Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Longwood Gardens

Sunday was almost unbearably hot.  But I didn't know that it would be when I agreed to meet friends at Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  That was several weeks ago, and although I suspected that mid-July wouldn't be fun, I was hoping for cooler weather.  As it happened, the day was mostly overcast and there was a lovely intermittent breeze.  Without those, I would have melted, despite a wide-brimmed hat and my Ray Bans and a cool dress.

Longwood Gardens are what was once one of several old du Pont estates in the area.  It's over 1,000 acres set in rolling southeastern Pennsylvania countryside.  There are gorgeous formal gardens, but our focus this visit was the meadow.  It has recently been expanded and there are many new pieces of hardscaping  -  bridges and walkways and a nature center gallery.  With air conditioning, a bathroom, and two drinking fountains.  Just what was needed after hiking through the meadow.

There are so many flowers tucked into the meadow grasses.  Black-eyed susan, butterfly weed, blazing star, coneflower.  We admired the red-winged blackbirds balancing on the tops of the waving stems.  There was even a 'green roof' bluebird house!  How ecologically sound!

It was nice to get back to the lake at the bottom of the meadow and into the woods.  There's a tree house I'd kill for, and the Italian gardens with their fountains were so tempting!  I'm sorry I forgot to take photos of these.  You'll have to visit Longwood yourself, or at least look at their web site:  http://longwoodgardens.org .

Our friends were just coming home from a week long vacation at the Delaware shore, so we ended our visit with lunch at the 1906 Restaurant at Longwood Gardens.  Excellent!

This is cheating, but here are some photos I took when we were there in April 2013.  They always have such gorgeous borders.  In the spring, they're almost overwhelming.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reading in June

Two of the books I finished in June were included in a previous post.  I read several books at one time, and sometimes it takes me a while to finish a book, especially a long one, so these aren't necessarily books I started and finished in June.  But I doubt you care about that.

Jamaica Inn  -  Daphne du Maurier

No Man's Nightingale  -  Ruth Rendell

Patricia Brent, Spinster  -  Herbert Jenkins

A Spoonful of Poison  -  M. C. Beaton

The Sign of the Twisted Candles  -  Carolyn Keene

Heaven's Prisoners  -  James Lee Burke

My friend Katrina (http://piningforthewest.co.uk) and I decided we would read Jamaica Inn together.  Not page by page together, but during the same month.  I'm not sure how we plan to discuss it, so I'll just say that I enjoyed it but it was predictable.  I first read this book in the 1960s, during my Gothic period.  Even then, though, my index card says that I didn't think it was one of du Maurier's best and 'definitely not one of her more suspenseful ones'.

No Man's Nightingale brought me back to the evil in modern times.  Retired Inspector Wexford is finding it difficult not to be a policeman.  He's consulting with the department now.  This time, a female vicar is strangled.  Not only do we need to know who did it, we need to know who her daughter's father is.  There is a kidnapping and more murder and the father is revealed.  The motive is simple, and I'm surprised it's not a more common murder motive.  (BTW, I'm interested in differences between American pronunciations and British.  I heard in an interview that Ruth Rendell pronounces her last name REN-dle.  The ex-governor of Pennsylvania has the same last name but pronounces it ren-DELL.)

I believe it was Simon at Stuck in a Book (http://stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.co.uk) who posted a blog about Patricia Brent, Spinster.  It's been a while, but I noticed it, was in the mood for a light, amusing book, and it was a free e-book download from Manybooks for Kindle (http://manybooks.net/help/devices/kindle.php), a site I find easier to use than Project Gutenberg.  Simon was right:  it is amusing and light.  Patricia Brent is a spinster, although a fairly young one.  She's tired of the people in her boarding house pitying her, wondering why an intelligent, attractive girl is STILL unmarried.  To shut them up, she announces that she is having dinner with her fiance.  She doesn't dream that some of them will follow her to see this mystery man.  Patricia has to ask a man at the restaurant to pretend he's her date.  He plays along and he likes her and he wants to continue to see her.  She's humiliated that she's picked up a strange man in a restaurant and thinks he's making fun of her.  There are interesting revelations about the man that only trouble her more  -  because they make him even more of a catch.  I enjoyed it, but, in retrospect, I'm annoyed that she felt so constrained by the social mores of the time.  How silly!

Not everyone likes Agatha Raisin books, but those of us who do find ourselves returning again and again to find out what Agatha is doing.  She's frustrating and silly, but there's something endearing about her.  In A Spoonful of Poison, she's asked to do publicity for a village fete.  She's wildly successful, but someone puts LSD in the jam tasting samples.  Two old women die during their unplanned trips, and some people blame Agatha for luring so many outsiders to the fete.  It's Agatha all over again:  jealous of her lovely detective Tony, on the lookout for a lover, aware that she's getting older and worried about being less attractive.  The Agatha Raisin books are quick reads and I like the characters.  I consider them palate cleansers.

It was time for me to re-read a Nancy Drew book.  Belle, at Belle, Book and Candle (http://bellebookandcandle.blogspot.com), inspired me when she recently posted a blog about Nancy Drew.  I love Nancy Drew.  She colored and shaped my early reading years and she'll always have a place in my heart.  In The Sign of the Twisted Candles, Nancy and her friends Bess and George (a girl) take shelter at an inn, The Sign of the Twisted Candles, when caught in a violent rain storm.  Nancy notices the proprietor berating his foster daughter and attempts to comfort her.  She learns that a 100-year-old man, the owner of the property, lives as a recluse in the attic.  She and her friends have lunch with him and several days later, the girl asks Nancy's lawyer father to help the old man draw up a new will.  There's a fight between the man's distant relatives and they're livid when he dies and leaves almost all his money to the proprietor's foster daughter.  You'll probably guess why he left it to her, but I don't want to spoil it for you.

Last night, I finished Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke.  I read this on my Kindle.  I have to tell you, I'm not sure why I keep reading this series.  The books are so evocative of what I think the deep south is like (hot, humid, lots of snakes, very shady characters), but I have trouble relating to the society he depicts.  It's just so far from anything I know.  The books are always very violent.  I can't always understand the Cajun lingo some of the characters speak.  I can usually follow the plot line.  So, there's a lot I don't like about them, but I keep reading them.  Dave Robicheaux and his wife are out in their boat when they see a plane crash into the water.  Dave dives to see if he can save anyone, but the only one alive is a little girl who doesn't speak English.  He takes her home with him, worried that she'll get lost in the system.  He's also worried because he saw four dead people in the plane but the authorities report that only three were killed.  Why?  Dave, a retired cop, can't leave well enough alone and it comes back to bite him big time.

I'm still reading The Count of Monte Cristo, which I hope to finish soon, Love Nancy, the letters of Nancy Mitford, Travels of William Bartram, and several others.

Are you reading anything interesting or amusing?