Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Spooky Halloween Read

I guess my motto should be “Better late than never.” I read the young adult novel In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters, last Halloween. I stayed up until the wee hours to finish it, and it was worth the effort. It had been a Big Library Read selection, and appropriately eerie for the holiday. It takes place during the time of World War I, in 1918. This was also the time of the influenza epidemic in the U.S. Also around this time, many people were into spiritualism–communicating with those who had gone before. Mary Shelley Black is the main character. She is mourning her friend Stephen, who had enlisted and was killed.

We see the events of the story through Mary’s experiences, thoughts, and memories, and there are many twists and turns.

The photo below was taken a couple of years ago. There’s a Halloween tradition around here that businesses paint their windows for the holiday. Some of the local school kids participate.  This one was a favorite–appearing in Mad Fox Brewery’s window.

 

Great Mad Pumpkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Fiction, historical fiction, Mystery, Uncategorized, World War I

Born Standing Up–A Hilarious and Heartfelt Memoir from Steve Martin

I like Steve Martin a lot better now than when I first started to hear about him in the late 1970s. I loathed “I’m a wild and crazy guy,” “King Tut,” “EXCUUUUSE ME!!!” and other well-known lines. I know that Gern Blanston was a character he made up, but I have no visuals to go along with the name. I still can’t stand SNL. And I remember being really annoyed with a guy named Steve in seventh grade who could imitate Steve Martin to a T. I just wanted him to shut up.

Reading Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life for one of my book groups was a joy and an education for me about what it is like to be a comic and develop an act, to perform, and to do a lot of creative things in one’s career. I feel as though I understand Steve Martin better after reading it. It’s an excellent memoir (written in 2007), and he’s an amazing writer.

This book led me to his films L.A. Story and Three Amigos! I was intrigued by the former because he said he was inspired by the Bothy Band’s “Maid of Coolmore” as he wrote it. His roadie would often play “sad Irish songs for the sad, lonely road.” I love Celtic music. Not all of it is sad or plum-pitiful, but there are times when you should just avoid it. Trust me.

Now that I’ve seen L.A. Story (very worth seeing again) and know the lyrics of the song, the connection is clear. Enjoy!

From sweet Londonderry to the fair London Town
There is no other like her anywhere to be found
Where the children are smiling and playing around the shore
And the joybells are ringing for the maid of Coolmore

The first time that I met her she passed me by
The next time that I met her she bade me goodbye
But the last time that I met her she grieved my heart so
For she sailed down off Ireland away from Coolmore

If I had the power or the strength to arise
I would blow the wind back here for to turn the blue skies
I would blow the wind back here to make the salt sea to rise
On the day that my love sailed away from Coolmore

I also grew to understand the method behind Steve Martin’s comedy madness. In college, he was enamored with the poetry of E.E. Cummings. A line from one of his lectures stayed with Martin because of the reference to comedy. When asked why he became a poet, Cummings replied, “Like the burlesque comedian, I am  abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.” It took him ten years to work out, but I now understand some of his routines, including the impromptu ribbing (Mr. CLEANPANTS!!) he gave his friend Larry the doorman as he led his audience out into the lobby. Martin has great respect for Johnny Carson–as a person and a professional comic.

My interest in art grew by a few more artists and photographers while reading this book, but I do not share most of his favorites. Steve Martin is a serious art collector. Here’s a related article about the Diane Arbus Disneyland castle photo. Martin worked there as a young boy and as a teenager, and owns a copy of the photo. He also likes Winslow Homer, and I learned who Ed Kienholz is and John Everett Millais.

I enjoyed the understated humor in his writing, and some of the photos made me howl with laughter. I had always been curious about how and why he learned to play the banjo. (His recording, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo, is excellent. In the play he wrote with Edie Brickell, Bright Star, he has at least a couple of opportunities to showcase his skills.)

To learn to play, he would slow down bluegrass records until he learned the notes. One of the recordings he listened to is below, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” It’s a wonder he didn’t drive himself insane in the process. In order to not agonize everyone else in the house, he would practice in his car. Fortunately, a good friend, an accomplished player, helped him out as well.

But what I loved most about the memoir were the parts about his family. His growing-up years were not all that happy at times, but he still has some fond memories. But as he grew up, he distanced himself from them. But through it all, his mother and sister kept tabs on his career, collecting articles and clippings and cheering him on from a distance. His sister came to see his act. One of my favorite lines in the book is a phone call his sister, Melinda, made. “I want to get to know my brother,” she told him. Their connection has continued. Martin was also able to reconcile with his father before his father passed away. Some things you only understand more fully with the passage of time.

To me, Steve Martin is a true Renaissance man. It will be interesting to explore his other work.

 

 

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Filed under Humor, memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Let’s Hear It for Librarians!

I like this recent story about a Washington, DC librarian in the WashingtonPost Magazine. The MLK branch is also very cool. Alas, I have not been there in quite a while.

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Filed under Helping People, Libraries, Love of Reading, Uncategorized

The Lake House–An Edge-of-your-seat Tale of a Cold Case

First of all, don’t mix up Kate Morton’s  2015 novel The Lake House with the Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves movie drama of some years ago. They’re not the same at all. But let me tell you–I couldn’t put the book down! At just over 400 pages, it was well worth the late nights I spent enjoying the ups and downs of the book. And the chapters move fast.

If it’s possible to love a place that you’ve never been to in person, that place, for me at least, is Cornwall, England. The setting alone was enough to attract me. I only learned the story as I began reading. For once, I skipped the complete synopsis.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the plot centers on DC Sophie Sparrow, who is on enforced “holiday” in Cornwall, visiting her grandfather. She has gotten too close to a case she is investigating. At the suggestion of Donald, her partner on the force, she is advised to “take her time.”

At loose ends, she runs every morning with her grandfather’s dogs. On one jaunt, she discovers Loeanneth, a secluded, abandoned estate of the Edevane family. Without knowing exactly why, Sophie believes something horrible happened there. As always, she asks questions, and they lead her to a tragic cold case. Just before a Midsummer party in 1933, eighteen-month-old Theodore Edevane disappears, and is never seen again. Was he murdered? Kidnapped? There’s only been speculation for years.

As she uncovers the facts of the case, Sophie’s search brings her to famous mystery writer A. C. Edevane. Theo is her youngest brother. But she has no desire to dredge up the past. Has Sophie hit another dead end?

As the story unfolds. time shifts between the years of the two world wars and the early twenty-first century. The characters are richly drawn and real, with many sides, There are many surprises. Don’t assume this is an easy one to figure out. Whatever you, do, don’t read ahead!

And if you like this story, you will enjoy her other books.

Visit the author’s website for gorgeous pictures of Cornwall.  Here are some of my favorite free clip art images of the place:

 

Image result for Cornwall England free clip art

 

Image result for Cornwall England free clip art

 

 

Image result for Cornwall England free clip art

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Filed under Fiction, Mystery, Uncategorized, World War I, World War II

Have Book, Will Travel

I used to subscribe to the “Away with Words” blog. I wish the author was still contributing to it. I enjoy travel even though I’m unable to do much in that department, so I read about a lot of different places. I saved this entry for future use, and I thought readers might like it as well.

Away with Words

One of the many joys of travel is that it allows us to break away from our busy schedules and gives us more time to read.  How often have you saved a special book (books, in my case) to read on vacation, on the beach, on the flight?  Reading and travel are a natural go-together.

Author and RVer, Brad Herzog takes the irresistible pairing a step further on his blog You Are Here. In “Great Books, State by State,” Mr. Herzog writes not just about reading on the road, but about “the wonders of reading the right books in the right locales.”

He goes on to list 50 books for 50 states, citing both the obvious (“A River Runs Through It” for Montana, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” for Missouri) and the obscure (“American Pastoral” for New Jersey, “My Sister’s Keeper” for Rhode Island).  Even with…

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Please Don’t Take My eBook Away! A Review of “With Every Breath”

When I got my Nook Simple Touch for Christmas several years ago, I expected to use it as much as I do print and audio materials, including books on CD. It’s worked out exactly that way. Other writers and readers have described an “inability to stop reading” or a feeling of “finally coming up for air.” What I have is a beyond obsessive need to get to the end of a story before the lending period for an eBook is up. Thus has led to many riveting late nights and much frantic reading before the book disappears from the eReader. I can’t help it. I just have to know how it ends. So it was with A Tale of Two Cities (after a lot of years), The Canterbury Papers, Gone Girl, Learning to Swim, and more than a few book bundles. My love for extremely long histories and sagas often do not do well in just one reading, even though I’ve become a faster reader; I’ve had to check out or renew several multiple times.

Anyway, I found myself on the edge of my seat recently while reading With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden. This is historical fiction with a little bit of everything–conflict, gentle humor, romance, medical research history, mystery, and strong characters with a lot of personality who grow and change and learn throughout the story. Although she lives in Orlando, Camden sets at least two of her novels–this one included–in Washington, DC, in the nineteenth century. This is another reason I will read Camden’s work again. I don’t know how much she researched this area during that period, but it certainly sparked my curiosity and imagination about the region where I was born and have lived in most of my life..

The year is 1891. Kate Livingston is working as a Census Bureau statistician when she applies to be the statistician for a tuberculosis research study at a local hospital. She doesn’t realize until the interview that her boss will be none other than her old school rival, Trevor McDonough. Kate of course gets the job, and the story moves quickly after that. Read for yourself to find out more.

So, on the last day of the loan period, I kept my Nook on all day so I wouldn’t lose the book. I used every spare minute to read, which is not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Even so, it was night before I got to the last chapter. Then, my Nook froze, and I lost the chapter. Undaunted, I downloaded it again on Adobe Digital Editions and read the last chapter and epilogue on my computer. Kind of cumbersome. I also was not able to enlarge the text within the program. However, emotional crisis averted, and I finished the story. With Every Breath also got excellent reviews on GoodReads.

Now, on to the next one….

 

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Filed under Christian fiction, Fiction, historical fiction, History, Uncategorized

The Red Balloon

I know this entry isn’t directly literary, but I thought I would include it anyway. I happened to look at the TV listings last night, and noticed that Turner Classic Movies was running the 1956 short film, The Red Balloon, as part of its “31 Days of Oscar.”

I tuned in, very excited, because it has been years since I’ve seen it. I saw it several times in school and always liked it. I loved the story, but I was also intrigued by Paris, France. At the time, I didn’t know anything about its background or many awards.

When I watched it again last night, I thought about how much kids love balloons, how colorful they are, and how, for a time, they are like friends. Those filled with helium, especially, spark the imagination. If I’m outside and I let go, where will it travel to? Balloons are also something to enjoy as much as you can, because most of the time they last only for a short while. To this day, I become overly startled when a balloon pops.

In the film, the balloons give color and brightness to a city that was still faded and shell-shocked from World War II. Knowing now that most of the section of Paris depicted in the film was eventually torn down, the film is a powerful commemoration.

Here is the full, original movie from YouTube. Enjoy!

I also recalled reading a poem as a kid by E.E. Cummings about a balloon man and enjoying the illustrations. I remember wondering why the lines looked funny. Now I know that it’s called “in Just spring.” Here is the author reading the poem, which is really great because I never knew what Cummings sounded like:

Here’s another favorite by him–“i thank You God for most this amazing.”

Most days may in fact not be that remarkable. Feeling gratitude anyway is a wonderful gift to have, and with it you can see the extraordinary.

 

 

 

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Filed under Children's Books, Classics, Film, Hope, Poetry, Uncategorized

A Second Journey with Harold Fry

When I first heard about Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I was curious about it and even checked it out. But I let it go because I thought it might be too sad.  With so many things to do, I let a few months pass. Something wouldn’t let me let go; I’m not sure what led me back to it.

So I tried again, downloading it to my NOOK. One evening, I decided to give it a try, and I couldn’t put it down! Even if I had something else going on that day, the first spare minute I had, I went back to the book until I finished.

The story begins simply enough. Kind and unassuming Harold Fry, 65, of Kingsbridge, England, has been retired from his brewery job for six months. Home life, with his wife Maureen, is very quiet. Too quiet.

One spring morning, Harold receives an unexpected letter from an old friend–his former co-worker,  Queenie Hennessy, whom he hasn’t seen in more than twenty years. She has cancer, and is writing to  say good-bye.

This affects Harold very deeply, and he is moved to tears.. A long time ago,Queenie helped him out, and he never took the time to thank her. Never good with words, he writes a reply, putting his last name in parentheses just in case people have forgotten who he is. He goes for a walk to post the letter.  And keeps right on walking. “Queenie must live,” Harold says. “I won’t let her down.” Before he reaches a mailbox that is farther away, he opens the letter to add a postscript: “Please wait for me.”

 

In Harold’s case, he’s walking from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed, where Queenie’s hospice is. A map is included in the front of the book. Basically, he is walking the entire length of England.

As the story opens, readers see that Harold and Maureen are estranged, and there is some rift between them and their son, David. As the story develops, traders discover more details.

As Harold embarks upon his totally spur-of-the-moment journey, he learns, observes, cheers for, and cares about the quirky people he meets along the way–who may or may not have the greatest of motives. He is looking for faith, hope, and forgiveness. Along the way, he realizes that other people carry unseen burdens too. He also learns that the greatest gift he can give to people is to listen. Ultimately, he sees that it’s better to join life than to shrink away from it. The road gives him a lot of time for reflection. The other characters–and readers–also cheer for him.

Walking, he sees so many things that he forgot about or missed entirely while in a car. I have found the same thing.

Soon I will read the prequel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and Joyce’s additional novel, Perfect. Have a look at the U.S. and British versions of Rachel Joyce’s websites, and enjoy!

 

Happy man walking in countryside

 

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Filed under Fiction, Hope, inspiration, journeys, Marriage and family, Uncategorized

The Snow Queen and Other Tales

The other night I listened to a three-part podcast of The Snow Queen on B.J. Harrison’s The Classic Tales. It’s from three years back, but I’m trying to catch up on my listening, I highly recommend this weekly Friday program. It’s available through iTunes. Harrison tells the original story by Hans Christian Andersen. I grew up with an animated version that is very faithful to the original. It was so good hearing it again after so many years.

I had a collection of Andersen’s fairy tales as a kid. I read and reread my favorites, but some I found downright scary, For years I couldn’t watch the film The Red Shoes because I found the story so creepy. But there are loose similarities between the two. My favorite, though, is The Ugly Duckling.

I’m aware that by now people are sick of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen, the animated movie based on the original story. However, I still enjoy it. My cousin and I watched the video because she was curious. Driving to and from work, she heard the song every day on the radio. Enjoy it, if you still can:

And then my mind wandered to the Brothers Grimm story of Rapunzel. In Disney’s Tangled, I really love the music that accompanies the dance scene. Here it is:

Heck, the whole movie is wonderful!

Old stories are meant to be shared. It’s a nice place to visit, but you son’t live there anymore.

 

 

 

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Filed under Children's Books, Classics, Uncategorized

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, by Maria Grace – Preview & Exclusive Excerpt

Another lovely recommendation from LA at Austenprose.

Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

Regeny Christmas by Maria Grace 2014 x 200Austenesque author Maria Grace has written five Regency-era novels inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, notably the Given Good Principles series and Remember the Past: …only as it gives you pleasure. Writing period accurate novels requires extensive research, so it seems only logical that Maria should turn her hand to nonfiction. Her latest book, A Jane Austen Christmas, focuses on Regency-era holiday traditions. Here is a preview and exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.   

PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description) 

Many Christmas traditions and images of ‘old fashioned’ holidays are based on Victorian celebrations. Going back just a little further, to the beginning of the 19th century, the holiday Jane Austen knew would have looked distinctly odd to modern sensibilities.

How odd? Families rarely decorated Christmas trees. Festivities centered on socializing instead of gift-giving. Festivities focused on adults, with children largely consigned to the nursery.  Holiday events…

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