Wednesday, November 29, 2017

November's Books

It's been so long since I posted on this blog that I barely remember how to do it!  Life hasn't let up.  In fact, it's gotten more chaotic.  This should be a happy time, but it's very stressful.  I abhor disorder.

We bought a house in an old neighborhood just outside of the small city I was born in.  It has many different styles of architecture and huge old trees.  It's picturesque and quiet and good friends live close by.  Family, too, is closer in some cases.

But before we move in, we want a few changes made.  We want to paint, clean, etc.  We haven't put our Philadelphia house on the market yet, so we've been gradually moving smaller things from Philly to Lancaster.  That will help with the final move and should declutter the house to make it ready to sell.  But it's all taking so long!

The workmen are just getting ready to start on the 'new' house (built in 1954) renovations and the old house (which is really old, having been built in about 1840) won't go on the market until after the first of the year.  My baby grand piano is being moved tomorrow.  The rest of the big furniture will stay in Philly until the house has been sold.  Everyone wants 'staging' these days.

I've had little time to read.  If I do have time, I spend it packing or feeling guilty that I'm not packing!  I hope that things get back to normal one day soon.  This is the list of books I finished in November.

The Dry  -  Jane Harper  This is a murder mystery that takes place in Australia during a drought.  Did the drought make the murderer do it?  The ending moves as quickly as wildfire.

Caroline Writers at Home  -  Meg Reid (Ed.)  Belle's post on her blog made me want to read this book.  It's essays by writers from or living in the Carolinas.  Most are about place, about home.  I enjoyed it and delved into it on and off for several weeks.

The Bookshelf on the Corner  -  Jenny Colgan  Another of Belle's recommendations.  This was a quick, light read.  A romance and an adventure story.  I saw the ending coming, but that didn't take away from the pleasure.

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras & The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy  -  Michael Orenduff  Dare I say it?  Two more that Belle liked!  I really don't read everything she reads, but she reads many books that appeal to me.  The Pot Thief digs up old pots in Arizona and sells them in his shop.  He doesn't consider it stealing.  Sometimes he liberates pots from museums, where he doesn't think they belong.  I like the characters in the books.  I have trouble seeing the connection between what he's studying and how that affects his ability to solve mysteries.  I have one more to read in the Kindle 3-pack of Pot Thief books I bought.

At this point, I think I have to give Belle more credit for all the links I've provided to her blog.  She writes descriptive and short posts, just the way I like them.

The Woman in Cabin 10  -  Ruth Ware  Many people wrote about this book.  I seldom read new books, so I waited for a year or so before I cracked this one open.  Laura (Lo) Blacklock, a travel writer who drinks too much, is invited on the virgin voyage of a posh small cruise ship.  She borrows mascara (yuck!) from the women next door, in cabin 10.  During the night, she's awakened and hears a thud and a big splash.  She sees blood on the glass divider between her terrace and that of cabin 10.  She's sure that a crime has been committed, but the cabin is empty and no one admits to seeing the woman she met.

Y is for Yesterday  -  Sue Grafton  This is a new book that I couldn't wait for, so I got in line at the library and, eventually, it showed up.  I've read all the Kinsey Millhone mysteries and I can't think of one that truly disappointed.  I like Kinsey, her lifestyle, her neighbors, and her friends.  This mystery spans 10 years.  A young girl is murdered by one of her friends, manipulated by another of their friends.  The boy who shot her has just been released from prison and someone is trying to blackmail him with a film he and his friends made of them sexually abusing another of their friends.  With friends like these kids ....  Kinsey is hired to find the blackmailer.  Then the kid who shot the girl disappears.  That can't be good.  Meanwhile, Ned Lowe, the serial killer who tried to kill Kinsey in a previous book, returns to collect the mementos from his killings and to finish off Kinsey.  I won't spoil anything for you, but I will tell you that Ed, her neighbor Henry's cat, is rescued before anything too awful happens to him.  I was feeling very apprehensive for a while, but don't worry.

Maybe once life settles down, I'll get back to books that require a bit of concentration or that allow me to escape completely into their stories.  Fingers crossed that all goes well over the next couple of months.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Books of October

I'm surprised I read as many books as I did last month.  It took me a while to read some.  You do understand that I don't necessarily start and finish all these books in one month.  I'm a mood reader, so I typically read four or five books at one time.

The last week of the month was particularly stressful:  we bought a house and buried a good friend.  More later about one of those.  I'm still recovering from both.

In October, I read these books:

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp  -  Carter Dickson

     Yvette posted about this book and it sounded so good I had to have a copy.  It's hard to find, but I got a copy on-line.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  How can you go wrong with disappearing people, an Egyptian curse, and a creepy old mansion?

A Fine and Bitter Snow  -  Dana Stabenow

     I like the Kate Shugak mysteries and have read most of them.  In this one, two older women, friends of Kate's, are attacked in their remote cabin.  One dies, the other is in a coma.  There are secrets and one of those secrets has appeared for revenge.  As usual, an exciting read.
   
The Magyar Venus  -  Lyn Hamilton

     Lara McClintock, antiques dealer, runs into some old college friends.  They persuade her to join them at a party for the unveiling of the Magyar Venus.  Some of her friends question the authenticity of the statue and ask her to probe its provenance.  She tracks the statue's origin to Hungary and finds a sordid tale involving one of her friends.  Another interesting book.

The Outrage on Gallows Hill  -  George Bellairs

     I've only recently discovered this author, and this is the second book of his I've read.  I enjoyed them both.  Fortunately for me, he was prolific and I have tons of his Inspector Littlejohn books to look forward to.  Littlejohn goes to the village of Ravelstone to find out who killed Ronald Free.  Free was walking home after asking his girl to marry him.  She accepted, so he was walking on air when he was garroted.  Many people aren't who they seem, there are secrets to be revealed.  I enjoyed this mystery as much as the first one I read.  I like Bellairs' style and characters.

McNally's Dare  -  Vincent Lardo

     This is another of the Archy McNally mysteries, which were originally written by Lawrence Sanders.  After Sanders' death, Vincent Lardo wrote a few more.  I can tell the difference between the two.  The Lardo books lack something, although he tries hard to emulate Sanders.  A young man shows up to claim his inheritance from his late grandmother.  On her deathbed, she cryptically questions the young man's identity.  Archy will find out if he's the real deal.

Seriously ... I'm Kidding  -  Ellen Degeneres

     I like Ellen Degeneres and have been a fan since her stand up comedy days.  I thought this book was a memoir, but it's not.  It's a bunch of stuff that's supposed to be funny.  What I realized is that Degeneres's comedy is in her delivery.  I read stoically along until I tried imagining Degeneres delivering the lines in her unique style.  Then I laughed a few times.

The Cake and the Rain  -  Jimmy Webb

     And I don't give up on the occasional celebrity books.  This one was a memoir of the 1960s and 1970s.  It's autobiographical and it's gossipy.  If you recall from my last post, as a teenager, I was smitten by the actor Richard Harris.  Jimmy Webb did the infamous album McArthur Park with Harris.  I still have a copy of the album A Tramp Shining.  So there were stories about him, about John Lennon, who comes off badly, of Glen Campbell, Joni Mitchell, and other musicians.  It was a fun, although sometimes very unfunny, book.

Murders in Volume 2  -  Elizabeth Daly

     It might have been the mood I was in, the stress and grief, all the things that had to be done to purchase the house, the long trips to and from the funeral in just a day and a half, but I could not get into this book.  I've read other Daly books and thought I liked them, but this one was dull and confusing and I had difficulty finishing it.

November, with moving and things related to moving (changing banks, updating driver's licenses, etc.), is shaping up to be a too busy month.  I've already packed and moved several boxes of TBR books.  I kept a few out but will be reading mostly on my Kindle.  The move will take quite a few weeks because we're having a bit of work done on the new house and the contractors can't start until after Thanksgiving.  They say the work will take three weeks.  It's being managed by a friend of ours who is in the business, so I hope he can keep them on schedule.  We're having shelving installed in a room that will be my new library.  We're excited about moving out of the city.  We've been here too long and I'm eager to do things like garden and bird watch.  We'll also be moving close to three of my high school friends who've remained good friends over the years.  Two of them are musicians who play gigs in local venues.  We're looking forward to being their new groupies!  Am I tempting fate to hope for a happy, healthy, peaceful life in our new home?


Monday, October 16, 2017

A Well-Documented Life


This is the one that started it all.  On April 30, 1963, my parents and my sister gave me a diary.  I think it was a reward for not biting my nails or sucking my finger.  Or a bribe to get me to stop doing those things.  I was ten, going on eleven.

Reading it is a hoot.  My propensity for trying to make the world a better place, or at least one that is more to my liking, seems to have started early.  Note the exclamation marks.  I still use them too much.


I still hate it when a favorite product is no longer available.  I also still can't swallow pills larger than a Motrin caplet.  And I still contact companies, officials, presidents, Congresspeople, mayors, and presidents of companies when I have something to say to them.  I go straight to the top.

November 22, 1963, if a little dramatic:



I still have the song I wrote, very dirge-like, and, yes, lots of chords.  I can't understand why it didn't seal my future as a composer.  Or maybe it did.

Strangely, I mentioned swimming all over the place at a family friend's lake.  I can't swim today and don't recall ever swimming, really swimming, as a child.  I was afraid of the water after almost drowning once.  I imagine that I was walking in the shallow part, waving my arms in the water and professing to 'swim'.  Child Olympic swimmer to landlubber.

There was a gap of a few years after I filled the 1963 diary.  The two small diaries behind the blue one are for 1966 through 1968, an interesting time in my teenage angst-filled life.  I became a committed Anglophile.  I read and read and read.  I was madly in love with Richard Harris, the actor.  And a local boy who was a wrestler, a boy I never spoke to until he showed up years later with a friend at the apartment in Boston I shared with my future husband.  

After 1968, another gap of two years.  That's too bad.  I shed my goody-two-shoes-academic image by dating a hippy who'd been arrested for dealing drugs.  Then I dumped him and in a few months took up with my future husband.  I wish I had the details in a journal rather than just my memories, which I've found can be faulty.

I kept a very sporadic journal (by then I referred to them as 'journals', which sounded, and still sounds, more mature;  diaries are for babies.  And Pepys) for 1970 through 1972.  It's too bad I didn't write more during this time.  I was grasping the sexual revolution with both hands, trying any drugs someone handed to me, falling in love, or lust, okay, it turned out to be true love (still married after 43 years).  I was breaking the law, loving every terrifying minute of it, driving my poor parents mad, and following my heart to Boston.  These were the things I'd been reading about.  Now I was living them.  I was collecting experiences, fodder for my future as a writer, I thought.


I kept my journal in unattractive spiral notebooks and miscellaneous journals from 1974 until 1981.  My husband gave me a 5-year diary in 1974 for our first Christmas as a married couple.  They're not really satisfying because they only allow a few lines per day, but I loved that he got it for me.

The little red and black journals were bought at a store on Newbury Street in Boston.  For quite a few years, I could find new ones here and there.  I liked them a lot, although the paper wasn't the finest.  They were attractive and a convenient size.


In the red journals, in the 1980s, I recorded life in Boston, my work at investment companies, my two years as a bartender, a much needed job change after I got burnt out at the office.  What a cast of characters I met at the bar!  Uncle Louie, an ancient ex-vaudeville performer, Fank, the capital cop who sometimes dressed as the Lone Ranger only with real guns, Jennifer, the tall waitress who dated a jockey and then a comedian whose name you might recognize but who's dead now, Eveyln, whose father was Minister of Wildlife or something in Kenya and who had his own jet.  Yes, he did.  There was also the drama of our family of bartenders and waitresses, whose partners changed sometimes weekly.  

We travelled to the Caribbean in February and to Europe in the fall.  I recorded our trips and adventures.  We had good friends and lots of fun.  We bought a boat and sailed the New England coast.  But sailing bored me and occasionally made me sick, so I left the sailing to Jack and went back to my books.


I bought all eight of the flowered books at the same time.  I think they were from The Christmas Tree Shop in Marshfield, MA, where we lived in the 1990s until 2005.

In 1986, I became seriously addicted to writing in my journal.  I've kept them daily since then.  But why?  The entries are seldom earth shattering, often not even that interesting.  I rarely write about current events, just the things I did that day, things that happened in the neighborhood.  They got me out of a ticket for putting our trash out before 7 PM when I could show the judge the entry for the date of the alleged offense.  I wrote that we'd gone to see the comedian Steven Wright (he's our favorite and he used to drink at the same bar we did in Boston), got home late, and put the trash out around 11PM.  Ticket voided.


The black journals are mostly Moleskine, but, recently, I've discovered a brand called Eccolo World Traveler, which have sturdy but flexible faux leather covers.  I like them better than Moleskine.

Why am I compelled to document my life?  I have no children to pass them on to, children who would read them and realize that their mother was a wild and crazy girl at one time.  If I'd chosen to have children, I would have had a very different life.  In addition to the journals, I have two boxes of letters written between me and my mother after I moved to Boston and before dementia took her from me.

I'm glad I have my journals and letters.  In today's world of e-mail and IMing and Snapchat and Smartphones, people are leaving very little of themselves behind.  Unfortunately, via Twitter, etc., they're saying too much to too many people without too much thought.

What do I do with my journals?  Do I leave them to one of my nieces?  There are very few things in my life that I'm ashamed of, but there are things in my journals that might surprise my family.   Part of me wants them to know my secrets, another wonders if I should let them know.  I worry that they'd think 'that old lady did WHAT?!'  I could always have a huge bonfire or stipulate that they be consigned to one after I'm gone.  

If you keep a journal or diary and have been honest in it, what do you plan to do with yours?



Saturday, September 30, 2017

Reading Update

This post can double for my 'Books Read in September' post because it is, after all, September 30th today.  I'm currently about to finish a Carter Dickson book.  If I finish that today, I'll post about it, or not, separately.


I've been reading books I bought in Maine.  I read The Rubber Band by Rex Stout.  I love Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.  There's something comforting about knowing what to expect.  I expect Wolfe to be in the orchid rooms at certain times, I expect Archie to be a smart ass, I expect Wolfe to drink lots of beer and eat good food.  This book did not disappoint.


Then there was A Motor-Flight Through France by Edith Wharton.  The title misled me.  I thought she was going to be in an airplane.  But a 'motor-flight' turned out to be a trip, trips, really, through France in a 'motor':  a car.  I suppose that this was almost equally as adventurous at the time, cars being very new.  Wharton, it turns out, loved touring in an automobile.  Her husband was with her and so was Henry James at times.  Can you imagine those conversations?!  Wharton knew a lot about architecture, especially of the churches and cathedrals they hunted for.  She spends little time describing the people of the different regions they drove through and stayed in, though.  I would have liked more of that.  But she describes the buildings and landscapes in detail.

Then I read A Catherine Aird mystery called A Most Contagious Game.  I can't remember much about it now except that I enjoyed it.  Really, one day soon I'll be able to read a book, wait a week, and read it again, thinking it's a new book!

I also read McNally's Gamble by Lawrence Sanders.  I like Archie McNally and the trouble he gets into.  I found out something interesting when I read McNally's Chance a short while later.  Lawrence Sanders only wrote the first seven of the McNally series.  After he died in 1998, Vincent Lardo wrote another six of them.  The problem was / is that the books are published with Sanders' name in big letters, leading readers, myself included, to think that Sanders had written them.  Somewhere, I read that readers sued the publishers for deception of some sort and were reimbursed in some amount.  Before I read this, I was thinking that McNally's Chance lacked something.  Then I found out that it wasn't written by Sanders but by Lardo.


Several bloggers has posted good things about George Bellairs.  I agree with them after reading Death in High Provence.  I've been collecting his e-books, many of which are available at affordable prices.  I like the fact that Inspector Littlejohn took his wife with him when he went to investigate the auto crash deaths in France of the brother and sister-in-law of a friend of his.  There's a mysterious castle / estate that belongs to a man who has the village and everyone else nearby under his thumb.  He's clearly the bad guy, or is he?  Littlejohn finds out which.  I'm going to follow Inspector
Littlejohn through more of his investigations.

I found another Kate Shugak mystery in Maine.  They're usually exciting, the kind of book you can't put down.  This one was not up to par, in my opinion.  Enough said.  I'll still try to find and read the few in the series I haven't read.


AND, I just finished Glass Houses, Louise Penny's latest Inspector Gamache book.  This one is much grimmer than the others.  Gamache is now head of the Surete and it looks like he's botching it.  Crime is worse and the police don't seem to be able to do anything about it.  Are they completely inept?  The criminals are beginning to think so.  There's also a creepy robed, hooded, masked figure, a 'cobrador', that stands silently on the green, freaking people out.  Why is he there?  The thing I find most disturbing is that Three Pines is at the center of the story, which begins with Gamache on trial for several crimes.  It's a fascinating book with a spectacular ending.  I don't know how she keeps on doing it, but Louise Penny does not disappoint me.

That's it for now.  Books are my refuge, but sometime life gets in the way, bars the door to the other worlds I often prefer to inhabit.



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Books Bought in Maine

As I mentioned, while we were vacationing in Maine, I had the opportunity to visit five or six used bookstores.  I loved two of them, really liked one of them, and didn't like three of them.  My favorites were Two Brothers Books in Freeport, Mainely Murder Bookstore in Kennebunk, and a library bookstore in Brunswick.  The proprietors of Two Brothers and Mainely Murder were equally nice and welcoming.

So, here's what I bought.  Mostly paperback mysteries.  I couldn't resist the two old books I bought from the $1 shelves at Two Brothers.  One of those, whose title you can't see, is Bulfinch's Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology.  There's just something about holding those old books with their lovely bindings.




I'm on an Archy McNally kick.  They're light, amusing mysteries.  I can imagine Michael Weatherly, of NCIS, playing Archy.  I bought three Rex Stout / Nero Wolfe books and five Michael Gilbert books.  I've only just discovered Michael Gilbert and have only read one of his books so far, which I posted about a few weeks ago.




I also bought two Dana Stabenow / Kate Shugak books.  I'm reading one now that's quite a disappointment.  Usually, her books are exciting, but this one, Killing Grounds, reads like a treatise on salmon fishing in Alaska.  No one get murdered until about 100 pages in.

A new author to me, recommended by one of the women at Mainely Murder, is Wallace Stroby.  I liked the story,  Kings of Midnight, but his use of sentence fragments drove me crazy.  Lyn Hamilton is another author I like and I found one of hers.  I was happy to find two Elizabeth Daly books at the library bookstore and a Cyril Hare at Mainely Murder.  I don't actually remember where I bought the Catherine Aird.

Of the books I bought, I've finished reading Rex Stout's The Rubber Band, McNally's Gamble, Kings of Midnight, and A Most Contagious Game.

We had a great vacation and I wish we were back in Cape Elizabeth!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and Used Book Stores

We've just had our first two-week vacation since 1988 and we loved it.  But being in the same cottage we rented in Cape Elizabeth last year, feeling that we were coming back to a place we love, made it harder to leave.  The cottage is on a point jutting into the ocean, on a dead end road with only dead end roads around it.  We never heard a car horn, a motorcycle, shouting, beer bottles breaking, car alarms, or anything to disrupt the sound of waves on the rocky shore.  Perfect.


A view of the cove and open ocean from the bedroom.



A view from the living room.  The ocean is visible at the end of the lane as that bright patch of blue.


A view of Two Lights lighthouse from the lane in front of the cottage.


The cove and a house I'd love to have (except that it's too big).

We saw a lot of wildlife on this visit.  One evening a doe and two fawns ran past the window and settled in to eat in the back yard.  Jack took this photo through the window (through the screen, unfortunately).  Another evening, two grey foxes chased each other through the yard and made their weird cries.  You can hear them here.  Creepy!


The following two photos are of Portland Head Light, a lighthouse painted by Edward Hopper and other artists. 





Prout's Neck is only a few minutes drive from the cottage.  We drove out there, but most of the roads are dead ends and private ways.  One of my favorite artists, Winslow Homer, had a house out there.  You can tour it, but you have to go in to Portland, get tickets at the art museum, and have them shuttle you back and forth for a tour of the house.  It's also not inexpensive.  We passed on it this year, maybe next year.

We spent most of our time reading (surprise, surprise, and even Jack read a book), walking, and sitting on a log at the cove.  We met a resident who introduced us to another resident, both very nice.  I'd love to buy a house there, but, apparently, once you're there, you don't leave.  There's nothing for sale along any of the roads on the point.  I'll be happy, I guess, as long as Holly keeps renting us her cottage.

I got a 'Maine Guide to Finding Old Books' pamphlet and visited five or six used bookstores.  Several were too stuffy but I loved three of them.  I'm not collecting books any more, so I prefer less expensive books I can read and pass on.  Two Brothers Books in Freeport was great, as was the proprietor and his two very fat cats.  Equally wonderful was Mainely Murder Bookstore in Kennebunk.  The two retired ladies who own the store were helpful and a hoot.  They're happy to run next door or into their house to look for books for you.  There was also a library bookstore that had two Elizabeth Daly mysteries.  I think it was in Brunswick.  It's not in the pamphlet;  I think I found it on-line.

It was a great trip, if a long drive (7 hours from Philadelphia if there's no traffic or accidents, which is impossible these days).  We thought that by staying two weeks, we'd get our fill of Cape Elizabeth, but it only made us want it more.  Cape Elizabeth vs. Philadelphia:  heaven and hell.

The moon was full while we were there.  Jack took these two final photos of the moon over the cove.





August Books

This is my list of books I finished reading in August.  I always imagine myself lying in a hammock under a shady tree, but I don't think I've ever done that.  I used to read outdoors when I was a kid, but now I'm too easily distracted.  I do most of my reading sitting / lying on the sofa.  This summer I did a lot of that with the air conditioning on.  I hate the heat, so I managed to only go out when it was absolutely necessary.

The Longer Bodies  -  Gladys Mitchell

Adventures of a Vegan Vampire  -  Cate Lawley

The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk  -  Carolyn Keene

My Brother Michael  - Mary Stewart

The Monster of Grammont  -  George Goodchild

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business  -  Dick Van Dyke

The Empty House  -  Michael Gilbert

X  -  Sue Grafton

Masquerade  -  Walter Satterthwait

The Redeemer  -  Jo Nesbo

Again, heavy on the mysteries.  I have a few non-mysteries in the works, but I have to admit that mysteries are just so easy to read and so satisfying.  I discovered a few new authors this month and hope to read more of their books.