very much. I also loved her novel The Senator's Wife, which was also top-notch. I listened to that as an audio, and I simply loved it, but at that time  I was not as finely tuned a listener, so I don't remember it well.

The other novel that arrived, and which I'm looking forward to reading, is The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves (the latest Vera Stanhope mystery).  Think murder mystery. Think BLIZZARD. Think Northumberland, northernmost England. Think perfect for me. This has had excellent reviews, not to mention several starred  reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Can't wait to read it.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Reading So Many Books!

Tonight I'm being forced to use yet another version of the NEW Blogger. Please bear with me. Yes, I'm in the midst of quite a number of new books, a dizzying number at this point.

First of all, I would like to announce that yes, I am reading Michael Cohen's memoir Disloyal, about his personal history and how he got sucked into Trump's paralytic orbit. I'm only 20 percent in, but Cohen's experience makes clear how people, with certain unfulfilled needs and pathological personality traits, become joined at the hip with people who appear to wield power and who employ a bullying strategy to enroll followers who may feel weak, yet want to feel powerful. This is the crux. Michael  Cohen admits that he worked doggedly for Trump for years before he was paid a cent. He just wanted to be in Trump's power orbit. It's mind-boggling, of course, as is every book written by a person close to Trump. Glad to be reading it, but let's face it. Can we trust that Cohen is being entirely truthful?? Given his personality profile, that is an unequivocal NO.

I'm luxuriating in the audio listening version of Elin Hilderbrand's 28 Summers. Wow!! Loving it so much!! These audio productions of her recent novels are of such high quality. I can't bear to see even one of them come to an end. 

Next, I'm listening to a new book published in late August, The New Wilderness by Diane Cook. It is a dystopian novel, and I hope to provide a link to its description very, very soon. It's an unsettling read, as dystopian novels so often are, set in the future.

I'm trying to finish 500 Miles from You by Jenny Colgan. This is definitely not one of my favorites of hers, as I've mentioned before, but I've stuck with it. I MUST list the Jenny Colgan books that are tops on my list. Very soon.

Made another disheartening trip to buy groceries an hour from here yesterday. SIGH. It could have been worse, I suppose. But I'm going further afield next week, to Saratoga Springs, where there  is an excellent market. At least I'll be able to get excellent chicken. And some other meats. And fish.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

September is My Favorite Month

And I love the first half of October equally.
But  we had dreary, dark days for the first three days of September, and limited sun yesterday and today. Oh, we've been out hiking about, but I can't wait for a truly sunny day.
All the bugs have gone away--tra la! Except for the hornets and yellow jackets and spiders, that is.

I have lots of nature plans for September--hiking, studying nature, and then writing. But the mid-late afternoons are reserved for my knitting endeavors and audiobooks. I've been knitting up a storm, and most recently working on a cable pattern that was so complicated, I could only work ten rows in an hour. It's been interesting, for sure, and it composes just one ten-inch square block for a throw I've been working on for quite a while. I can't wait until I gather all the squares, each one of them a different pattern, block them, and then sew them up. That will feel good. That will be my winter reading and knitting throw, which I will toss over my hips and legs whenever the reading and knitting mood hits.  I hope that will be often!

I'm listening to 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand, her most recent Nantucket Island novel. It has been wonderful to see Hilderbrand grow in her depth and her handling of complicated, character-driven plots that are a joy to read.  I'm reading Jenny Colgan's new novel 500 Miles from You, which is set in a remote Highland town in Scotland AND in London simultaneously. I'm finding it pleasurable reading, although I would not call this one among my favorites of Colgan. It is good enough, however, that I would not think of abandoning it, as I have other reads this summer.

As summer turns to fall, I do hope our grocery situation improves. It has been barely tolerable all summer, probably because the region has had so many visitors this year. Vacationers have flocked here because we have had very low rates of stupid Covid, but the grocery stores have in no way been able to keep up with demand. I am so sick of going to the store and getting very little in return for the effort. My ONE complaint. How I wish I could go to the store and get even half to three-quarters of what we need!

Do tell how life is going for you in your neck of the woods these days.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Latest Relaxing Reads

Bring on the comfort reads! I cannot bear the news or the ignorant stupidity of this week of Republican lies. They feel no shame. And I'm not talking about Trump. Republicans in general. Yes, let us retreat to all that makes us feel whole.
I desperately feel the need to post something tonight. After loads of heat and humidity, we're being plunged, quickly, deeply, into fall weather. Tomorrow the temperature will not reach 60 degrees until noontime, and a high of 64 degrees after noon. This is a sharp contrast! And I welcome it wholeheartedly. 

I suppose I'll be finishing The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand tomorrow afternoon. I'm so sad to see it end. And I realize that this is essential--I MUST find another comforting read. I have one lined up on audio--and that would be the August-published Royal by Danielle Steel (please don't count her out). But I need more. Where will I land?

I thoroughly enjoyed Rhys Bowen's most recent novel, The Last Mrs. Summers, which was published in early August. Lady Georgiana is at her plucky best, when she is railroaded into a trip to Cornwall by her friend Belinda, to survey Belinda's inheritance of a terribly rickety cottage cliff-side by the sea. Sheer mayhem ensues when this cottage needs so much work it is not habitable!  Both ladies end up in the grand estate of Belinda's childhood chum.  A very relaxing read, despite the murders and mayhem. A jolly good sleuthing.  I should warn you that I am helpless before two things: 1) novels set in Cornwall, and 2) gothicky novels set in creepy English country estates.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling Is Still Going, But Has Moved

Please note that Katrina of Pining for the West has offered to continue to lead "Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times." Katrina has also mentioned that her husband Jack will also be continuing the meme on his blog A Son of the Rock. I hope to continue, too, when I can, and if you're able and willing, do please continue.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I've been very busy this month of August with two writing classes. They have both been wonderful during this time. I have enjoyed the camaraderie of other writers striving to put their words to the page, as well as the instructors, both of whom have been top-notch. I needed something intellectually strenuous this month, as both classes have proven to be. I think it's been good for my lazy brain!

I am still reading. I am loving listening to Elin Hilderbrand's novel The Perfect Couple, which, unlike its title, is actually an incredibly complex murder mystery, set on the island of Nantucket. It is so absorbing, so accomplished. Naturally, I knit like crazy while I listen, and I'm enthralled, absolutely. This has to be among Hilderbrand's best novels, I believe. If you were to read just one of her oeuvre, I would choose this one. Swept away, I am! And so happily. It is such a gift, really, to feel happy reading or listening to a book when there is so much angst threatening to submerge us. This book has lifted me up! Maybe I should write to Hilderbrand to tell her so.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

What to Do about Blogger? A Suggestion!

This evening I tried and tried to find a way to communicate with Blogger.
As I'm sure you all know, communication with them is not encouraged.
However, I did post our problems to this URL:

I strongly encourage you, if you truly want to continue to use Blogger, to report to them the problems you've experienced. I have, in spades.

The PORN spam  I'm receiving each day is increasing exponentially. The other problems with  posting and the like, well--I'm not sure how helpful they will be. BUT, and this is a bit BUT, Blogger can't continue if everyone is  facing problems as we have.

I will continue until  it is impossible. I will definitely let you know if I abandon Blogger for WordPress. So...things are getting worse by the day, and I wish you all well. I am leaving my email address here for those who can figure it out.  If not, please email Katrina at Pining for the West.

Email me at judith   e   harper  at   gmail    All one word. Lower case fine.  Best wishes to you all!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

August Reading upon Us and a Warning

I'm happy to be launching into August for a reason I would rather not say though I will. August is my least favorite month of the year (Don't we all have a month that we wish were another, more favored month?). And I'm about to get through it. Happily, merrily, make the bestest of it, damn it! ;)

This August I'll be continuing to write my way through my Creative Nature Writing class (via the University of Cambridge Continuing Education. Cambridge, England, that is.), which ends the next to last week in August.  And to challenge myself, and hopefully pass the time, I've enrolled in another writing class entitled, "Two Essays, Four Weeks." This online course runs from August 5th through September 2nd, and is offered through Grub Street, a Boston-based writers' collaborative. I took an online class with Grub Street late last fall, and it was excellent, and encouraged me to write like a demon. I find these classes challenging, fun, and a great way to meet and spend time with other people from around the world who enjoy writing. These classes expand my worldview and also help me to more closely examine my own worldview.  Consequently, my posting will be less frequent in August, as has been the case for me since June, I'm sorry to say.

I've dug in to Sharon Kay Penman's Devil's Brood, and I'm 85 pages in, which has taken a bit of time. It has been wonderful that Penman has cleverly interwoven the events and  personages from the first two books with the beginning of this third book.  This book could easily have been and should have been 1,000 pages, but the publisher used a very small font, though, to be helpful, they used a decent amount of leading between the lines, which means it is legible for me. Still, it's dense! This week I haven't been able to gather the time to read it everyday. So I see this one going onward and forward through Labor Day, September 7th, which is fine with me.

While Devil's Brood is ongoing, I'll be reading one easier read at a time, as well as an audiobook, whenever I grab some time to knit in the late afternoons.
Right now my easier read is The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs (July 2020), and I'm finding it exceedingly mediocre. I read on thinking it will improve, but it is overly repetitive about grief for a parent, and that is troublesome because the author repeats the same feelings and facts over and over and over. I'm all for books describing grief about parents, lots of us have been through it, but grief is not static, it moves and changes as time goes along.

The warning: I updated to the new version of Blogger quite some time ago, but tonight, there was no way for me to write a new post. I clicked on "New Post," and when the page appeared, there was no way to do it whatsoever. The page to write a new post did not appear. After trying repeatedly, I reverted to the Old Blogger (only viable til August 24th), just so I could post.  If you are a Blogger user, would you try to see what happens when you hit the "New Post" tab?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Buried in Books as I Haven't Been for Months!

Indeed, my bookish areas are swamped by piles of books. All the books I had on hold at my favorite Crandall Library for the past five months were "let loose", due to Covid-19, last week. I picked them up curbside in a large paper bag.
As sometimes happens, after what seemed like many, many months, only a few of the hoard still interest me.
I am nearly finished reading Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener, which is a memoir by a young woman who worked in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco area, in the hopes of making much more money than she was making working at her job at a literary agency in NYC. Her tale of start-up computer companies (she worked in several) is revelatory, especially considering her work there was so recent. She does not harp on the misogyny in these companies, but it is crystal-clear. I entered a totally foreign universe when I read this memoir. I listened to the first half on Audible, but it was too slow. The second half as I read it in hardcover zooms by and is much more satisfactory. I sometimes mind how slow audio is from a reading perspective.

Next: As some of you may recall, I waited for one month for the Sarah Kay Penman novel, the third in the series, The Devil's Brood to arrive. I can't believe that it actually made it, after four weeks, and in excellent condition. I've started it, but with  Penman's novels, there are so many characters and so much going on, it takes about 50 pages to really settle in, and I'm only 20 pages in so far. Yet I'm fascinated! Nothing like England in the 12th century, I always say! Henry II and his Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and their three sons, the devil's brood, for sure. Fireworks will ensue!! At 770 pages, with tiny print--it will be a work in progress, but one I'm happy to make. Fortunately, there is lots of leading between the lines of tiny print, which helps immensely.

The other book I'm reading now received a starred review from several publications. It's Susan Wiggs's The Lost and Found Bookshop. I was fortunate to borrow this very recently published book as an e-book from the New York Public Library. It's women's fiction, first of all, and it's the story of a woman business executive who abandons  her career to rescue her deceased  mother's bookshop and to take care of her grandfather who has dementia. Sounds grim, but it's not at all. The community she returns to offers lots of possibilities in every area of her life. I'm enjoying it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Warning: The Disastrous State of the Nation

Think very seriously whether you want to read this post. No books are mentioned. And no, I don't consider it a rant. It is a warning cry to all who would listen. Yes, gosh darn it,  I have had terrible difficulty posting regularly here. The state of our nation presently could not be more dismal, could not be more horrific. And people are sitting idly by. Well, perhaps if we were at war with a nation destined to crush us to dust, perhaps that would be worse.

I don't wonder that people in countries throughout the world HATE the U.S. 
There should have been a massive insurrection a long time ago to pressure the removal of our current pseudo-leader who is a sham, a charlatan, a puffed-up self-aggrandizer who is fatally paranoid, a fake, a conniver, and most of all a malevolent person who would do anything at all if it meant he would come out on top. He is, in fact, evil.

My apologies to any of his supporters who have stumbled onto my blog by mistake. It would be best if you left now.
But the stakes are too high now to remain silent. The president is operating a secret police force in several cities, where ununiformed federal officers are kidnapping protestors off the street. These officers wear no identification. They throw people into unmarked cars and take them away. Where???This has been happening in Portland, Oregon for one. This is real news. And little wonder, with this secret police crackdown, the  protests are becoming worse. We are now in the throes of a country exactly like Nazi Germany, like the Soviet Union, like the Russia of today. And it's all thanks to Mr. Fake Man who is a white supremacist and an anti-Semite, and his cronies. Oh, and don't forget the troops he has called out to battle protestors.  Troops armed with U.S. military weapons to shatter protestors. Oh, yes, you're right. Those weapons were intended to only be used by trained military in the event of war. The  police using them have not been trained in their use. And they were never developed with civilian uses in mind. WTF???
I am 67 years old. I remember the race riots of the 1960s. I remember the deaths at Kent State. But nothing then compares with what's happening now.

Okay, so where do BOOKS fit in to this picture? Well, they don't, not really.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Where Have I Been?

We seem to be having a trying summer weather-wise. We have been much, much hotter than normal here in the Northeast, and worst of all from a blogging perspective, we have had frequent violent thunderstorms that have knocked out power and internet on a regular basis. Of course we usually get thunderstorms this time of year, but never daily, and never with the loss of power every time it happens.
Satellite internet is beginning to seem very appealing to me. When I mention it to Ken, he astutely points out that a satellite would have to go out in our back field. Do you want to stomp through four feet of snow to wipe a storm's ice and snow off of it? Uhh, maybe not. Thanks for pointing that out.

Still reading, though I need to get a really good book very soon. I'm waiting for Sharon Kay Penman's The Devil's Brood to arrive. It has been held up, but I can't wait to dig into a Penman tome and be swept away to the 13th  century. The first two books in this series were so good.

My nature writing course, which I'm taking through the University of Cambridge Continuing Education, started this week, and it looks very promising. Despite the heat, Sandy and I have been managing to enjoy nature and the outdoors, though we must take short walks. We take multiple short walks, in fact. After each outing, we return to the house to cool off in air conditioning, then we head out again.

I need to write a blog entry about some of the special books I've read over the past few months. I am just so behind in responding to all of your blog posts. I hope to catch up soon, power permitting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Bookshelf Travelers You May Have Missed. Have You Travelled and Been Missed? Do Tell!

Carl Anderson's Bookshelf Travelling  post this past week transported me deep, deep, deep into Middle Earth with J.R. Tolkien. I had no idea that Tolkien had written so many other books aside from The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Rings. Do visit Carl's shelves. I'm definitely inspired to pursue Tolkien. I think I'm going to explore lots of them. I had no clue there was so much more to enjoy!

And Jack Deighton, Katrina's husband, at The Son of the Rock has several bookshelves loaded with science fiction, but notably Jack's interests often reach well beyond sci-fi. Some historical fiction as well.
What's great is that both guys have beautifully photographed bookshelves. I'm suffering  from crippling envy, really, because I can't seem to get my shelves to photograph well at all. Maybe they could  be  persuaded to offer a tutorial!  Anyway, well worth a long visit!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #14

After a splendidly cool, marvelously exhilarating 6 days last weekend into early this past week, when I was outdoors all day working all day on our trails, studying plants, hiking all over, and enjoying myself to the hilt, we are now paying in spades with temps in the high 80s with  high humidity. A dead stop.  This is the only weather in the year that drives me to despair. And the National Weather Service has announced that the Northeast will have above normal heat all summer including the month of September.
Time for our household to get a grip! Sandy hates the heat, too! Sit-down strikes have occurred. We get her out very, very early in the am and manage to exercise her then, but other than that our over-active Golden has stated firmly, "Let's wait for deep fall, guys." A very, very long way off, Sandy.

I have a heap of newish books on a small table in my bedroom, and am turning now to Peter Swanson's Eight Perfect Murders (link to an interview in BookPage,) published earlier this spring, which has received starred reviews  from Publishers Weekly, and noted reviews  from The New York Times and others. This novel is "a homage to thriller classics." And it's the story of a bookseller in Boston who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started copying his list of fiction's most ingenious murders,  including Agatha Christie's A.B.C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, and Ira Levin's Deathtrap (remember the movie starring Michael Caine?) Sounds like fun to me! Oh, and don't forget Double Indemnity.

Loads of books on this table are new knitting books. Since late last fall I've been collecting books about color knitting, stranded knitting, Fair Isle knitting, and am determined that I will teach myself, via the books (and YouTube) how to get along with knitting multiple-colored yarn in a single knitted row. I was going gangbusters, full steam ahead with this in January and February, actually making a bit of progress, and when the Coronavirus garbage hit, all I wanted to do after my chores and dog hiking was to cuddle up in the afternoons with some pleasure reading.
Now I WANT TO GET BACK ON TRACK. Let's face it, as all of you knitters out there are well aware, stranded knitting is tricky to get under your belt. It's all a matter of PRACTICE. So many books I have now, and they are an inspiration. If you want titles, I will provide. I've become very, very fond of these books, all written by extremely competent crafters.

As an intro to my theme of next week's Bookshelf Travelling, when I will turn to books about books (of which I have many),  I'll briefly mention an astounding book, Avid Reader: A Life (2016) by Robert Gottlieb, who is now 89 years of age, but who was editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, Knopf, and The New Yorker. The following paragraph was lifted from the Wikipedia article about Gottlieb.

Gottlieb has edited novels by John Cheever, Doris Lessing, Chaim Potok, Charles Portis, Salman Rushdie, John Gardner, Len Deighton, John le Carré, Ray Bradbury, Elia Kazan, Margaret Drabble, Michael Crichton, Mordecai Richler and Toni Morrison, and non-fiction books by Bill Clinton, Janet Malcolm, Katharine Graham, Nora Ephron, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Tuchman, Jessica Mitford, Robert Caro, Antonia Fraser, Lauren Bacall, Liv Ullmann, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruno Bettelheim, Carl Schorske, and many others.

An amazing fact about "Bob" Gottlieb's childhood, growing up in Manhattan in the 1930s and 1940s, is that everyone in his family, parents and children, all read books while at home, so much so that there was very, very little interpersonal communication. During meals, everyone read a book. Everyone. No one conversed. After meals everyone read books on their own. On weekends, everyone read individually and totally. Everyone self-absorbed in a book, separate from others in the family.
Well, it came as a complete shock to him as he became an older child and teenager, to discover that other families communicated with each other at length on a daily basis. That his family, indeed, was quite unique. He describes this wonderfully. How fascinating!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #13

One of the bookcases in my bedroom (the very tall oak one) is very well-organized by author, by theme, by genre. The other bookcase, an older painted pine bookcase, is home to loads of books but is a haphazard mish-mash, in some ways, especially the bottom shelf. Today's books are from that shelf. And I found numerous treasures there that I haven't read.

I've been meaning to read C.J. Sansom's Winter in Madrid for at least ten years now. I own a very fine hardcover copy that I picked up at a library book sale. I know lots of you have read Sansom in the past, though I never have.  This one is a standalone and it received high praise everywhere it was published (UK 2007,  US 2008 and elsewhere).  The book begins in September 1940, after the Spanish Civil War is over and as Hitler's Wehrmacht is sweeping its way across Europe.
According to one reviewer, Sansom compellingly mixes elements of several genres: thriller, romance, and historical fiction. The main character Harry Brett has suffered trauma from his experiences at Dunkirk, and is now "a reluctant spy" for the British Secret Service.
Many critics noted that the Madrid setting is as important as a character. That is enough to send me reading this book in the very near future. I'd love to travel to Madrid in Winter 1940. And as the heat returns to our neighborhood later this week, a wintry setting will be luscious. Madrid is at a much higher elevation than most of the major cities in Spain, and has a different climate as a result.

I also discovered that Sansom received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Birmingham (UK). I'm very interested to know that, and will look forward to this one and to others of his. Do you have any C.J. Sansom novels that you would recommend?

I've never read Kathleen Norris's The Virgin of Bennington, which is a memoir of the author's years spent studying at the experimental, artsy, so-called "bohemian" southern Vermont college in the late 1960s. It was there, where she totally did not fit in, that she was inspired to begin her career as a poet and writer. I've always wanted to read it, as another testament of the late 1960s, from a college student's point of view.

Yet it seems like a lifetime ago that I was immersed in Kathleen Norris's best-selling The Cloister Walk. Published in 1996, I was indeed living a completely different life than the one I lead now. It is astounding to think how totally different, so much so that I think it is no wonder that I don't recall much about The Cloister Walk, a memoir, other than  I found her retreat to a contemplative life fascinating and understandable. In this memoir, Norris, a married woman and a Protestant, spent months participating fully in a monastery in Minnesota.  Do any of you remember The Cloister Walk?

Unfortunately, I was going to write about The Letters of Edith Wharton by R.W.B. Lewis and Nancy Lewis (1988), and I was not impressed by the volume. I did a search and it appears that this is the only published edition of Wharton's letters, and part of what bothers me is that it was heavily selective. Evidently, numerous letters exist from her youth and young adulthood, but they are not available in any edition. What a shame! They are supposed to be enormously informative about her development as a writer. Fortunately Wharton did publish an autobiography in 1934, which helps somewhat. In any case, his volume was a huge disappointment to me. Wish I had better news to impart!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Internet Down Since Saturday; Read American Dirt--A Must Read

We had a sharp cold front blast its way through Saturday late afternoon with higher wind gusts than forecast. I didn't think it was bad enough for us to lose power and internet, but we did. It's because we have more trees than anything else. And branches and trees love to topple on power lines. It is one of their favorite sports. 
The only reason I'm mentioning it is that we  have only had internet service returned yesterday, Tuesday. And I always feel badly because this situation makes me disappear from sight, and makes me unable to post comments on everyone's "Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times" posts.
At the time we lost power I was at the absolute climax of The Dry by Jane Harper, a novel I highly recommend to crime and mystery lovers. This one, and actually all of Harper's novels are set in Australia. Although Harper is from the UK, she moved to Melbourne, Australia, about 15-18 years ago. She was (is) a journalist, and The Dry was her debut novel, and has been very highly acclaimed. Do follow the link if you're interested in an interview with Jane Harper about The Dry.  I've been reading it as an ebook borrowed from the New York Public Library, but what I didn't know was that in order to read their ebooks, I need to have a live internet connection. So it was so painful to be at the jaw-breaking, cliff-hanging moment, and TO BE SET ADRIFT! FOR DAYS!  Oh, well. What can you do?
I immediately dug into American Dirt, the runaway bestseller by Jeanine Cummins. More than six months after publication, it's still in the top 5 of the fiction hardcover bestseller list. It's very fast-moving, but dense--nearly 400 pages, and I've been reading 100 pages a day, which is quite a lot, but it is so riveting, so compelling, that no other activity or task in the house or outdoors can compare.
Jeanine Cummins researched the background for this book for five years. It's the story of a family in Acapulco, upper-middle-class. Lydia owns her own bookstore. Her husband is a prominent journalist. But due to the cartel, Los Jardinistas, which has all but wiped out the tourist business and brought the city to its knees, Lydia finds that she alone must flee with her young son after the cartel slaughters her husband and her entire extended family. (No spoiler here. This occurs in the first few pages.) She must vanish. To save her life and her son's she must disappear herself. Completely. This novel traces her transformation from well-off Mexican citizen to Mexican migrant with no status, fleeing to the north, along with migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, to the United States, with a mere change of clothes and a bit of money. This path is fraught with a multitude of dangers that may end their journey and their lives at any moment.
I finished reading this novel today, Wednesday, and I must say that it is among the most memorable reading experiences of my life. This novel illuminates fathoms more about the migrant experience than you will ever pick up from the progressive news stations.
And most of all, what is so clear is that Mexico as a nation is disintegrating. And so goes Central America, even the supposedly stable Guatemala, and now Costa Rica. And where on Earth has the United States been, what has the U.S. been doing for decades, for decades upon decades, while this decay of governmental responsibility in Mexico and southward has been growing like a metastasized cancer? Then, too, where is our partner Canada? Has it, too, dropped out of North America? Where Mexico goes, I believe, is exactly where we will all go ultimately. A border wall hastens our fall. Much has been written about how the U.S. government and U.S. corporations sanction and do business with the Mexican cartels, as the only way to successfully "make money" to the south. We are in so, so deep.  
I urge every American and Canadian to read this novel. I think I can safely say that you will not regret spending your time on a single page. I believe American Dirt will appeal to readers in every country in the world that has an ongoing refugee and migrant crisis in progress.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times #12

I've been terribly delayed in adding that Jack Deighton, the blogger at "A Son of the Rock," is a sci-fi author and a huge collector of science fiction and fantasy, who participated in our Bookshelf Travelling last week. I'm terribly sorry to have delayed in adding his post to our weekly mix. The photos of his shelves are so crystal-clear for browsing.

Yesterday I turned again to the shelves in our two identical oak bookcases in the living room. As I mentioned before, lots of old books by favorite authors from decades ago rest here.

This week I reminisced about how much Ken loved the work of James Clavell, especially his series of four enormous books that are sometimes called his "Asian Saga:" Tai-Pan, ShogunNoble House, and Gai-Jin that were published from the mid-1960s through the early 1990s. I never read them, but I heard from friends (and Ken, of course) that Clavell's books would keep a reader up all night. Did you read any of these? Ken has always told me I would like them. They're in excellent condition after all these years. Why not?

Until today, I did not know that Clavell, although he became an American citizen sometime in the 1960s, was actually born in Sydney, Australia in 1921.
Early in WWII he was captured by the Japanese and spent the war in Changi, a prison camp in Singapore, in which only one out of fifteen prisoners survived. He lived in England after the war for  a time, writing screenplays primarily.

His prisoner-of-war experiences formed the basis for his first novel, King Rat, which later became a film.  
Most surprising of all was my discovery that Clavell wrote, produced, and directed the enormously popular film of 1967, To Sir, with Love, starring Sidney Poitier. My friends and I saw this one numerous times.
Unfortunately, at the height of his fame as a novelist, Clavell died in 1994, age 73. I was working part-time in a bookstore at the time and we all mourned his passing.

Several years ago I was dying to read a novel by M.M. Kaye. I had never read one, and several bloggers were excitedly reading her books, and I wanted to join in. I knew I had a hardcover copy of Death in Kashmir on the living room bookshelves. (This is the first novel published of the "Death In" series.)  But do you know I searched and searched, and even though I knew what the cover looked like (black with lavender lettering), I failed to find it. Yet today--there it was sitting there. How did I miss it? So it seems that now I must read it. I have no clue whether it's a good one, it was one I picked up at a library book sale, so maybe FINALLY, I'll give it.  a go. What are your thoughts about M.M. Kaye?  Do you know her children's book The Ordinary Princess?
Re: The Link Above: A bio with a very long list of her published books. She certainly lived a long life: 1908-2004.

My final book is one I didn't even know I had.  It's The Reserve by Russell Banks, and I'm sure I picked it up because it's a novel set in the Adirondacks in the late 1930s. Its setting is a remote, isolated enclave on a large lake. From what I can tell, I believe the lake in question is likely in the northernmost Saranac Lakes region, quite a ways from where I live. In those days, and in earlier times, very wealthy New York families owned huge stretches of forest and lakes that were very private preserves, and often, interestingly enough, only accessible by boat.  The novel also takes place, but only a bit, really, "over the skies of Spain and in Fascist Germany." It's a mystery of sorts, but Banks is not a mystery author, and he is a big "theme" writer, so I think there is lots else going on.

A lot of Goodreads readers weren't keen on The Reserve, but it may be in part because his novel Cloudsplitter was extremely powerful and a blockbuster, and quite a contrast to The Reserve. Cloudsplitter is an explosive novel about the militant abolitionist John Brown, who was hanged right before the Civil War for attacking the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now is part of West Virginia). He raided the arsenal to get weapons to ignite a slave insurrection. 
In earlier times, Brown and his family farmed for a number of years in a cabin very near what is now the village of Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. (It's an historic site now.) Like lots of people, the Browns were trying to farm in the Adks, because the land was so cheap, but the climate and the poor soil doomed what had started as a farming boom. The Adirondack population in those days was much greater than it is today. In the southwestern part of my town, which covers a huge area, there was an entire farming community mid-19th century. It had a one-room schoolhouse, stores, church, loads of farms, and now it is wilderness, with stone foundations and stone walls to mark where the town once stood. Abandoned. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling Week #11--Great Cookbooks

My favorite cookbooks reside on a shelf on top of one of our kitchen counters. They're there to help me find inspiration and to help me cope with desperation when I'm flummoxed about HOW to cook something.

I started cooking for real when I was nine years old. I was constantly needing to bring baked goods to Girl Scouts, to bake sales, and for visits with friends. So my mother taught me how to make the most incredible butterscotch brownies, a recipe from Woman's Day that I use to this day. Once Mom set me loose in the kitchen, there was no going back. I started cooking dinners for family in high school, baking bread for the family by junior year, and international menus during my vacations from college. I just loved cooking at that time in my life.

In 2007 I purchased Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 vols.) by Julia Child, et al., not long after I read the incomparable memoir Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell, first published in 2005. This book was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it was amazingly inspirational. Julie writes about her exploits with pizzazz, and she is irreverent and flawed and totally loveable. The film was a disaster because the character who played Julie was a perfect little priss with none of the verve of the real Julie Powell.

At the time I purchased the Julia Child cookbooks, we were friends with another Julia Child devotee, who cooked us great French meals. He was a wonderful chef. (Now lives in ski country in Utah). Then I decided I would treat everyone to Coq au Vin a la Julia. I tried it out once on Ken, and it was a mixed success that was excellent preparation to serve it to a dinner party of 6. It was February. While I spent the requisite 3.5 hours making Coq au Vin, the rest of the party went out back into the forest and up the ledges on a long snowshoeing trek.  Note: This is not something I would ever do today. I would not sacrifice a snowshoe trek to be home slaving to make French cuisine.
But the Coq au Vin, to my surprise, turned out better than I could have anticipated, and I think in large part, it had to have been due only to my careful selection of wine for the Vin (Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet--California), and to the Adirondack addition of a scant tablespoon of ADK maple syrup. (Many folks here attest to the magical powers of a wee bit of maple syrup to recipes. Amen!)

Another special cookbook is my copy of Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. My aunt Ruth gave this to me at my bridal shower (it was on my list), and I have made many incredibly, insanely delicious desserts using this cookbook. It is still in print, but there are many, many used copies available. The most incredible tasting brownies ever, yes. And the best chocolate fudge sauce. And so many more wonderful recipes.

I have the 1974 edition of The Joy of Cooking, purchased when I was just starting out on my own as a singleton. And I own the two BIG revisions since that edition. The latest was published in 2019 bythe originals Irma S Rombauer, her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker, and Marion's sons Ethan Becker and John Becker and Megan Scott, John's wife. It is so incredibly well done. Loads of vegetarian recipes for those interested, loads of international recipes, and a huge section discussing all the ways to cook each variety of vegetable, each cut of meat, etc. I value and highly recommend  these volumes--they are incomparable kitchen resource books and reference books, and each weighs in with pages in the low 1000s.

I also own The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl, which is a a huge compendium of recipes from Gourmet Magazine over the years. It is loads of fun for a browse. And I do get ideas from it.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling Delayed--Big Storms, No Internet

It's Saturday evening here, and we've just got back our internet, which we lost Friday mid-afternoon. The worst storms went just south of here--a super cold front. We did not experience the high wind damage at all, fortunately. I hope to get my post up very soon.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Heat Wave Rising This Week and a Mad Plunge into Books!

How can it be? Bitter cold and snow on Saturday, May 9th and Mother's Day, followed by a week of very cool temps and cold nights. Then a resplendent warming with everything blooming all at once, and, in the past 3 days, we very suddenly, almost overnight, now have total shade from deciduous trees, and tomorrow a damned heat wave, with temps in the high 80s F. until this coming Saturday.

I always like to plan in advance how I'll survive a heat wave. As lots of you know, I'm a winter thriver. So I need plans.
And I'll survive by reading first and foremost, of course.

I mentioned this winter that I vowed I'd stack in a thriller for the next heat wave--I didn't think it would be in May, but the thriller I vowed I'd read I have now borrowed from the New York Public Library as an ebook. It's Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman, published in June 2018.  I read Steadman's Dear Mr. Nobody in February this year, just after it was published. I thought it was a very good thriller, though maybe not stellar, but still very good.
Other bloggers and readers have indicated that Something in the Water is an even more intense thriller than Dear Mr. Nobody.
SO! In heat waves and high humidity, I go for thrillers and TOTAL DIVERSION wherever I can find them.  And I must say that during this pandemic, I have been tremendously lucky (and blessed) to have had access to so many great e-books via The New York Public Library.

This is a very brief post. I have read some great books in the month of May.  Madeleine L'Engle's And Both Were Young was a book that spoke directly to my heart. I hated for it to end. It is a treasure, mostly because it is not merely a coming of age story. It encompasses how grief and loss affected so many people directly after WWII. Of course, Phillipa's loss of her mother was due to an automobile accident, but the grief of others in her midst were war-related traumas. It is a resplendent book. Joy and grief, intertwined, all set in the mountains of Switzerland.

And last but not least, I'm going to try to tackle The Mysteries of Udolfo by Ann Radcliffe this summer,  starting June 1st.  It's one of the original Gothic classics,  so as a Gothic fan, I really feel I should mine its  depths. I'm  reading this with Cleo of Classical Carousel.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times #10

First of all, I'd like to mention that we have two additional bloggers joining us.  Do visit Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings, who has a wide selection of science fiction books. Great photos of his bookshelves as well. Wish I could make mine come out that well.
Last week Richard of Tip the Wink joined us as well.
And just one more mention of Staircase Wit, who joined us about two weeks ago.

Today I'm visiting all of my mass-market paperbacks. You know, the smaller than 5" by 7" size that all paperbacks used to be.

Earlier this week I started reading And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle, at the suggestion of Staircase Wit. (It's excellent, by the way.) I had the paperback on the top shelf of a very long (wide) bookcase in my office, which is stuffed with mass-market paperbacks. The newer, trade paperbacks are too tall to fit on this shelf, so I actually have two rows of mass-market paperbacks, a long shelf of them in the back of the shelf, and a long row in the front. From time to time, I switch those in the back with the ones in the front.

Lots of the paperbacks are children's books, some mystery, some romantic suspense, and a few classics. One of my favorites is Lois Lowry's YA Newbery Award Winner, The Giver, which is science fiction, sometimes labelled dystopian fiction. It is one of the best of the Newbery winners, to my mind, and adults love to discuss it as much as young people.

Another of my favorites of all time is Jill Paton Walsh's Fireweed, about two young teens, a boy and a girl, who are thrown together when they become separated from their families during the time of the Blitz in London, and who find a way to support each other and become family to each other during their time of homelessness. Each of them is psychically wounded, for different reasons. Every time I reread this incredible book I am struck full force by its power. Maybe it's just me, because I once led a book group for "Adults Who Love to Read YA," and when we agreed to read this one, a number of people couldn't relate to it.

I have a couple of books by Robert Cormier, a Massachusetts author who became very popular in the U.S. in the 1970s through the 1990s as a YA author. As he explained many times at conferences and in interviews, he didn't think of himself as writer for young adults. He didn't target his ideas and plots and characters for that age group. He always felt he was writing for adults. His most widely read book is The Chocolate War, and was the one most widely taught in schools. I think one of his most brilliant books is I Am the Cheese, which took me several tries before I could read it through because it would scare me so. I will tell you right off. I am rarely frightened by a book. And, no, this title is not horror, not at all. Its premise deals with the subject of mind control, but there's an unreliable narrator, which messes with the reader's head.  Very, very compelling!! Very, very short. After the First Death is an extraordinarily prescient book about domestic terrorism versus the individual, written decades before people used that term.

As I've mentioned before, when I was a young teen, I enjoyed some of the books by the Scottish writer A.J. Cronin. (Writer for adults). I so loved the film The Green Years that after I'd seen it for the third time, my mother told me it was originally a book. I bought a copy and devoured it. It gave me answers to some of the questions I had viewing the film. Within a month, I also read The Citadel, which I loved equally as I discovered how gripping adult fiction could be. Cronin's portrayal of the dire circumstances of the Welsh villagers he treated in the 1930s before the UK's National Health  program is sharply depicted. I fell in love with the main character, who tried desperately to do all he could for his patients. Fascinating characters.  Photo of Cronin below.

During the same year, I had a similar experience after viewing David Lean's film Dr. Zhivago. That film was a life-changer in so many ways. Two months later, I bought a mass-market paperback copy and spent a good part of the summer reading it. I read it on hot summer afternoons lying on the beach at the lake near my home, and the copy sits on this shelf today, with the wavy pages caused by all the water I dripped onto it after each swimming interlude. I have two other copies of Dr. Zhivago, but this one I kept for the memory. I loved how the book added so much more information about all the characters that was not included in the film.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times #9: NATURE!

Note:  This Post Is Not Complete--I Will Add Tomorrow.
At home we've been madly dashing about to accomplish all manner of outdoor tasks before the black fly swarms start devouring us. In the midst of this over-exuberance, I overdid a bit, and that's why I am so impossibly late with my post this week.

I need to announce two things:
We  have a new blogger (or two) joining our Bookshelf Adventure Travel. Contributing for the past two weeks is Staircase Wit (also listed in the sidebar). Welcome! 

This Week: Nature Writing
I have just recently recovered from my phobia of ticks. As you may know, ticks in the northeastern U.S. cause a multiple of dreadful diseases. Multiple (at least five) horrible diseases, and not only Lyme Disease.
So, I follow the tick-preventative protocol and have just recently ventured forth after avoiding the woods for a couple of years. In my total bliss of interacting with nature once again, I've found I'm drawn close to my many bookshelves replete with nature books. I own lots of birding books as most birders do, because each birding book offers a unique view and perspective and features for identifying birds.
I own lots of wildflower identification books, and plant identification books, and loads of tree identification books, including one entitled Bark, that is about identifying trees solely from their bark. (Really useful in the winter.)
Of course, the nonfiction nature books relating to identification pertain solely to the Northeastern U.S., and are not of much interest to people residing in other areas of the country and the world. I own books with titles like The Eastern Forest, Eastern Butterflies, Dragonflies, etc.

However, I'm also interested in writing that depicts adventures in nature, memoirs about the same, whether in North America or Europe. There are not enough of these around to match my appetite for them. I loved Cheryl Strayed's Wild, about her trial by fire hiking the grueling, epic, entire Pacific Crest Trail solo. This is, I think, great adventure reading no matter where you live on the planet. There's Bill Bryson's book about hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the recent book Epic Solitude by Katherine Keith, set mostly in Alaska, though she, too, like Strayed, writes about her experiences hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Keith reveals her experiences living within the Arctic Circle in Alaska, participating in the Iditarod and in other premiere  dog-sled races in northern Canada and Alaska.

Then there are memoirs/books of people's encounters with nature that date back to an earlier era.
Hal Borland is one of my favorite nature writers from the 1950s and 1960s. I own several of his books.

Friday, May 15, 2020

My Post Is Late--But Today a Great Nantucket Crime Novel

Having difficulty posting on Blogger tonight, for some reason. Better now. I think.
Finally some warm, spring-like weather. I've done a great deal of hiking around the past few days and am behind schedule. Big food shop today, and I will ask you while I'm at it, are you experiencing difficult food shortages? It's so hard to shop these days.

My Friday Bookshelf Traveling post is delayed a day this week, but I thought I'd tell you about a Nantucket Island crime novel/murder mystery I'm reading, which is very satisfying. I'm more than halfway through Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews. It's the first in a series of five books. The first four titles were published in the mid-1990s.

After this, Mathews wrote a series a mystery novels about Jane Austen under the name of Stephanie Barron. Of these, I read one, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which I enjoyed a great deal.
Then Mathews' publisher urged her to return to the Nantucket Island series. She agreed, but realized  she would need to revise the first four novels before she could do a fifth. Which she has done.
So the version of Death in the Off-Season I'm reading is the revised 2016 version. And I urge you to try that. 
The young, untried female detective, Merry Folger, is a fascinating character. And the Nantucket Island atmosphere and setting is so spot-on, it makes me ache to return for a lengthy visit, and in the off-season, to boot! Fabulous reading. Yes, I'm just 60 percent in, but I think you'll enjoy the visit to another world.

Monday, May 11, 2020

New Reads: Travels to Nantucket Island and Back in Time

I hope to make this a quick post, which is so hard for me to do.
After I walk the dog for two hours everyday, I retreat to my reading. I can't wait for the total escape. To be honest, I can't deal with the real world, aside from the 30 minutes I spend reading The New York Times very early in the am. After the Sandy trek, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is often on the TV, giving his daily briefing. He has been such a source of comfort, showing what true leadership in a terrible crisis is all about. Kudos!

I just finished a novel that really HIT THE SPOT! It swept me away to Nantucket Island off the south coast  of Massachusetts, an island I have visited three times, the most memorable of which was our September sojourn two years after we married. Loved the trip.
The  novel is Nancy Thayer's Heat Wave. Hard to pinpoint the genre, but I would call this one "women's  fiction." Like Elin Hilderbrand, Nancy Thayer has spent years living on Nantucket, though both women are not natives. Their novels are different as well. I hate to say too, too much about Heat Wave for fear of giving away the plot points that make it such a satisfying, fulfilling read. 
Carly is the mother of two girls and is in her early thirties when her husband Gus, a lawyer, dies of  a heart attack at his law office. With this huge loss, comes enormous changes for Carly and her children.
I simply loved this book. So much to say about grief, friendships, love, family love, grit and  determination, and all set within the incredible 12-months of the year on Nantucket Island, winter horrors and summer bliss. It was so good, partly because it was just what I needed right now, and partly because  it was one of Thayer's better efforts, in my estimation.  Note: I read Thayer's 2019 Let It Snow last December, and it was okay, but just mediocre. Not memorable at all. Yet, in contrast, I will not forget a bit of Heat Wave. It's impossible to forget.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Fri. Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times #8: Part I

Early this afternoon, after a long walk with Sandy, I gravitated toward the two statuesque oak bookcases in the living room. Both are very difficult to access at this point, because the books I've culled for library book sales have ended up in boxes and piles in front of these bookcases. Now this sounds messy, and it is, but the book clutter on the floor doesn't bother anyone (except for me today) because they're behind our couches and sitting area, out of sight. Only the top four shelves are visible from the living area and they lend a comforting air to our evening space.

And then I wonder: When on earth will we be able to safely congregate elbow-to-elbow and cheek-to-jowl at these library book sales once again? Maybe these money-makers for libraries will have to be totally re-configured. But I do fervently hope they don't disappear.

Ken's huge James Michener collection takes up an entire shelf. James Michener has been and will always be Ken's favorite author. Every Christmas, birthday, and Father's Day, I tried to contribute another title to his collection, and he read them all, and lots of them twice.
My Kennedy Family collection, as I mentioned last week, the subject of a future post or two, has its dedicated extensive shelf, and another shelf houses treasured classics from my childhood.
But there's so much more.

The eminent American historian Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century is now gathering dust. Published in 1978, I bought it in a paperback edition in 1979. Yet I never read it, despite my fascination with the subject.  And, as I leaf through it tonight, I can recall that it was entirely due to its unfortunate formatting. Its tiniest, most minuscule type is bad enough, but with next to no leading between the lines, it made for an impossible read. My reading eyesight in my thirties was impeccable because being near-sighted I had an aptitude for conquering tiny print. But I don't know how anyone could have conquered that edition.
It was a stupendous work, a best-selling history, winner of prizes, and I now wonder if I could somehow or other find a readable copy? Will investigate!

For some reason or other it took me so long to write just this little bit, so I will add more tomorrow!