Sunday, December 28, 2014

Speeches That Changed the World - Quercus Publishing

This is a book that one will take in small doses and around which one will do extra reading and video research. Initially, I came to this book to read Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, but found myself drawn to the speeches of Neville Chamberlain, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, FDR, and finally, to Elie Wiesel. Strong words that swayed masses of people, left some shaking their heads, kept millions glued to their radio speakers, brought many to tears. The power of a strong message delivered masterfully is brought home to the reader, as each speech is read and then contemplated further through added research.

I highly recommend this book. It made me stop thinking about the drivel that one hears in the sound bites on nightly news and think about those moments in history when the right person spoke up to change the world, for good or bad. It helped me to put events in perspective and to take the moment of the speech as a jumping off point for further review of some of the most important moments in history.

It is a book that enourages us to 'never forget', to always honor the one who speaks up, to think deeply on man's foibles and his good and bad points, to always think about the message before blindly accepting the messenger, to question and evaluate the message of the speechmaker, and to remember one's own humanity and values - that small voice of conscience- while one listens to another louder and more strident voice.

Choosing the speeches for this latest edition of Speeches That Changed the World must have been an arduous task. My compliments go to Simon Sebag Montefiore and the editorial team at Quercus Publishing. One other thing I applaud is the inclusion of the DVD documentary included with this edition. It is an historical overview of 20th century political events that gives background to the speeches included in the book. It should be looked at only as an overview, though. There is so much on the Internet and in other books of history that can give real depth to the speeches and the men and women who spoke.

A good reference for anyone from middle school on up to use in researching world history and a great book to have on the shelf so that one can review famous speeches when they are referred to in conversation or in media.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - Christmas Sewing Complete!

This little elf was a busy one in the days right before Christmas! By Christmas Eve, the final binding was being sewn onto the quilt that I gifted to my friend who lives next door.

Jenna's favorite color is purple, so I used a pattern from the 'block of the month' challenge that is a routine in my little quilt guild to make her the most randomly purple quilt that I could. I think she liked it!

It will fit on her twin-sized bed and can be a wall hanging down the line or a couch coverlet. It really came out nicely. Merry Christmas, Jenna! Thanks for all your good company and all the love you give to the kitties and Corgis here in the grey cottage!

shared with other photographers at Melinda's photoshare 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Orphan Train - Christina Baker Kline

These days, I seem to be picking novels that have two parallel stories going that build to tell a more complete tale and explore common themes. Christina Baker Kline's novel is one more of that ilk. In it, her modern day protagonist, Molly completes a school oral history project in which she must ask an interviewee questions about their lives and change. What did you choose to take with you? What did you leave behind? What insights did you gain? Deep questions, all.

Molly is a teenager that will be aging out the foster care system at the end of her high school experience. She has been shuttled about from one foster family to the next over the years. She travels light. She guards her emotions and puts on a Goth facade that isolates her from those around her at school. She tries to never get too close to anyone, as she never knows when she'll be pulled from one family and school to be plunked down in another.

Vivian Daly is an elderly retiree, living in her vacation home in nearby Bar Harbor, Maine. Before retiring, she lead a life as a successful department store owner in Minnesota and has decided that her attic must be cleaned out, but can't manage the heavy work it takes to jockey boxes and cartons, filled with nearly a century of life's artifacts and detritus.

Molly, gets in trouble with the local library when she attempts to steal a book. In order to avoid legal hassles with the foster care system, she signs on to do community service hours and gets hooked up with Vivian Daly. She will volunteer to help Mrs. Daly clean out her attic and thus begins a wonderful friendship. Both characters are guarded about being too open with each other, but as time goes by and the community service hours mount up, Molly and Vivian find common bonds that will help each of them ponder the losses they've had in life, the important things and values that they have carried with them over time, and the need for true emotional connection with others.

I was talking with a friend about this book. She was saying that the local middle school teachers were looking at this book as a read for their students. We both thought it more appropriate for high school. The reading level is not difficult, but the content and topic seemed a bit advanced for young kids. This book deals with immigration and the prejudices that were common during the early 1900's towards immigrants, family losses, abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, rape, the orphan trains that ran from eastern urban centers to midwest towns that brokered 'homes' for young street children and orphans, modern day foster care and the problems with oversight, building emotional relationships and mending those that are 'broken' emotionally. Deep topics, all. I honestly thought discussion of the topics would be more fruitful with older kids. The issues of authority and system failure when abuse and rape are involved would be valuable discussions for teens to explore these days, given what we're seeing in the press.  The issues of immigration and how we deal with the poor and needy could also be valuable discussions with older kids, but could be too 'gritty' for middle school aged kids (IMHO). The historical topic of the orphan trains is pretty complex too and worthy of further research to find out the true stories of thousands of children who were shuttled out of the cities in a Progressive Era social experiment that, while well-meaning, was poorly monitored in many cases. So ... this novel has a lot of 'meat' for a simple story.

The themes don't bog down the story, but they're there. Kline moves her novel along really well, jumping between modern day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota. The reader learns of the tough start to Vivian Daly's life as she is shifted from one foster family to the next during her early teen years. Molly, in finding out certain details of Vivian's life sees the perfect interviewee for her history project and in the process must confront those questions in her own life. All ends well in this book, but one is left to wonder about those thousands of kids and their real life stories ...

A fast and thought-provoking read ...

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Telling - Jo Baker

I love  it when I find a new author, of whom I know nothing. I love it even more when that author has a body of work that I can jump right into. Jo Baker's work was unkown to me until I came upon her novel called Longbourn. Placing the story at the Pemberly estate and wrapping the characters of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice into a different spin was the perfect tease for me. I do love my Jane Austen, you see. But wait! This Jo Baker has written other things!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - Hello Snow!

Hope everyone's Thanksgiving was wonderful ... ours was ushered in on a million and a half snowflakes! By Thanksgiving morning, there was about a foot of new snow to make everything lovely! Thankfully, the power remained on so that I could roast the Thanksgiving turkey and make the pie! Our daughter, Sara got all excited after dinner and bundled up to go with her Dad to cut ' the Christmas branch' for her tiny Boston apartment! Such excitement!

Too bad the whole family didn't get in on this photo ... could have been the holiday card! Oh well. Happy Christmas from the grey cottage on the hill !!! Now, let's have some eggnog!

shared with other photographers at Saturday Snapshot ... check out the other contributions!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things - Alice Hoffman

I love this book, but I love just about everything that I've read by Alice Hoffman. She has such a wonderful way of building these magical worlds in which she places her characters. In this book, it's the gritty world of turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. This is a place of hard working immigrant factory workers who grind out an existence in the sweatshops of Manhattan and then spend their bits of free time escaping to the seaside attractions of Brooklyn's Coney Island. What makes it 'otherworldy' is that she places us smack dab in the center of this odd little museum of curiosities. One can practically hear the carnie music from Coney Island in the background, as we move with Coralie through the rooms of her home, watching the odd cast of characters that her father has hired to house the Museum of Extraordinary Things. Her father's odd assortment of natural wonders, geological artifacts,  and freakish live specimens feed the public's ghoulish hunger for leering at the deformed and different. For a while, the museum is a success and life for Coralie is comfortable and sheltered.

As Coralie grows older, though, her father's fortunes are slipping lower in status, she learns more and more of his dark side and willingness to compromise her, his own daughter, in order to survive in the business of side-show entertainment. The area along the seashore is being developed and larger, glitzier attractions are being promoted. Coralie's father is faced with finding more extravagant and outlandish acts to draw the public and Coralie becomes fodder for her father's warped imagination. She is pressed into service as 'the living mermaid' in the large water tank at the museum and when that act becomes 'old' is forced to swim about naked to satisfy leering gawkers' prurient urges, safe behind glass, but violated, nonetheless. In rebellion, she comes into her own, growing more emotionally independent and hungry for a true human connection in the world away from the museum and her forced life of exhibition. Her dream life becomes so active and vivid that it contributes to the eerie atmosphere that Hoffman creates around Coralie's bizarre existence.

Running parallel to the life of the girl in the Museum of Extraordinary Things is the story of Ezekial, a young Orthodox Jewish boy, who grows away from his immigrant father. Factory work is just too mind and body-numbing for young Ezekial. He turns his back on his Jewish life and his father and runs the streets of Manhattan. He finds different ways to survive and eke out a living,  first acting as the eyes and ears for a well-known Jewish shyster. When Ezekial comes across a photographer along the waterfront in Brooklyn, he becomes so enamored of the camera work being done by the artist that he follows him around until he is allowed to apprentice. Learning the art of photography opens new doors for Ezekial and he becomes a photography stringer for the local papers, providing news photos of all the grittiest of happenings in the city.

The worlds of Coralie and Ezekial spin closer and closer throughout the novel, and one waits for them to collide, as they will be so very good for each other ... but how will they finally meet and come together? Sigh ... it is a challenge not to throw the rest of the day aside to race toward the end of the story, but I am enjoying the magic of the setting so much that I won't do that. Instead, I'll savor this story a couple chapters at a time and pray that these two poor souls will meet and save each other from miserable and lonely lives. For all the grit and seediness in the lives of these two protagonists, there is a conscious search for truth and beauty and love that they both hope for and dream of - and as a reader, I am rooting for them all the way.

Thanks, Alice Hoffman for another wonderful novel!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Confession - John Grisham

The wheels of justice grind so damn slow. And yet, if one were a condemned man living the nightmare of Death Row, all that time might just be the greatest gift given. THAT IS ... if the system weren't so darn slanted. In this particular look at the legal system and the society around hot issues, John Grisham takes on the death penalty and the state of Texas. The story revolves around a missing person case, an assumed murder, a railroaded young man (who happens to be black), a heavily coerced confession of rape and murder, a zealous defense lawyer with a real crazy streak, a forthright Luthern preacher, an ex-con with a strange onset of conscience, and the police, politicians, and legal system in which all of them are embroiled.

This was a hard book to put down, as there is so much going on in it - from the frenzied last minute appeal process to the wranglings and avoidance of the appellate judges and lawyers- from the emotional rollercoaster that the families of the presumed victim and the presumed killer ride before the death sentence date arrives to the tense and delicate discussions between preacher and confessor - from the circus of the media trucks to the smoky destruction of black and white churches in the town where the trial has been based. The pages fly by.

There have been books that I've read that have made me think deeply on my feelings about capital punishment. Dead Man Walking, In Cold Blood, and Helter Skelter come to mind immediately. Each time, I've had such strong reactions that it surprised me. This book also caused soul searching. The legal system is portrayed as broken, manipulated in the worst way, politicized for the sake of careers, and gawked at by media and public alike. Victims and accused become commodities to be exploited, played for digital bits and left aside when a bigger story comes along. Truth is a thing that is beside the point.

Somewhere in that muddled mess is the humanity behind the concept of justice and truth. It comes to the fore in the character of Rev. Keith Schroeder, a man placed in the position of knowing the truth and having the chance to right a wrong. Righting that wrong, though,takes him on a strange trip into the heart of the legal wranglings around the death sentence of a young man who has sat and watched the wheels of justice grind away and waited for too long.

Another good read from John Grisham ...

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Discovery of Witches/Audio Version - Deborah Harkness

Something light and fluffy. That was what I wished for after the last read, so what better than a romance? That's exactly what one gets when one cracks the pages (or plops the CD into the player) of the first in the Deborah Harkness 'All Souls Trilogy' series. This book spent time on the NYT best seller list when it came out. I'd seen the title on the library shelves, but always shied away. I was thinking that it would probably be taking a page from the 'Twilight' trend of YA chick lit. 

I was right. I listened to this in the kitchen, as I performed the nightly dinner ritual. At times, I laughed at how cliche some of the writing becomes. Matthew Clairmont is always ruggedly handsome, with just the right amount of chest showing, knows everything about wine (woman's fave beverage, right?), has the appropriate arrogant attitude and physical strength to throw his woman over his shoulder when she shows any sign of fainting or fatigue. Oh, by the way. he's a vampire. 

Diana Bishop is a brilliant history scholar who is deep into research on the mysteries of alchemy. Working at Oxford University, the books are flying off the shelves as she prepares for a scholarly conference at which she is supposed to 'present'. Things get muddled when she discovers a long hidden text that has been lost to civilization for ages in the depths of the Bodelian Library. The moment she touches the book strange forces are unleashed within her. Yup, she's a witch who has been in denial of her powers and the book brings on a power surge, so to speak. 

The book escalates from that one incident to unleash a history of vampires, demons, and witches that becomes a name-dropper's paradise. The novel revolves around the steamy relationship that develops between Matthew and Diana and references to actual historical events in history that become linked to the premise that vampires, demons and witches have lived with we, mortals for ages and have been at the center of many of the great advances of civilization. Matthew and Diana become a parallel to Romeo and Juliet, forbidden lovers, a lesson in race relations, so to speak. Vampires and witches don't mix and they will have to fight old taboos to maintain their relationship. Oh, and there's the matter of that book Diana discovered that started the whole mess! It's front and center to the story - a convoluted tale that will take A LOT of telling. Hence, the series. 

This is definitely a light and fluffy series - a combination of Outlander meets Harry Potter meets Twilight - a treat for young romance fans ( horny women, is what my husband said, as he passed through the kitchen last week). Harkness builds her story on strong description. She has an obsession with telling her readers the fashion details of both Matthew and Diana, using dialogue over endless cups of tea and glasses of wine as a platform for moving the plot along, and placing the character of Matthew Clairmont at the crucial points in history with very famous historical figures. It gets a bit annoying at times, but I suppose that was half the fun of writing a story such as this! The tales of witches, demons, and vampires are so mythic that they cross over all cultures and civilizations, cutting a  ... well, romantic swath. 

I finished the audio version over the weekend - probably won't continue on with the series until I need another light read. Don't get me wrong here. There IS a place in everyone's reading life for lighter, undemanding reads that are pure escapism. Harkness has cashed in on a profitable niche with her 'All Souls Trilogy'. More power to her!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

First Snow - Saturday Snapshot

The change of seasons is coming on here in my rural backwater. This week brought us the first snow.

The early morning view from the kitchen was all pink and grey and white ... a lovely start to the day.

The Halloween pumpkins looked positively garish under their snowy caps ... poor Jacks. They'll soon be food for the chipmunks and squirrels.

The terrace bricks had nice snowy borders ... a strange phenomenon that has me wondering.

Little Bee was content to sit in the sun and let the rays shine pink through his ears ... and wrestle with a boot lace.

... shared with others at Melinda Ott's weekly photo share called Saturday Snapshot ...

Friday, November 14, 2014

What She Left Behind - Ellen Marie Wiseman

What She Left Behind is a heart-wrenching story that takes its roots from the actual incident of historians finding suitcases left behind in an attic space at a decrepit mental institution in New York state.  The Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane was operated from 1869 until 1995 when it was closed. It was a massive complex during its heyday, housing chronically insane and feeble-minded patients. The complex had its own farm, shoe shops, sewing facilities, kitchens, et cetera and was a model for mental health care during the Progressive Era. Of course, the Progressive era also was a time when psychiatric care was all wrapped up in the eugenics movement, the move to intensive drug therapy, extreme forms of brain research, and a host of controversial therapies like electroshock and water therapies. UGH. The Great Depression and changes within mental health and government funding, however, created a warehouse mentality within the care system - a recipe for neglect, abuse, and worse. UGH.

Enter this book. Ellen Marie Wiseman penned a fictional account of one patient who is admitted in the 1920's, after defying her father's strict edicts. Upon refusing to marry the man he has picked for her, young Clara is admitted to a sanatarium near her New York City home. The forced admission is a punishment by her father, an attempt to cow her into submission and away from her 'hysterical' behavior. When the stock market crashes and her father falls on hard economic times, he can no longer pay her fees at the sanatarium. Rather than have her released, he relinquishes her to the state mental health system and she is shuttled off to Willard Asylum. There begins a truly horrific experience - physical abuse, forced medication, isolation and sensory deprivation, a pregnancy (her beloved child with her true love) and birth that ends in having her child removed from her care, and on and on... UGH. How messed up were human rights laws and the mental health system at that time, huh?

A parallel story is also told in this novel. It centers on Izzy, a young woman who has grown up in foster care. She is about to graduate from high school and out of foster care when she is settled with a couple in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. Her foster parents are involved in a historical investigation of Willard Asylum and Izzy accompanies them on forays to examine and catalogue the suitcases found in attic space at Willard Asylum. Izzy stumbles upon Clara's trunk and the journal that is inside it. The plot thickens.

This was a hard book to put down, but I had to at some of the particularly emotional points. The thought of the level of loneliness and fear going through Clara AND Izzy was, at times, overwhelming to me.  I always returned to the book, though, as I needed to know how two systems of government intervention - mental health and foster care- would deal with these two likeable characters.

One leaves this book with a goodly amount of righteous rage that people could EVER be treated so poorly in this country, that women were EVER so under the thumb of parents and spouses that they could be packed away into hospitals and asylums without so much as a legal or medical review, that children in the foster care system can be left untreated and passed from one family to the next with shoddy oversight and so-so treatment for traumas that have gotten them into the system in the first place. UGH.

A good read, but an emotional read ... after this one, I need a read that's really light and fluffy.

I'll leave this post with some links ... if you're at all curious about Willard Asylum and the suitcase project ...

Willard Asylum Photos -

Willard Suitcases Project -

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino De Santiago - Hape Kerkeling

Hans Peter Kerkeling, an overweight, happy-go-lucky German television comedian, makes his way to France and the last point of The Way of St James in France. His goal is to go on a pilgrimage; he plans to walk the 400 plus mile route of the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain and finish his trip at Santiago de Compostela's cathedral. Of course, he doesn't tell his friends and family that! They'd think he'd gone crazy!

What begins as a 'lark' soon becomes one man's journey of reflection and self-discovery. Hape Kerkeling comes to discover that attitude is what it's all about. His fatigue is conquered by singing at the top of his lungs or giving in to the exhaustion for a bit so that he can sit by the side of the path and enjoy a cigarette and cafe latte at a wayside cafe. Journeying such a long route is about setting aside time and schedules, living in the moment, becoming more forgiving of what his body will/won't stand and what his mind will/won't endure.

Yes, long journeys with uncertain outcomes become more than distances covered. Hape's book, while part travelogue, part memoir, and part 'advice/research' read for anyone contemplating making the pilgrimage along The Way of St James, becomes much more. It becomes a map of the psychological change and philosophical growth that Hape undergoes, as he makes his way from one point along his path to the next. Along the way, he meets and is changed by numerous people. Some help him make strategies for physical survival and comfort. Some challenge his mind with spiritual and philosophical ideas that change him in subtle ways. Some help him to laugh at his foibles and follies. Some enrage him to the point of standing up for others in his world. All of them serve the purpose of begging a question, "Are our paths pre-ordained by some higher power or mere chance ?"

I loved this book. It approaches the idea of  making the pilgrimage along The Way of St James with humor, pragmatism, and just a bit of mysticism. Hape is a changed man at the end of his pilgrimage. The book he has given us is a great read. He doesn't play down the rigors of the trip. In fact, he is brutally honest about the geography of the the Way, the dangers and annoyances of certain parts of the path, and the specific needs that a pilgrim has. In balance, he also marvels at the beauty of the countryside, the romance of certain villages along the way, the generosity of the Spanish people, and the fun of getting to know fellow pilgrims. The effect leaves us with an idea of how wonderful it just may be for us, should we dare to take up the pilgrim's staff and step out onto the path.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Ocean At The End of The Lane - Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has an incredible imagination. Let that be said.

In The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, he has given us a story, that at first glance, can be taken as a fantastical adventure in which a young boy faces powers of both good and evil during a painful time in his life. The story seems a sort of fairy tale memory that is told in retrospect when a man returns to his childhood home for a family funeral. As he wanders down the road from his childhood home and comes to the land that belonged to the neighboring family, he returns to a particularly trying time when his parents took in boarders, his mother was forced to return to work, and a strange and evil nanny came to stay. The young boy takes refuge in a friendship with a girl who lives on a neighboring farm. The friendship takes on magical elements that spiral into the mystical and fantastic. In the process, the young boy learns hard truths about adults and their human frailties, faith and trust in friends and family, and courage in facing evil.

Hard lessons are learned that cave in the 'pillars' that have supported his young life. We can't always count on our parents to keep us safe, sometimes trusted adults don't live up to our expectations, learning to trust again is a necessity to surviving psychologically, friends sometimes go away, sometimes we do things when we're afraid that we regret, sometimes it takes great bravery to face our fears.

This is a book that could easily be read as an archetypal take on the fairy tale, but it can also be picked apart and thought about on much deeper levels ... I will admit that it spooked me and made me wonder about the adults that I remember interacting with in my neighborhood when I was very young. My experience of their lives was just so very naive and, while I never experienced true evil or danger, there were some close encounters with sickness and eccentricity in some neighbors that I was reminded of while reading this book.

Neil Gaiman intrigues me. Let that be said.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reconstructing Amelia - Kimberly McCreight

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice  to deceive."    - Sir Walter Scott

Truer words have never been spoken.

Oh dear. Reading this book made me so very grateful that I am not raising a teenager these days. What happens to Kate Baron after she tragically loses her daughter, Amelia, to an apparent suicide is every parent's nightmare. It forces her to face just how little she has known about her young daughter's life. It also forces Kate to face the fact that while her daughter deceived her about life at her posh private school and the things that troubled her, Kate has been just as full of deceit in her life.

This book is a real page-turner, but there are just so many coincidental events piled higher and deeper that I did shake my head toward the end of the novel. One can put that shortfall aside, though, as the issues of technology and bullying, privacy issues, the cruel nature of club hazing on the high school level, and the biggest issues of all, prioritizing one's children over job, and communication and respectful honesty between parent and child make for a thought-provoking read.

No spoilers, here - all I will say is that this book reminded me of the awesome 'hanging jaw' reaction I had at the end of Gillian Flynn's blockbuster novel, Gone Girl . Oh, and the book is already in movie development by Nicole Kidman and a production company ... so, who will play Amelia and Kate and the posse of mean girls? HMMMMM .....

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Poetry Jam - Untitled


The pencil broke.
Lead that flowed o’er pages
All work stopped.
Grey dust swept aside
The keyboard clogged.
Nonsense fonts
The muse de-camped.
Words that came so easily

Somewhere deep a new muse sleeps
Dreams prodigiously-
The cosmic soup of words
Bubble and stew-
I wait for mine to break the surface.
Images form behind the eyes
That Jungian mosaic swirls
Colorful and kaleidoscopic-
I open eyes that blur to reality.

Time and time will bring it back.

Time and time …

... shared with other writers at Poetry Jam

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Witches - Roald Dahl

We always did read-aloud time in our family. All three of the kids were read to right up through elementary school and into middle school, too. Consequently, I miss reading aloud and being read to!
The popularity of books on tape, though, never really caught on with me until I retired and found myself home alone, the kids having grown and flown. Nowadays, you can usually find an audio book on the kitchen table with an accompanying book. I listen to audio books while I cook or putter in the kitchen at dishes and housework. 

The past couple days have been great fun, as I've reacquainted myself with Roald Dahl's fun adventure story called The Witches. This is the perfect read/listen for the Halloween season! I've known the story for ages, as the kids read it when they were young and we used to watch the movie adaptation of the book every Halloween. Anjelica Huston is just so perfect in the character of the Grand High Witch!

When I first joined in on this year's Readers (R) Imbibing (I) Peril (P) reading challenge at Carl Anderson's Stainless Steel Droppings blog (see link here RIP-IX reading event,) I noticed the title of Dahl's kid classic as the number one entry on the link up page. "Oh!, I thought, I haven't thought about that old story in sooo long!"  That's when I knew I'd seek out an audio version of the book to see how it would feel to have it read to me! 

What fun! The version I received from my public library's inter-library loan program is quite old, but the CD's are still in pretty good condition. The story is narrated by the actor, Ron Keith. He does a great job. It was really fun to hear his voice develop 'a smile' in it when he read particularly funny or clever parts of the story. You can hear the delight he is taking in the story and that adds to the charm of the experience.

I found myself cheering on the young protagonist of the story, as he came face to face with the dreaded witches that his dear grandmother warned him of in her many stories and tales of witches that live right among us! Imagine the smarts and derring-do it would take to outsmart a whole convention of withces! Therein lies the fun in Dahl's fast-moving romp of a story! It's a delight and one book that most elementary kids would love to experience! It's the perfect Halloween week read!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Longbourn - Jo Baker

For a woman who loves all things Jane Austen, this book is really quite fun. It is a re-telling of the life and times at the Bennet household during the time when the events of Austen's tome, Pride and Prejudice are unfolding. The characters of the Bennet family are intact with the addition of a strong new cast of characters - the household staff. Yup, Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice ...

I was quite happy with the way Jo Baker told her story. The characters are really strongly developed. Sarah, a young housemaid bridles at the yoke of servitude and wishes for a broader view of the world and a happier existence. Mrs. Hill, the stalwart housekeeper, guards her staff like a barnyard goose, but hides her own hurts and hopes behind the veil of loyalty to the Bennet family. Young James, a mysterious young man who is taken on as the Bennet's footman has a story of his own that slowly unfolds. What's central to the novel, though, is the strange incongruity between wealthy England's dismissal of slavery as a cruel business and the callous class structure that kept the serving and working classes firmly in place at the bottom of the social ladder.  Spending years in servitude without being given the means to form family bonds or homes of their own,  working long hours without notice of their social and emotional needs, being dismissed for any reason - this was surely not an easy life. It was to be endured because it was the only sure way to have a roof over one's head, sure food for one's belly, and a certain amount of protection from the harsh reality of economic conditions in the greater society. UGH ... it all seems so romantic when we see the Austen movies, but it wasn't all it was cracked up to be!

Ms. Baker has added a wonderful addition to the story of the Bennet family and the staff that cares for them, but no spoilers here. There's sure to be a movie adaptation for this novel and if not that, then a PBS production for the Austen fiends. I'll climb on board that fan wagon when it happens.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Snapshot --- Little Bee

...  Little Bee turned 5 weeks old on Thursday. He's got some growing to do if he's ever to fit into those double front paws. They are like snowboots on him right now. He walks and trots like a Clydesdale  ...

... Bee can't go far yet, as we worry about the dogs' pestering, so Opey and the baby gate keep him confined to the upstairs bedroom ...

... Bee is not amused and would like the gate to go away so further exploration could be accomplished ...

shared at Saturday Snapshot, hosted by Melinda Ott over at West Metro Mommy Reads

Friday, October 10, 2014

Outlander - Diana Gabaldon

... was wondering what all the fuss was about when the Outlander series was brought to television and fans were all excited. My friend, Betty swears by the books. I never read any of them, so ....

What can I say? Bodice-ripper. That is all.

I finished this book so that I could have conversation with Betty about it and the movie adaption that she has been watching on Starz, but I was not really caught up in the fervor of Galbaldon fandom. These books are easy reads with copious amount of sex and sweatiness - not my cup of tea. I'm heartily glad for Ms. Gabaldon, though. She has certainly worked the angle of time travel, romantic lust, and dysfunctional family histories to the max.

Now, let the movie producers tough it out deciding whether to adapt all the books in the series to the screen for fans that are just panting for one more peek under Jamie's kilt. Ms. G is laughing all the way to the bank.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Saturday Snapshot

... the view from my back door ...

The sugar maples are peaking here in New England. Fall is definitely here and the first  of the fall rains have moved in for the weekend. The rain and gloomy skies only make those reds seem more brilliant, though. This is the tree that I wake up to every morning and each morning over the past week it's become more and more beautiful.

... a leafy mosaic ...

Its leaves cover our little gravel walkway out to the mailbox and nestle down amongst the fall plantings. It's such a pretty time of year.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

RIP IX - A Little Something Different

I have discovered, through a fellow blogger, a new graphic novelist/artist - Emily Carroll has done some truly interesting stuff with the horror genre. Here is a taste of her work, no pun intended. The piece is called Out of Skin and appears on here website. Check it out!

Her first book is called Through the Woods and is a collection of short horror stories that are made incredibly powerful because of her imagery.  I believe Out of Skin is included in the book. Really. Check it out! The book is intended for young adults and older. You'll see why when you get a look. It would be far too scary for youngsters.

This book and the website are the perfect addition to my reading and looking challenge at Carl's literary event called RIP IX. This is horror of the first order - spare words, strong images, and a lasting creepy impression. Good work, Emily Carroll!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - Vermont

Late in August, we vacationed for a week up along the shores of Lake Champlain.

We spent our days riding our bikes along farm roads that wended through fields and pastures.

Sunsets at the little cottage we rented were really lovely.

We loved finding fields of sunflowers that are becoming a popular crop for farmers.

... and barns, did I mention barns?  So many different kinds and colors !

On our last afternoon at the cottage, I stopped and picked a bouquet of Queen Anne's Lace to have for a dinner table centerpiece. It was so pretty!

We have pledged to go back next summer ... I can't wait.

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