Friday, November 17, 2017

Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody

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I left behind Dahlia Moss and her amateur detecting from last week's post...she was entertaining, but I couldn't quite get with the computer gaming part of the tale.

So, I moved on to a British mystery that features an amateur sleuth who couldn't be more different. Meet 31-year-old Kate Shackleton. She is a widow, promising photographer, daughter of a police superintendent (which helps), and was a voluntary field nurse during World War I. She also has a penchant for finding people who have gone missing. 

Her first professional case comes to her when friend and former nurse colleague Tabitha asks her to find her missing father. Joshua Braithwaite was the successful owner of one of the many textile mills near Leeds. One day he simply walked away from his family, his village, and his business. Tabitha, who is to be married shortly, believes he is still alive and hires Kate to find him before the wedding.

The setting is the 1920s and I love reading about that time. The clever chapter headings all reference textile or mill terms — for example, crepe-de-chine, twisting-in, candlewick. There are intriguing historical details and descriptions of the mill and the difficult and dangerous life of its workers. (Think Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South.)

My only complaint is that there are too many instances when I am aware that the author is 'writing'. By that I mean there are character background details or descriptions that don't actually move the story forward. They seem forced. I guess I don't have patience for too many side trips. I want to get on with it.

This is the first in a series — there are nine mysteries so far. If you are a fan of Maisie Dobbs, these books will be sure to please.

Here is a quote I quite like regarding Kate's interest in photography. It could apply to any artistic endeavor.

Even when my photographs did not do justice to the scene, which was most of the time, simply framing the views developed a photographing habit that changed my way of seeing. A photographer's eye sharpens memory from a vague or hazy recollection to a clear image of an everlasting moment. Owning a camera gave me a new interest in people and landscapes, in markets and busy streets. It is a way of looking outside yourself and at the same time gathering up mental albums of memories.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Two for the Taking - On Books and On Murder

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Things have slowed down a bit here in BelleBookandCandle land. I have just barely started two books, both by authors I have not read before.

The first is More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby. It is a collection of his book columns — Stuff I've Been Reading —written for Believer, touted as "a magazine of interviews, essays, and reviews." The format is simple. Mr. Hornby begins each monthly essay listing Books Bought and Books Read. As you can imagine the lists don't always overlap. Usually, more bought, fewer read. 

I have only finished the first couple of essays/musings. Although many books about books lean heavily on fiction, Mr. Hornby includes many nonfiction titles. For example, Austerity Britain, 1945-51 by David Kynaston he finds to be surprisingly entertaining. But American Rust, a novel by Phillip Meyer about the "long, slow death of working-class America," also captures his heart.

Then there are his Muriel Spark binges, a tale of attending the Oscar ceremonies in Hollywood, meeting Patti Smith (Just Kids), and chatter about the World Cup. 

Something for everyone.

It appears that Mr. Hornby enjoyed writing these essays as much as I am enjoying reading them. They are quite witty. They were published in 2010-2011. This is the fourth and final collection of columns and I see now that many of them are on the magazine's website.  He also wrote a couple of books that were turned into films:  High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, and About a Boy. I will be checking Netflix for these. 

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The second book is a mystery titled The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone. Dahlia, an unemployed not-your-Miss-Marple millennial, is not really a detective but is hired to be one. Her 'client' sends her on a quest to recover a virtual weapon — The Bejeweled Spear of Infinite Piercing — from an online game called Zoth. He pays her a thousand dollars up front and promises her another thousand dollars when the spear is returned to him. Unfortunately, her client doesn't live long enough to pay her the second thousand dollars. 

That's as far as I have gotten in the tale. I'll just have to see how this one goes. It is pretty humorous but some of the 'gaming' talk is beyond me. Oh, well. Perhaps I will learn something as I try to solve the mystery along with Dahlia.

How are things in your book world?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Go with the FLOW

As a rule, I don't buy magazines. Although I enjoy looking at home decor and arts and crafts magazines, I have a difficult time throwing them out as I think I will reuse them or refer to them sometime. Honestly, that rarely happens so I try to avoid the temptation of bringing them into my home.

But there are always exceptions to my rules. Take FLOW magazine for example. I was introduced to this magazine that celebrates "creativity, imperfection and life's little pleasures" a year or so ago by a friend. It hails from the Netherlands and is filled with the most engaging illustrations and thoughtful articles plus all sorts of treats for the reader. By treats I mean tear-out decorative papers, tags, prints, stickers, and inspiring words. You never know what its pages will hold. There are articles featuring artists from around the world and essays on all sorts of topics — philosophy, slowing down, unplugging, organizing, crafts — all written from the point of view of taking one's time to engage, experience, enjoy. 

I love this magazine. It is relaxing to leaf through its pages. But, it is difficult to find and a subscription costs a fortune as it ships from the Netherlands. However, I discovered that my local Barnes & Noble carries it. The couple of times I have looked for it though, the magazine has been sold out. Apparently I'm not the only one to be taken with its wisdom.

So I was thrilled when I stopped in B&N on Sunday and found a stack of the latest issue #20. They must have just arrived. I snatched one up and was delighted to read in the table of contents that there were pages devoted to tours of the homes of three different artists, the importance of friendships, what we can learn from Mother Nature, setting up a morning routine, and the advantages of loafing. (Ooh. I love that one.) Plus three 4x6 notebooks each with a different illustrated cover are included. There are four full-page prints by German naturalist and scientific illustrator Maria Sibylls Merian from her book Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium which was published in 1705. There is even a sticker for my cell phone that advises: Offline is the new luxury. 

As I stood in line to make my purchase, excited to discover the surprises it held, imagine my delight to spy a display of a special edition of FLOW: 19 Days of Mindfulness. Wow! I really hit the jackpot.

I swooned.  

This edition contains 163 pages of day-by-day ways to bring mindfulness and creativity to your life. There is a notebook for your Morning Pages, a feature on artists and their tools and talismans, a color-by-number paper tablecloth (big project), and colorful cutouts to make your very own hot air balloon paper garland. 

An amusement on every page. 

On its website you can preview its gorgeousness. There are photos and features and DIY crafts. There is a store locator so you can check to see if it's available anywhere near you. Its website tells me that there are four international editions in English each year. It is also available in German and French and of course Dutch.

I will warn you that the issues are a bit pricey — $25. But if you break that down to the number of hours of entertainment you will enjoy, it's a mere pittance. In the long run, FLOW is an inexpensive way to fill your life with beauty.

Let me know if you are already familiar with FLOW or if you have any luck finding copies in your neighborhood.

Here are a couple of photos from the magazine that is way more than a magazine:

Three notebooks are included in issue #20

This article contains pages of small illustrations
 that can be used in my art journal

From Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium 

An article on stepping away from technology

A funny look at people merging with book cover images

Suitable for framing - words to live by

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

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If you have ever wanted to have a Highland Fling, I have just the book for you. The Bookshop on the Corner features a pastoral setting in Scotland, plenty of intriguing characters, a romance or two, and lots of book talk — always a plus. 

It is pure escape.

The Birmingham library that Nina has worked in for years closes its doors. Ready for a change, she buys a large van, fills it with her own collection of books and books discarded from the closed library, moves to Kirrinfief, Scotland, and opens her own mobile bookstore which she promptly names Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After. She travels from village to village, market day to market day, connecting her customers with just the right book.

Now that she is away from the noise and confusion and traffic of the city, she comes to realize how much the beauty of the countryside appeals to her. It's rich and wild and strange, and yet, she feels at home. 

Nina's best friend Surinder (her mother was on the police force; I laughed out loud!) offers moral support although she lacks the courage to pick up her life and move as well. Nina has a couple of romantic encounters - a poetic one right out of a romance novel, and the other one a little more down to earth. 

The book contains glorious descriptions of flowers and food, dawns and sunsets, weather both calm and dramatic. There are feasts and festivals. One, celebrating Midsummer's Eve was a delight to behold with its huge bonfire, dancing, and drinking to celebrate the solstice.

I quite enjoyed Nina's adventures and was cheering for her risky venture to succeed. I love a story about starting over. Really, who hasn't thought of ditching their current life and creating the one they have dreamed of? 

Fling on!

Friday, October 20, 2017

In Which I Meet Gretchen Rubin

I got to meet another one of my rockstar writers! Gretchen Rubin, who writes about happiness, habits, and human nature was at an event Wednesday night put on by the same healthcare organization that brought organizer Peter Walsh (here) and gratitude guru Janice Kaplan (here) to Louisville. 

I have been following Ms. Rubin and her blog and her books for the past ten years. I remember being laid up after surgery in 2007 and messing about online looking for help with de-cluttering, simple living, etc. Her blog The Happiness Project with its cheerful blue bird popped up and I have been a fan ever since. 

I have read and written before about her books The Happiness Project (here and here), Happier at Home (here), and Better Than Before (here).

I got to meet Ms. Rubin. I'll call her Gretchen now that we are best of friends. She was sitting next to me in the front row so I introduced myself and welcomed her to Louisville. She was very gracious and gave a terrific talk on her new book The Four Tendencies.

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If you aren't familiar with The Four Tendencies, it is the culmination of her research on how people respond to expectations — inner or outer. You could be an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

I knew even before I took her quiz that, like Gretchen, I am an Upholder. My motto, therefore, is "Discipline is my freedom." 

Upholders respond to both inner and outer expectations which means I can complete my own ToDo List and also meet deadlines set by others. We are a small group, she says. Our weaknesses?  Upholders sometimes get locked into their schedules, may seem rigid and judgmental to others, and struggle with fluid situations. This is so me!

Questioners find it easier to meet their own expectations while needing to be convinced to meet yours: "If you convince me I need to do something, then I will comply" is their reasoning. Questioners can seem stubborn and insubordinate, but it's only because, well,  they question everything.

On the other hand, Obligers respond well to outer expectations. If you are an Obliger, you work best when held accountable. If you want to read more, then joining a book club will help. Or you might try making plans to meet a friend to walk three times a week. "You can count on me and I'm counting on you to count on me" is the Obliger's rallying cry. The problem Obligers face is they can suddenly explode with anger if they feel they are being taken advantage of...which of course they are, Gretchen says. Employers of Obligers need to watch for and head off over-commitment and over-work that Obligers are famous for.

Rebels know what they want, go for it, and ignore convention. They are the spirit of resistance. A Rebel's motto is "You can't make me and neither can I." Oddly enough, Gretchen says, Rebels are attracted to high-structure jobs — the military or police — as the regulations give them something to push against. 

Understanding your own tendency in meeting expectations can help you show compassion for yourself, she says. Know that there is nothing wrong with you. Understanding how others meet expectations helps us realize that we are all different and that we can take into account another's perspective. 

After the presentation, I asked her how as an Upholder with a big dollop of Rebel, I could let that Rebel have a little more room to play. She suggested that I schedule time to wander, to explore, to daydream. If it's on my calendar, I will do it. 

What about you? Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? You can take her quiz Here. Let me know in the comments how you fared and if you agree with the results.