Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ghost Knight - Cornelia Funke

Another fantasy from Cornelia Funke ... I love her fun and fanciful approach to children's literature. She places her stories in a setting that will lend itself to educating kids without overwhelming them with the minutiae of history or detail. In the Inkheart series, it was all about allusion to and quotes from classic literature. In The Thief Lord, it was the geography of Venice, Italy. In Reckless, it was the vast collections of fairy tales and folklore, that was the stage for the drama of the story. Here in Ghost Knight, readers will have fun learning a bit about Medieval English history as they follow the adventures of Jon Whitcroft and his new friend, Ella Littlejohn, as they enter the haunted world of Salisbury, England and help to squelch an age-old curse that has befallen Jon's ancestors and dragged him into the haunted world of medieval knights and ne'er-do-wells.

This book moves fast and has not got the depth that Funke's Inkheart series has. It will, though, appeal to young boys and any child that is enthralled with a good ghost story.  I am always pleased to see a good solid story that appeals to young boys, as I often feel that their reading interests get short shrift in the kid's literature field. The quality of some of the stuff aimed at boys is ludicrous, at best (Can anyone say Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimp ? ... sorry, if I offend.) Finding a story that has adventure, a bit of 'naughtiness', kids with real feelings, and a bit of history makes my old teacher heart beat a little faster and steadier.

So... keep on writing,Cornelia Funke ! There's room in this world for a few more of your stories !

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Snapshot ... I Could Have Been A Contender!

When my mother first let me step up to the counter and grab hold of a spatula and a set of measuring spoons, I don't think she ever thought I would fall in love with the art of cooking the way that I have. I went to visit her and my Dad at the beginning of the month and when she asked me what I'd been up to, I told her that I was having fun cooking and photographing the foods that we eat for my food blog. She is agog at technology and wondered just what I could make that would be photo-worthy ... not to mention, the wonder she had that people actually like to read all about it. I chuckled and said I didn't think too many people DID give two figs, but it is a fun hobby and what the Heck. Then, I told her that I would do a little showcase of some of the things that I've baked over the past year and show them to her when I next visit. Saturday Snapshot seems the perfect venue for my little show-and-tell for Mom so ...

Look, Ma! I made it all by myself! 

Chocolate Kugelhopf

Apple Pie

Pie a la Mode

German Sandkeks

Pseudo -Napolean Strawberry Rhubarb Stacks

Apple and Pear and Raisin Galette

Whole Wheat Scones

Irish Barm Brack

Asparagus and Vidalia Tart

Rye and Currant Bread

Spinach, Onion and Walnut Quiche


Thanks Mom for teaching me my way around the kitchen! 

This post is shared with Alyce at her weekly photo share. Check out this week's offerings Saturday Snapshot . 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Metacomet's War - David Kerr Chivers

One of the very first organized uprisings of the Natives against the incursion of the British was known as King Philip's War. It took place along the frontiers of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts with skirmishes as far north as the New Hampshire grants and the forests of Maine. Hostilities broke out in the fall of 1675 and continued through 1678. The settlements within the Connecticut River Valley, Blackstone River Valley, and the southeastern Massachusetts ring of settlements that radiated out from Boston and Plymouth were prime targets of aggression. As the war heated up, British attacks on the Narragansett tribe over the border in Rhode Island caused them to join in the conflict. When the Narragansetts allied themselves with the smaller eastern tribes,  a new and ferocious campaign of attacks and massacres began that shook the British settlers to their cores. It was a truly scary time in colonial history and forced a new and more brutal attittude toward the native peoples by the colonial government.

I have always been fascinated by this conflict, as I lived for years in Rehoboth, Massachusetts which was smack dab in the center of the beginnings of the conflict. It was at Swansea, the town right next door to Rehoboth, that there was a horrible raid by the Wampanoags and Nipmucks that destroyed much of the settlement. There are numerous historical markers in the area that speak to events during King Philip's War. Later in my marriage, my husband was doing geneological research and found that one of his ancestors survived the famous Mendon Massacre, which was part of the concentrated efforts by the allied Algonquin tribes to attack all the fringe settlements around Boston in an effort to drive the British back over the seas to their homeland.

I came upon David Kerr Chiver's book while doing a search for information on King Philip's War and the Mendon Massacre, I had recently read The Prospering (see earlier post) and was really curious to see what other historical fiction has been written on this early era in American colonial history. Chiver's response is a re-freshing one, in that the reader sees the conflict from the point of view of Metacomet, the Wampanoag leader and son of famed Massasoit. Through his eyes and in his words, we see the Native's frustration at the constant incursions by the British settlers into native hunting and gathering grounds. The concept of 'owned land' rises as a source of conflict between the native tribes and the British settlers, the imposition of British laws that supercede native rules and tenets bubble over into a pitched battle that the Wampanoag must 'sell' to the other regional tribes of the greater Algonquin nation. Metacomet (King Philip, to the settlers and many of his peers) must be constantly visiting tribal sachems to make his political points and drum up support for a unified effort of resistance to British dominance. It's a fascinating read with the high points of the war's beginnings drawn into short chapters that are alternated with chapter's written to describe Metacomet's efforts and life during that time.

This is a small book and could easily have been expanded upon, but it's a good beginning by Chiver's. I'm sure with more research and a larger 'novelist's eye' a larger story could have been told that brought more characters and more drama to that scary time. I wish there were more historical novelists that would take the torch up and expand on this time of early settlement with a diligent attention to historical detail and a good understanding of the English vernacular when writing dialogue. I'll keep looking, but in the meantime, this was a pretty good read.

If you're interested in primary source historical documentation, here is the account Mary Rowlandson, a captive survivor of the Lancaster Massacre of February 1675. It is extremely powerful to read the actual words of Mary, preserved and stored at CUNY -Staten Island and on-line at the Gutenberg project

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Poetry Jam - Mezquita


We wandered, aimless pilgrims,
Within - a cool respite.
Terracotta footsteps clattered,
Amid hushed whisper echoes.
Stripes of light on tile stripes-
You veered away to stop and lean,
Head thrown back and gazing.
Dust motes floated on sunshine -
Ashes of souls, you said,
Long gone but returning to bask
In this Moorish paradise.
I traced a stripe down your soft cheek,
Gathering the dust of your soul,
Touched the pillar beside you -
Whispered a prayer of thanks.
We wandered, two pilgrim souls,
Out into the citrus scented sunshine.

Notes: My visit to Spain in the spring of 1999 was one of the most spiritually satisfying times of my life ... the melding of Christianity and Islam was evident in Cordoba and became almost mystical when I spent time in La Mezquita. I can still close my eyes and experience the feeling of being in that sacred place. This poem is shared with Peggy and the readers at Poetry Jam. Read what others have written to this week's challenge - Stripes.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mag 156 - Abandon


Let’s all go on a joy ride
Out in the world today!
Let’s all shout and spin our wheels
Throw back some beers and say
To Hell with the rain, to Hell with the mud
To Hell with the wind and spray!
Let’s just throw back our heads
And hoot on this heavensent Spring-like day!

There’ll be many a day for sorrows
Many more for bending to work
There’ll be way too many tomorrows
When duties allow us no shirk
So let’s all go on a joyride
Out in the world today!
Hold onto your hats! Slam the car doors!
Let’s just be on our way!

Notes: Nothing earth shattering here, just the simple joy of a break from winter and the unfettered joy it brings me. I look at this as just another piece of doggerel verse, written quickly and tossed off to the day! It is shared with others who have probably given far more thought to their writing. The image credit and details that Tess has provided for this week's writing prompt can be found at Magpie Tales. See the link here to check out other works!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Snapshot ... Pristine and Fluffy AM

Thoughts As I Took These Pictures This Morning
Woodpile Fluffed
I wish there was a chipmunk peeking out of that tiny little nook between the logs!
Delicate Balance

I wonder how many snowflakes are balanced on the tip of that branch ?


Goldfinches Up High

God! Those birds sound so beautiful chittering up there!

Mimi Down Low

You! are possibly the cutest and most hopeful little creature on Earth!

Link to Alyce's blog, at home with books for more Saturday Snapshot posts! Read up on the rules for participating and then grab your camera or dig in your photo files for a snapshot to share with us!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The American Heiress - Daisy Goodwin

For those caught in the thrall of the PBS series, Downton Abbey, Daisy Goodwin's book will be a fun read.  The American Heiress  is loosely based on the life of real-life heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt. Her strict upbringing by her exacting and strict mother served to prime her for an excellent match with one of the unattached and financially strapped European nobles of the late Victorian era. Daisy Goodwin has taken snippets of Vanderbilt's experience and built a novel around them. In it she tells a bittersweet story of a young heiress who marries for love, but who is sadly confronted with a social world that confounds her with its rules, social back-biting, moral hypocrisies, and sad truths.
Cora Cash, Goodwin's heroine, is a likeable character. She's young, beautiful, rich, head-strong, and full of sassy American confidence when she travels with her conniving mother and lady's maid to Europe, in search of a foreign husband with a title of nobility. She is all too successful and within six months, she has married an English duke, had her whirlwind honeymoon in the Mediterranean, and is ensconced at the family home in the Dorset countryside. She tries to negotiate the world of turn-of-the-century England with a confident and forthright manner, but her marriage is stymied by family secrets and disloyalty from the beginning. Still, she must buck up and make the best of it, fight to make her husband open up to her emotionally, work to maintain an upperhand in her household, and negotiate the intricate social scene of the British nobles in her husband's (and now, her) circle. Her riches, she finds, cannot always solve all her problems or buy happiness.
This book will never sit beside Edith Wharton's books or Henry James' work, but it can be compared to them in that it exposes the social mores and manners of the Gilded Age, details some of the inequities in the class systems of America and England during that time, and gives incredible detail into the lifestyles of the upper and under classes. The running of the country houses and the city mansions of the rich was as intricate as the workings of factories and small national governments, for crying out loud ! Getting a good picture of these workings and then adding the drama of the main players within several of these families and their staff has been the stuff of many a novel and television mini-series. The American Heiress is one more in long list of stories that many a reader will find addicting. It held my interest - a fast and easy page-turner. I half expect Ms Goodwin to write a follow-up of some sort... if she hasn't already.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mag 155 - Valentine Haikus


Valentine Haikus

Bright lights fade to black
As eyes close, lips gently meet
Oh ... embrace the warmth

Gentle nudge of lips
A deeper dip to the soul
Resting in between

A kiss a soft kiss
A meeting of two spirits
One in that moment

S M-L – 2/11/13

 Two Hopes -
I hope I have not bastardized Haiku form by placing three related haiku in stanza format ... I think they can each stand alone, but together form a more complete sensory experience.
My other hope is that everyone has experienced the falling away of the world when languishing in a lover's kiss. The power of an embrace and a soft soulful kiss is one of life’s beautiful pleasures – a moment when everything else drops away and two people become softly cocooned in each other’s spirits. Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers.

This visual writing prompt comes from Tess's weekly writing challenge at The Mag . Hit the link to read what others have been inspired to contribute to the group share.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday Snapshot - Snow Storm!

The Workshop Door
Winter came knocking! This storm was slow to arrive. For all the hype, it never began snowing here until mid-afternoon yesterday and it's still snowing as I post. It's really coming down, coating the driveway and walkways with another layer. When this morning's plowing and shoveling were finished, my husband felt that we'd had about 18 inches over night. We're wondering how much today's snowfall will add to the grand total.
Skeletal Maple

The Potting Shed
I'm sure that many folks will be posting snow storm photos today ... and I'm no different. This is shared with Alyce @ at home with books ... what's happenin' in YOUR world this week?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Arcadia Falls - Carol Goodman

I would place this book squarely in the realm of 'chick lit' - can't see my husband or a guy curling up with it. That being said, I loved it. Carol Goodman writes pretty formulaic plot lines ... an intelligent female professional on a quest to learn something about a topic that she is studying, writing about, researching for career, whatever becomes embroiled in a series of mysterious events that ultimately become dangerous. Her plots have elements of psychological drama within her characters, strong connections to art history, classic literature, mythology, and folklore, archaeology, and architecture. She writes a good descriptive scene that can be heavily atmospheric with mystery, foreshadowing and 'creepiness'. She moves the plot right along in her novels and that's my only criticism. Sometimes her characters have coincidental discoveries that are just too pat ... there is no dilly-dallying around or agonizing to find information that will help them solve mysterious puzzles or gain hidden clues.

Enough on style, though. Arcadia Falls is a good page-turner. Quick plot synopsis - young widow with bratty teen-aged daughter takes a job at a small arts-oriented private boarding school in southern New York state. Her PhD has been side-lined by the financial mess that her husband left when he dropped dead. She must settle the finances and begin working,  hence her English degree affords her a job teaching English to young boarding school students. Her PhD thesis has gotten her the job, as the school was begun as an artist colony by the subjects of her thesis - two female artists of the Arts and Crafts era of American art.

Moving into their 'love nest' on the campus of the school, she begins to look closely at their relationship and the mysterious death of one of the women. Meanwhile, her daughter becomes involved with a circle of students that, on first impression, seem like fine upstanding kids ... but wait.

Like I said ... chick lit, but so satisfying. A nice break from weightier novels, memoirs, and young adult reads that have occupied me of late. Carol Goodman doesn't have to change her formula. I'll always buy her newest story and save it for when I need a fun, easy read. I've had this title on my bookshelf for several months ... this snowy weekend is just the perfect time to read it because it was in just such a snowstorm that one of the characters in this book .....


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stephen King On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft

"Genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly."
                                                              - Amelia Barr, British novelist
I've just finished reading Stephen King's memoir on writing and am still processing all he has to say. So much of the advice he gives is really common sense when I think about it. Alas, that is the problem with advice, though. It's always struck me as an easy and cheap pitch to a child to tell them to "just sit up straight, keep peddling, and don't look down, look where you're going" when helping them to learn bike riding. This is basically what Mr. King tells the would-be writer reading his memoir. Sound advice, but boy, it's a lot harder than it looks ... at first.
Many a child has pitched off the bike to scrape knees and hands just as many a writer crashes up against the hard pavement of creative roadblocks and criticism ... or rejection. It takes a determined soul to stick to the task and that is where King's humor and bravado serve as a wellspring of encouragement. It was interesting to read about his early life and the events that shaped him as a writer. He looks at his life with an honest eye and a sharp sense of self-deprecation. Through that lens, the reader can see some of his stories and novels as small slices of his life. He distills images and events that he has experienced and, with the incredible power of his imagination, unearths his stories from the primordial muck of his unconscious. He is an amazing talent.
Yes, he is a diamond in the rough character with a vernacular that may shock some readers, but when you get past the foul language and rough humor, you find sound ideas and knowledgable theory about the writing process ... a good read. Oh, and the guy has good taste in literature - his reading lists are full of good stuff - just sayin'.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Day After Night - Anita Diamant

When Anita Diamant released The Red Tent, I ate the book up like candy. I loved the intimate look at the life of Dinah and the Jewish women of her large family. I was enthralled at the ancient setting and the sense of history that I felt while reading the book. I felt that same connection when Alice Hoffman gave us The Dovekeepers. This past week I finished Diamant's novel called Day After Night. Again, I have been drawn into the lives of Jewish women - this time they are beginning lives anew in post WWII Palestine. It is a time before the birth of the Jewish state, when Britain is still controlling the region. Displaced Jews are streaming into Palestine on boats, over borders, in trucks, on foot. They are presenting the Brits a political dilemma, as the issue of where to locate the Jews arises in the pre-dominantly Arab region.

The women that dominate the storyline are an amalgam of the different nationalities and stations in life that the European Jewish population represented - Leonie, a beautiful French woman, Shayndel, a Polish Zionist partisan fighter,Tedi, a Dutch woman who was hidden from German occupiers, and Zorah, a concentration camp survivor. These women find themselves interred in a resettlement camp from which they are not free to move until their identities are checked and re-checked, there is a place found for them to settle, the bureaucratic channels of the British government have been satisfied. Their friendship serves to help them heal and move from the worst losses and horrors of their lives to a new life of hope and rebirth in the beginnings of the Israeli state that was forming at the time.

It is a story that lets the reader see just a bit of what it took to move on from the traumatic events that these war survivors suffered. As the story unfolds, we see each one begin the journey back to life. We see them begin to deal with anger at their treatment, sorrow with their losses, guilt about their survival when others they loved were lost in the Holocaust and the fighting, vengeance toward those who stood by and watched their people be slaughtered, fear that the british government might repeat the incarcerations. As the Israeli Zionists befriend them and they learn of the kibbutzim that are growing in Palestine, hope and a sense of purpose rises in each and healing truly begins.

So many of the stories of WWII survivors have been lost, as people moved on and buried the past because the memories were so sad and horrific. I think books that tell a bit of this history are really important for us to read and think about ... it should not be forgotten and the lessons that these stories can teach us should be carefully learned.  I'm glad Anita Diamant told us this story ... it's a story of hope and renewal with a respectful nod to those who came through the worst, persevered and moved on.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pink ... Saturday Snapshot

This very pink bouquet of stargazer lilies and carnations came home to grace the grey cottage this week and it was so profoundly anti-winter that I began to see other bits of pink that we live with ...

like the pink violets that are at the center of the kitchen table...
and the pink-laden graphics of the Valentine's Day-themed catalogues that arrive daily in the mailbox
the tulips within the hallway wallpaper border
a favorite hymn that came to sit on the piano after church one Sunday
a kitschy kitty kitchen tile that reminds me of one of our long gone cats, Molly the Bandit Cat
the reflection of the Oriental rug in the television screen
and finally the floral pinks in the standing card table that my mother gave me years ago.
It seems that February is a good time to think about the pinks that are so absent in the outdoor world. Right now, it's all greys and browns around our house. Dwelling on warmer colors is a cheerful diversion. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
This post is shared with Alyce @ athomewithbooks and her weekly Saturday Snapshot photo share ... do pop over and see what others have posted today!