Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Reading Recap



Here is my reading recap for January:

Books read: 14
Books bought: 3
Books returned to the library unread: 2  (Venice by Jan Morris; To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis)
Books started and still reading: 2  (A Lighthearted Quest by Ann Bridge [on  my Nook]; Victorian Women in Crime compiled by Michael Sims)
Authors met: 1

Best mystery: Killed at the Whim of a Hat
Best romp: Framed
Coziest: Mrs. Daffodil
Outside my usual purview: Mr. Jefferson's University

Believe  me, reading 14 books in one month is not my average. I don't know if they were all so good that I just flew through the pages or if my not spending so much time on the computer reading other book blogs gave me space to read.

Anyway, I am looking forward to February. It  might be a grand idea to read books that I own but are languishing on the shelf. A project.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Victorian Detectives of the Female Persuasion



Last night I started reading a book I have had for a while: The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime edited by Michael Sims. Sims is the author of The Story of Charlotte's Web and he was here last year at a book signing event that I attended as I am a great fan of E.B. White.

As I was browsing on the internet for other books Sims might have written, I came across Victorian Women in Crime and decided it was right up my alley. I do love a mystery. And here we have short stories and parts of novellas that feature women detectives and maybe a female crook or two from the days when Sherlock Holmes roamed the streets of London.

In the first story, private detective Mrs. Paschal dons a disguise as a lady's maid to gain entry into the Belgravia household of the Countess of Vervaine to find out how she is really supporting her lavish lifestyle.

I admit I am not a fan of short stories, but will sometimes make an exception for a compilation of who-done-its. And don't you just love the cover? Imagine tracking down miscreants in those long skirts and a feathered hat!




Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Sunny Sunday


Finished up two books today: Millions and Mrs. Daffodil. The first was written by the same author as Framed (here). Another story narrated by a young boy. This time it's Damian. He finds a bag of pounds sterling that is destined to be burned by the British government in preparation for switching over to the euro. The money is part of a bigger robbery and must be spent in just 17 days or it will be worthless.

Damian is in the fourth grade. His brother Anthony is in the fifth. Their mother is dead and the dad works long hours. Anthony wants to buy stuff; Damian, who studies the lives of saints, thinks perhaps the money (which he is sure was dropped out of the sky by God) could be put to more charitable purposes. There are Mormans, greedy classmates, their parents, the Man with the Glass Eye, and a donkey. And then there are the real saints...Francis, Joseph...who keep appearing to Damian. It is all rather a romp. Just the book for reading before going to sleep.

Mrs. Daffodil was a delight (here). I do love books written about country life. Having read Gladys Taber's first-person account of life in the country, Stillmeadow Calendar (here), it was a bit disconcerting to read this book which is written in the third person. I know all along that these are Gladys' experiences.

I wonder how she liked writing in this detached way. Makes me want to try it sometime.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Blood, Bones & Butter

Author event at the public library today. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter. I didn't know what to expect. I am not a cook, but am working on cooking for myself more and am enjoying it.

This is not a cookbook. It is Hamilton's memoir: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. She has owned and run Prune restaurant in New York's East Village for 12 years. She has worked and eaten in many kitchens from her mom's to her own to kitchens in France, Turkey and Italy.

She read from her book for about 30 minutes and then took questions. She was very engaging. She recounted the time she cooked at a summer camp. There were wild turkeys, a bear, and lobsters. You had to be there.

I did buy the book. I don't always at these events. She autographed it to me and because I told her I was just beginning (again) to cook for myself, she added "Cook and cook and cook."

Maybe 400 or so people were in attendance. She had anyone who was in the food industry - chef, server, or farmer - to stand. There were quite a few.

She told us that she had long wanted to be a writer. She quit chef-ing and earned an MFA in fiction writing at the University of Michigan. Then she tossed that aside and opened her own restaurant and grieved the loss of a writing life. But, lo and behold, soon after, as is sometimes the way, she was asked to write a food article and the writer in her was reborn.

She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and Saveur.

I am anxious to read her story.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Money, Eternity, and Books

Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project has really gotten me thinking about what activities and actions add to my happiness.

July - We have gone through money: Indulge in a modest splurge; buy needful things; spend out; and, give something up.

August - We have contemplated the heavens: Read memoirs of catastrophe; keep a gratitude journal; and, imitate a spiritual master/teacher.

September - Today we pursued a passion: Write a novel; make time; forget about results; and, master a new technology.

I am with her on the money. I do occasionally splurge - I bought myself an espresso maker for Christmas; I try to keep supplies of what I always use - toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo -- on hand; I took a friend to lunch today; I gave up buying stationery...well, mostly.

As to the heavens, I do not read misery lit or memoirs of devastating disease or death; I keep a gratitude journal in my heart; and, my spiritual teachers are writers on nature - the turning of the seasons, the beauty of the landscape, the joys of gardens, forests, and oceans.

Rubin's passion has to do with books and writing. Mine too. No argument there, but I don't have a desire to write a novel in 30 days as she did. I do, however, like the idea of commiting to some activity every day for a month. Sketching, reading poetry, or taking a walk outside. The feeling of accomplishment brings happiness.

I do make time to do something every day that I enjoy. I have a bit of trouble though in letting go of results. Like this blog. Even though I don't promote it, yet, I still hope to see a comment by someone who has stumbled on Belle, Book, and Candle. And it seems as if every day there is a new technological puzzle to solve.

I find it inspiring to read what steps Rubin has taken to enhance her happiness, to see if they have worked, and to see how many activities we have in common. I doubt if I would get as much satisfaction from someone who has, let's say, more active activities - mountain climbing, scuba diving, marathoning. Although those narratives can be inspirational, I am just not someone who is going to look to such recreations to bring me happiness.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slash and Burn


This is the latest in the mystery series featuring Dr. Siri by Colin Cotterill. The setting is the People's Democratic Republic of Laos in 1978. Dr. Siri is the national coroner. He is in his late 70s and really wants to retire. He is surrounded by a group of characters like none other: Mr. Geung, his mortuary assistant with Down Syndrome; Nurse Dtui, his assistant who studies medical texts in Russian; Daeng, Siri's wife who owns a popular noodle shop in Vientiane; Civilai, Siri's oldest friend; and Siri's nemesis, Judge Haeng, who keeps getting the doctor involved in misadventures of death and destruction.

The thing about reading this series (and I have read all eight of them now) is that the characters and the setting are so, well, foreign. Also, humorous and at the same time historical. Laos after the Vietnam War? I am learning much about the political shenanigans that went on during the war. And its aftermath as well.

This particular mystery has to do with a missing American helicopter pilot and the search for his body 10 years after his reported death. There is the murder of the American major sent to investigate. There is an American Senator on the take, his mistress, hired assassins, and a dog, Ugly.

The narrative moves along in a series of scenes from a former CIA compound through the villages and jungles of Laos. The conversations between Siri and Civilai are right on:  two old friends trying to one-up the other with affection and deep commitment to their long-standing friendship.

There is plenty here to keep me interested. The loose ends get tied up. A heartwarming ending. And if my mind drifts during some of the political discussions, well, who cares.

Oh, and the slash and burn? That is a way of regenerating farm land. After a few years of growing crops, the remaining vegetation is cut, or slashed, and once dried is burned. The ashes provide nutrients to the soil.

So there you have it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mr. Popper's Penguins - Redux

Another case of the book being better than the movie. Jim Carrey, who gets on my nerves most of the time, plays Mr. Popper. He is a man with a heart as cold as an ice floe until a crate shows up from his deceased father containing a penguin. Cute as a button. Then five more arrive. Popper's estranged wife and two children are taken with the creatures and the family rifts seem to be on the mend.

Popper becomes enamored, obsessed and overtaken with care for the little fellows and gals. Eggs show up. Heartbreak comes when one egg doesn't hatch. Back in the freezer goes Mr. Popper's once-thawing heart.

Then there is a rescue, reconciliation, and redemption. All in 90 minutes.

The best part of the movie is watching the penguins which I thought must be some sort of robot penguins. But no, they were real and trained. Apparently penguins will do just about anything for a fish. Some of the scenes featured 'created' penguins. I guess you can't teach a penguin to dance.

I can't help but wish that someone would make a film that tells the original story by Richard and Florence Atwater of Mr. Popper the house painter. And I can see Hugh Laurie playing Popper. He would be perfect with the penguins.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sunshine in My Cart

A trip to Costco usually takes me past its book tables. Of course. I try to abstain from tossing - well, gently placing - a new book in the cart. But Monday I couldn't resist these two.

The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker and Everyday in Tuscany by Frances Mayes.

The first one appealed to me for many reasons. First, the cover is darling. Second, I am from Kentucky and do consider myself a Queen. Third, the author recently spoke at the independent bookstore down the street from me. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but glad to see that Ms. Whitaker, who is from Kentucky and now lives in Manhattan, was on tour and being supported by Kentucky booksellers.


The second book I bought because I toured Tuscany for two weeks in September 2010 and am totally enthralled with all things Italian. Also, I have Mayes' first book Under the Tuscan Sun and although I haven't read it, I thought to myself, "Oh good. Now I will have two of her books." A true booklover's reasoning.

And finally, I bought the books because it was a gloomy, rainy day and the yellow and blue on both covers cheered me up immensely.

Happy January, Belle!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Stash from the Stacks



Two recent trips to the library netted a world of good finds:
Slash and Burn by Colin Cotterill: This is his latest in the Dr. Siri mysteries which take place in Laos.
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce: The action here is in Wales and is by the author of Framed.
Mrs. Daffodil by Gladys Taber: My beloved. Takes place in New England.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck: Set in Monterey, California. Been there. Got the picture.

And for my watercolorist self I discovered Artist's Journal Workshop: creating your life in words and pictures by Cathy Johnson. I am always looking for different ways to capture my life.

I think these will keep me busy for a while.

I did finish Appointment with Death by Agatha Chistie. Inspired me to look up images of Petra, a city cut into the rocks in Jordan. That is where the murder took place. The book ended, not as in T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men with a whimper, but with a bang.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday with Mrs. Daffodil

Mrs. Daffodil and I have had a busy day. We shopped for a girdle, celebrated Thanksgiving without electricity, helped birth a litter of Cocker puppies, been interviewed by a journalist, and seen her daughter, Anne, married.

We ate plates full of roast beef, chicken, green beans, baked beans, potatoes, and drank many cups of coffee. Mrs. Daffodil likes coffee.

We started to straighten the desk but didn't get past looking through the photo album full of memories. We got locked in the old station wagon and had to be rescued by Kay, the woman who shares the 400-year old farmhouse with Mrs. D. We attended the church meeting to discuss remodeling which in 1950s New England means adding bathrooms and a gas stove.

We chatted with the postman, Henry, who doesn't call anyone by his or her first name for fear of appearing to be playing favorites. We stayed with Mrs. Wilson the night she became a widow when her husband was killed in an automobile accident.

We met Mrs. Daffodil's first love. We both wept.

Mrs. Daffodil (aka author Gladys Taber)  is certainly someone you would want to know. She is a bit absent-minded about where she has put one thing or another, would rather be in corduroys and a shirt than in a dress and heels, and welcomes all - family, friends, and strangers - to her farm, Driftway. A driftway, she explained, is the narrow path up the pasture where the cows come home.

I can barely wait to see what adventures tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mrs. Daffodil Arrives

The daffodil is definitely my favorite Spring flower. So how can I go wrong reading a book titled Mrs. Daffodil? And to add to the pleasure of the name, said book is written by Gladys Taber of the Stillmeadow Calendar that I adored. She was my pick as the author I was so happy to discover in 2011.

Anyway, I first read about Mrs. Daffodil on Frisbee A Book Journal's blog. (I wish I knew how to insert the link to this woman's delightful reading adventures but I am just figuring out about inserting photos. I will need to work on that a bit.)

She wrote so tellingly of the book and the author that because my public library didn't have a copy, nor did the university library in my town, and it is no longer in print, I gathered up my skirts and e-mailed Frisbee and asked if I could borrow Mrs. D from her. I promised that I was very trustworthy and offered to send her my copy of The Egg and I to hold as ransom. Unfortunately, she didn't own the book so I went back to the library to see if it could be found in another system.

Today it arrived from the Hutchins Library at Berea College in Berea, Ky. I am so looking forward to settling in tomorrow, a rainy Sunday, and getting acquainted with Mrs. D.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mr. Popper's Penguins










Mr. Popper's Penguins was one of my favorite books as a child. I was enchanted by the idea of having penguins cavorting in the house.

When I decided in the 9th grade to write a mystery, the title was going to be The Case of the Purple Penguin. I didn't get past the title, but you can see that penguins were on my mind.

So even though I don't watch too many movies, I did rent the Jim Carrey version of MPP and am looking forward to laughing along with it. I don't think it got great reviews and the story line is different, but the penguins are there and who doesn't love a penguin!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I need a Nook for my Nook

I have been thinking about my Nook Color lately. I bought it for myself last March as a birthday present. At the time I wasn't living in my house because I was in the middle of a remodelling project and was staying with a friend and her family on a farm.

I would normally leave the farm about noon and come check on the contractors (who rarely showed up when they said they would). I spent a lot of time killing time and having an e-library with me was wonderful.

And now I am home. I have only bought one book for the Nook. All the other ones are free classics as that is what I enjoy reading. I forget I have them.

I can look around me and see three bookcases full of books, a pile of art books on a stool, a chair full of library books, and, on the table next to me,  a scattering of books that I am reading.

And there is the Nook also. I know there are books between its covers (I bought a lovely tri-fold leather case for it) but I miss seeing them. I don't think to pick up the Nook Books. Out of sight, out of mind?

Where does one keep an e-reader? In the bookcase? On the desk? By the reading chair?

Where do you keep your Nook or Kindle?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Appointment with Death




Hercule Poirot? Mais, oui!

Here is Agatha Christie at her most diabolical. The wicked American stepmother, the fearful step-children, the daugher-in-law deperate to get her husband away from the clutches of his mother. All colliding in the heat and sunshine of the Middle East.

Throw in a French psychologist; a young English woman who has just gotten her degree in psychology and perhaps thinks she knows more about people than she does; and, an American who is in love with the daughter-in-law!

I don't even know gets killed yet, I am only a few chapters in, but surely it is the evil Mrs. Boynton. She used to be a wardress at a prison and seems to relish in causing pain to others, especially her family.

As usual, many twists and turns are ahead before M. Poirot will tell all 'who done it.' What a lark.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Art, Family, and Community

Framed turned out to be about so much more than a book about a young boy growing up in Manod, Wales. As sometimes happens with children's books - this one is rated for grades 6 through 9 - as an adult one can see a bigger picture than just the plot.

I learned about art and people's reactions to art. I learned about family and how important team work is. I learned about community and how everything can change for the better in a short time. I learned about weather and slate mining and sheep and blindness and an awful lot about the Ninja Turtles.

I also learned how to pull off the perfect crime, how fast a BMW will go, and how important it is to carry an umbrella. That is a lot to garner from one book.

Now I can't wait to read Frank Cottrell Boyce's first book, Millions, a story about a young boy and his brother who find a big bag of cash. I am sure I will learn something from that book too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

...like a mighty stream.

Today in America we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday (1929-1968). I was in college when he was assassinated. We all paraded around campus wearing black armbands.

A troubling time for Americans.  Robert Kennedy was destined to be assassinated two months later. His brother President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in 1963.

It was a sad decade.

A couple of years ago, on a trip around the South, I visited the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. The Memorial, created by Maya Lin,  is just around the corner from the church where Dr. King served as pastor during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-1956, and the capitol steps where the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march ended in 1965.

A circular black granite stone records the names of those who died and chronicles the history of the movement. Visitors are invited to touch the names. Water flows from the center of the stone. Behind this, on a black curved wall, are inscribed King's words: until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Inside the center, I added my name to the digital 20-by-40 foot Wall of Tolerance promising that: By placing my name on the Wall of Tolerance, I pledge to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. I will work in my daily life for justice, equality and human rights - the ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died.

King wrote six books and countless sermons and speeches. He inspired millions. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and donated the $54,000 prize money to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Tea


Spent the morning reading. 18 Bookshops is turning out to be a nice history of books and bookshops. The Happiness Project for February is Marriage. April is Parenting. Two areas I don't have to worry about upping my happiness in. Not Applicable.

But March is Aim Higher. It is about work happiness. Start a blog; enjoy the fun of failure; ask for help; work smart; enjoy now.

Since I started this blog two weeks ago, I am ahead of the game. And I have been looking at my work practices (I am a freelance journalist who works from home) and going back to January, Do It Now seems to be the perfect mantra.

Instead of letting deadlines overwhelm me, enjoy now is what I remind myself to do. I don't think I can improve on Rubin's suggested actions.

Had two friends over for tea. A little taste of Downton Abbey, which of course we discussed, along with books. I do find stopping at 3 or 3:30 for a spot of tea or espresso and a little nibble of something sweet to be absolutely the most civilized action I can take to make me happy.

A scrumptious Sunday.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Happiness Project



I don't know what has taken me so long to get this book. I have followed Gretchen Rubin's blog "The Happiness Project" for some time now. I almost bought the book a couple of times but something stopped me. I guess I just wasn't in the market for a project.

But here it is, the beginning of a new year, and I see by skimming the table of contents that Rubin has a different happiness goal for each month. January's goal is Boost Energy with five actions to incorporate to achieve that: go to sleep earlier; exercise better; toss, restore, organize; tackle a nagging task; and, act more energetic.

I think my five things would be: Quit eating processed snacks; walk; go to sleep earlier (which I have been doing even before getting this book); continue yoga in the mornings; and, do it now.

I have only read the Getting Started chapter. I like her ideas already. One does not have to be depressed to want to be happy. Her thesis is that it is possible to make ourselves happier. She adopts the definition of happiness as "I know it when I see it."

I am looking forward to seeing it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Framed

I am already loving this book written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.  It is narrated by one Dylan Hughes, a young man who works at his family's petrol station-cum-repair shop-cum-coffeehouse. He is fascinated by Manod, his village in Wales, and his life. He adores cars, knows all about them, and when he mentions one in the story tells the reader how fast said car will go.

I don't care that this is catalogued as a J book in the library. I can hardly wait to see what Dylan, his brainy sister Minnie, his teenaged sister Marie, and baby Max will get up to in trying to make the family business more profitable.

A perfect bedtime story.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happiness in the Snow


Killed off "Killed at the Whim of a Hat." All three mysteries got solved. Of the almost 400 pages - don't be daunted, it flies along - I am not sure how many actually concerned the mysteries. There were many rambling little anecdotes which is fine because Cotterill is quite a funny writer. And his characters are a hoot. I wish I was someone who marked in books - I Am Not - because then I could share with you some of his lines. You will just have to discover them yourself.

We had our first snow. Well, let me just say it snowed. And then it stopped. But the temperature dropped 20 degrees in three hours. So of course I had to swerve by the library and see what I could find to keep me warm.

I have many books on my shelves, and I don't know about you, but I like to keep them in reserve just in case I should get snowed in for a month (not gonna happen...I live in the South, but still...). And then there is always the Nook.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin was on hold for me and I found a book on drawing with colored pencils...a nice fireside activity. I browsed around the new mysteries but didn't find anything that piqued my interest.

I checked out the Rubin book and on my way out I spotted the drawing book on display and went back to the desk. I told the librarian, "I promise I will leave now." He said, "Take your time. Browse. It's all free."

I agreed with a laugh. It's all free. I love that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

18 Bookshops



I love libraries and all their riches. I also adore bookshops which is why reading 18 Bookshops by Anne Scott is such a treat. As can be deduced from the title, the book offers brief accounts of bookshops...some still in business, others not, such as The Parrot which was located in St. Paul's churchyard in London during Shakespeare's day.

All but one of the shops are located in England, Scotland or Ireland. Books of Wonder, a children's bookstore in New York City, is the only shop "in the Colonies." But never mind that. These essays are a booklover's ode to the bookshops of the world.

18 Bookshops was published in Great Britain, but is available here in the U.S. through Amazon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More mystery


The action is racing along in "Whim". There has been another murder. This time the victim is John, the stray dog that makes her home at the resort. Will Mair find out who the murderer is? She has hired a private dectective and claims she only wants to know the poisoner's name so she can forgive him or her.

Hmmm. This doesn't sound like Mair. I think she is out for revenge.

The plot thickens.

Also reading a book on my Nook Color. I am not one to buy books to read on the e-reader but I have downloaded quite a few free classics. This one though, A Lighthearted Quest by British author Ann Bridge (1889-1974), was recommended on another book blog...I can't remember which one...and the Nook copy was only $7.19. What had I to lose?

Absolutly nothing! The heroine, Julia, is a journalist and is asked by a family friend to find a cousin who has disappeared in Morocco. It is quite descriptive of that area of the world and Julia is truly one who thinks on her feet. This is the first of the Julia Probyn adventures and I am sure I will be seeing more of her.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Killed at the Whim of a Hat


Now this is a great book title. About halfway through the story, the author Colin Cotterill, explains where the odd phrase comes from. Hint: one of our illustrious presidents who had trouble getting his mouth wrapped around his words.

Anyway, the story is the first-person account of Jimm Juree, a crime reporter living in the south of Thailand. There are two mysteries so far: how did the two people whose skeltons were found buried in an VW van come to die and who killed the Abbot? It is all great fun with some wonderful characters...Jimm's brother who is now her sister; Mair, their mother who bought a run-down resort and moved the entire family there; a grandfather who for years was a traffic policeman and was never promoted because he wouldn't take bribes; and a gay policeman who is smart as a whip and is helping Jimm in her detection.

I am enjoying the ride and can hardly wait to see how it all turns out. I do so love a mystery with a sense of humor!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Into a Paris Quartier

Front Cover
Read all day. In one sitting finished Into a Paris Quartier by Diane Johnson. Another in the National Geographic series.

What I learned was that Edith Wharton lived at 54 rue de Varenne and that is where she wrote French Ways and Their Meanings (which I just finished yesterday). I must have walked past her apartment in September 2010 many times as I stayed for a week at the Hotel De Varenne, on rue de Bourgogne, just around the corner. Johnson refers to Wharton's book which she wrote as an explanation of the French to the American soldiers stationed in and around Paris in World War One.

Johnson lives in the St.Germain-de-Pres area on the Left Bank. As of the 2005 publication date of the book, she lives in Paris for six months and in San Francisco for the rest of the year.

Good news. Downton Abbey Season Two begins tonight on PBS. I don't have a television but can watch episodes on my laptop. I rented the DVD of season one and was enchanted. And lustful for that way of life. Who wouldn't be? And now have rewatched the season on PBS. I even took the quiz as to which character I most resembled: Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, of course.  Dame Maggie Smith gets all the best lines.

Plummy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Reading by Candlelight



In today's Guardian, Stuart Kelly has a piece on the illuminations of reading by candlelight:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2012/jan/06/illuminations-reading-candlelight

Be sure and read the comments, some of which offer tips on getting the best light out of your candles if you are so tempted to read this way.

I don't believe I have read much by candlelight, although it does sound quite romantic. I have however written by candlelight during an ice storm-caused power outage. I was on retreat at a monastery. It was so Medieval. Limbs cracking outside my third floor window from the thick coating of ice, bells tolling the hour, the whisper of my fountain pen against the lined paper of my journal. Delicious.

I finished two books today: French Ways and Their Meanings by Edith Wharton wherein  I discovered as much about Americans as I did the French; and, Mr. Jefferson's University by Garry Wills wherein I learned how difficult it was to found a university literally from the ground up. The topography, architectural design, building materials, financing, and of course staffing of the University of Virginia were all discussed very civilly by Mr. Wills.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Reading Recap 2011

I don't do well with numbers. It turns out that instead of having read 44 books in 2011, in putting together this little recap, I find I only read 42. You can see why I am a reader and not a numbers cruncher.

Anyway, of the 42 books I read, 21 were mysteries, 15 were non-fiction, five were novels, and I read books 1-11 of the Odyssey but don't really know how to classify it.

I read three books on a friend's Kindle and two books on the Nook Color I bought for myself in March as a birthday present.

The book that most surprised me: Dracula by Bram Stoker. It came with my Nook and I was totally compelled by the mixture of diary entries and newspaper stories that made up the tale. It is a very long and heavy 'real' book but on the Nook it was light as a feather.

The book I almost gave up on but am so glad I didn't: A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse. I was lost at the beginning but stuck with it and found the idea of a bookstore stocked by recommendations from a panel of authors to be just right.

The book that shocked and fascinated me: Seal Team Six by Howard Wasdin. Wow. Although not the best written book in the world, it was quite an eye-opener as to the chaos of the military and its operations and the intensity of its training.

The oddest mystery: Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann in which a flock of sheep solve the murder of their shepherd. At the time, I was living on a farm with three sheep grazing in the nearby pasture and this insight into how sheep think was very helpful.

The author I had scoffed at but in turn found I loved: Georgette Heyer. Funny and insightful. I discovered her through her mystery No Wind of Blame. She has 11 more mysteries for me to enjoy.

The most delightful book I devoured in one sitting: An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. The ending was perfect and came as a complete surprise.

The book that made me want to visit Wales and stay in a castle: Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett. Corbett tells the tale of renovating a castle in a wonderfully warm and witty voice.

The author I am so glad to have discovered: Gladys Taber. An American journalist who wrote about her life at Stillmeadow in the 1950s and '60s. Her book Stillmeadow Calendar is one that I immediately wanted to own. I wonder if the library would miss it. (Just kidding. I would never steal from the library.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Stash from the Stacks



Loving the computer request function of the library. I stayed in my house for three days over the New Year weekend and discovered all sorts of books to explore. Picked them up yesterday.

Into a Paris Quartier by Diane Johnson and Mr. Jefferson's University by Garry Wills - both in the National Geographic Series of travel books.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill - a new series by the author of the Dr. Siri mysteries.

Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce - the book upon which the Masterpiece Theatre production was based.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis - read this one was a laugh outloud extravaganza.

We all need a good laugh now and again.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Paging the Library

My first job was as a Page for the public library. I worked at a small branch in my neighborhood after high school maybe one or two afternoons a week.

My duties consisted of shelving books, keeping general order, and occasionally checking books in and out. I got fired "for spending too much time with the books." Oh. It must have hurt the branch librarian to let me go because she was a good friend of my mother.

Mother was a librarian. For 20-some years she was head of one of the largest branches in the system. When she retired, my father and I picked her up in a black limousine and greeted her with flowers and champagne. Even after her retirement, she continued to work for the library system as a substitute.

I still run into people who worked with her and recall her with fond memories. She was a kind manager but one of her favorite sayings was: "This is not a democracy." That put the kabosh on any dissension. Nothing worse than a rebel librarian.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Library Love

My favorite place to be is a library. Any library. I have visited reading rooms in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the British Library in London, and the Burton Barr Central Library, a soaring contemporary building in Phoenix, Arizona. There is the library in Los Angeles, one in Sedona, another in Lompoc, California. When I travel, I try to find the city's library and drop in for a visit.

I head for the main library in my own city at least once a week.

My library opened in 1908. Although today it has 17 branches, I stick with the Main building with its marble floors and columns. It has so many of the older books that I want to read. Nothing is better than rambling through the shelves and delighting in discovering a new...er, old...author.

I gravitate toward books of essays, especially the ones that feature their Dewey Decimal classification numbers handwritten in ink on the spines. Heaven. I have found thoughts and been informed by A.A. Milne, Nancy Mitford, and David Grayson.

I do so miss the little blue or white due date cards, though. They came in so handy as bookmarks. And the pockets that held those cards are gone as well. Now, I get a computer-generated grocery list of the book titles and their due dates.

Sigh.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Wish

Here then is the final paragraph, December's, from "Stillmeadow Calendar":

"What the new year may bring, we cannot know, but I pray blessings may fall on us as softly as apple blossoms fall in spring. And then I put out the guttering candles on the trestle table and go to bed, feeling that tomorrow will be another adventure in living!"

Speaking of adventures, I have been visiting Wales lately.

"Castles in the Air" by Judy Corbett is her tale of renewing a castle in Wales with her husband. It is a rolicking story told in her warm and funny voice.

This morning I finished the last two chapters of "A Writer's House in Wales" by Jan Morris. It is part of a series published by National Geographic. I have read another in the series, Anna Quindlen's "Imagined London" and have two more on request from the library: "In a Paris Quartier" by Diane Johnson and "Mr. Jefferson's University" by Garry Wills.

And, I recently watched "Framed" with one of my favorite actors, Trevor Eve. It was a Masterpiece Theatre program. When London's National Gallery floods, its paintings are sent to be stored in an abandoned slate mine in Wales. The story is based on a book by Frank Cottrell Boyce. I see that my library has a copy. It is listed as a children's book and the story is told from the point of view of a young man in the Welsh family that lives in the village. On it goes to my request list.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New books, new beginnings

I love beginnings. New years, new books, new blogs.

I am Belle, a woman of a certain age living in the South. I am happiest when I am with books...reading or thinking about reading or getting ready to read. This blog will be my reflections on books.

Hence, the candle.

I read 44 books in 2011. I keep a list at my desk. That doesn't count the many books that I started and couldn't stomach. I used to feel compelled to finish a book once begun, but no more.

I go to the library at least once a week. Of the five or 10 books I bring home, maybe two or three make the cut. And I can't tell you how many books I have waited for for months, based on a recommendation from a blog or a friend, that were returned started but not finished.

I enjoy books that take place in England and especially those between the wars. I have garnered many titles from bloggers in the British Isles and am thankful for their recommendations.

I read mysteries. Not the bloody ones, but the golden age ones where a body is discovered in the library and the focus is on solving the crime not violent and bloody descriptions.

Other than mysteries, I read mostly non-fiction. The first book I finished in 2011 was a book of essays published by The National Trust titled "Simple Pleasures." The next was a collection of essays by Pat Conroy on "My Reading Life." The only book by Conroy that I have read.

I finished out the year with "Stillmeadow Calendar" by Gladys Taber. It is a month-by-month journey through the year of life in her New England house built in 1690 and the 40 acreas that surround the house.

Taber wrote in the '50s and '60s. She touches on topics as diverse as child-rearing, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, cocker spaniels and Irish setters, the migration of wild geese, and throws in a couple of recipes to boot. A lovely meditation on nature and the seasons. I want to hug her words to me.