Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Obsession

Yesterday, I met my sister, her husband, two of my cousins, and one cousin-in-law at an ephemera show in Elkton, MD.  For me, it was just an excuse to visit with my family.  I took my book list along, but there were very few book sellers there and no books I wanted.  It was mostly postcard dealers and people selling other ephemera.  Not really interested in that stuff.

Jack, with his bad ankle, spent the time there sitting and talking with my cousin's husband.  The others were working the floor.  I kept circling back to Jack and he kept asking if I'd bought anything and then shaking his head when I said 'no'.  So, I finally decided I'd see if there were any Irish Wolfhound postcards.  We've lived with three Irish Wolfhounds over the years and I love the breed.

I looked, but I couldn't find any Wolfhounds.  I did find these four vintage postcards from a series of postcards of dog breeds.  I think they're very attractive little portraits.  Although I love Wolfhounds, I love all animals, so I'm happy collecting these breed cards.  They were only a few dollars each.  One dealer at the show had several of them for $4, $5, and $10 each, so I think I got a good deal, my four for a total of $11.

The postcards were printed in Switzerland by a company called Stahli.  I'm guessing they were printed in the 1930s or sometime thereabout.  I can't find any more about them.  I thought you could find ANYTHING on the Internet!  The cards are numbered.  Three of mine are 155, 156, and 159.  I'm assuming the series starts at 100.  I wish I could find a book showing the whole series.  As it is, if you go to a paper show or an antique shop, I guess I'll now be one of those people hunched over a box of postcards, flipping through them, hoping for a small treasure.

January 2016 Books Read

I've had an extraordinary month of reading, for me anyway.  I don't know how or why.  The month has had its ups and downs, as many months do.  I feel that I've cheated a bit because the last two books had little text, but they are books, so I counted them.  Remember, I didn't start and finish all these books in January.  I started some of them earlier and finished them this month.  Here we go:

George's Grand Tour  -  Vermalle

The Stranger  -  Lackberg

Home Life:  Volume One  -  Ellis

A Deeper Sleep  -  Stabenow

Descent  -  Johnston

Mrs. Daffodil  -  Taber

Chedworth  -  Sherriff

More Home Life  -  Ellis

The White Cottage Mystery  -  Allingham

Postmark Paris  -  Jonath

Stillmeadow Album  -  Taber

Stillmeadow Album - Gladys Taber

I've been feeling self-indulgent lately, so I ordered this book from a used book store on-line.  It's just what it says:  a photograph album of Gladys Taber's home, Stillmeadow, beloved by the author and by readers around the world and through the decades.

On the right page is a photo of Stillmeadow, on the facing page, Mrs. Taber has written a brief description of or memory about the photo.  (I just realized that the set-up of this book is exactly like that of the last one I posted about, Postmark Paris.)  We get to see the exterior of the 1690 Connecticut Saltbox house, the interiors, photos of her family, pets, and neighbors, and some of the land around the house.

If you're a fan of her writings, which I am, you'd love this look into her life via photographs and words.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Postmark Paris - Leslie Jonath

Yesterday, after I finished reading The White Cottage Mystery, I picked up a little book that was lying on the table next to my chair.  It was under some other books and I had forgotten it was there.  I read the whole thing in less than an hour.

But my question is:  do I have the right to add this to my 'Books Read' list?  It was so short.  The book is truly little, about 5" x 5", and there's not a lot of text.  If you put all the text together, it would probably only fill three pages, maybe four.

The author, Leslie Jonath, spent a year in Paris when she was ten.  Her father took a short-term research job there.  While in Paris, she started to collect stamps.  In this book, one page has an illustration of a stamp with a Paris postmark and on the page across from the stamp, she writes a paragraph or two about a person, a place, or an experience that the stamp evokes.

It's a sweet little book, but is it cheating if I add it to my list?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham

The White Cottage Mystery was Margery Allingham's first mystery, published in 1928, a year before Albert Campion appeared on the scene.

Everyone hated Eric Crowther.  He knew something awful about them all and he used that secret to mentally torture them.  So everyone was delighted when he was murdered.  Unfortunately, the police still had to try to find the murderer.  Several people were in The White Cottage when he was shot to death, but they all seemed to have alibis.

Detective W. T. Challoner's son, Jerry, was on the scene, too.  He had just given a ride to a lovely girl, Norah Bayliss, whose heel was blistered.  She walked into The White Cottage and shortly after, a gunshot was heard.

It's questionable whether or not Jerry actually helped his father.  He fell in love with Norah and he often seemed to create more problems than he solved.

Jerry and his father follow a prime suspect to Paris, and then they go on to the Riviera to talk to Norah and her sister, another suspect.

Jerry's father suddenly declares the case unsolvable and refuses to talk about it.  Jerry and Norah get married and have two children.  Seven years later, during a casual afternoon in the garden, the truth is revealed.  Jerry and Norah finally understand why W. T. dropped the case.

I liked this fairly short mystery.  I didn't know who did it, but then I often don't.  It's a fast-paced book, very enjoyable.  In one of those weird coincidences, my friend Katrina and I had just decided we would read a book about the Riviera together  -  and the Riviera pops up in this book!  Strange.

Monday, January 25, 2016

More Home Life - Alice Thomas Ellis

Another Alice Thomas Ellis book.  I feel like a tease writing about these books because they're so hard to find.  I'll only post two excerpts that I especially like.  By the way, isn't that one of the most awful covers you've ever seen? 

"I forgot to tell you about one occult experience which I share with my cousin.  We both, when little, floated downstairs.  My cousin told his mother immediately and she, without looking up from her ironing, said, 'Of course you did.'  I didn't tell anybody, but I must have been 19 before it occurred to me as odd, and I wondered if I really had.  I still wonder in my sillier moments, because I KNOW I did.  If anyone has a rational explanation for this phenomenon he will kindly keep it to himself."

This really stopped me cold because I, too, floated downstairs once.  I was between nine and sixteen years old.  Maybe it only happens to children.  Have any of you had this experience?  I'd love to know.

"I am wondering whether I shall now begin to be able to concentrate for more than ten minutes at a time, since for the larger part of my life I have felt that whatever I was doing, I should really be doing something else.  Washing nappies I should have been painting pictures.  Painting pictures I should have been mincing liver.  Pushing the pram round the park I should have been hoovering the house, and hoovering the house I should have been doing it with a greater degree of thoroughness.  I detested going out in the evenings, not only because I detest going out in the evenings, but because I was afraid I would return to find that the house had burned down and the children were gone.  I was always quite surprised not to find the garden garnished with fire-fighting equipment and even now when I get home I still have to creep into the bedrooms to check that the occupants are present and breathing."

Come on, who can't identify with that?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Chedworth - R. C. Sherriff

My friend Katrina and I have looked everywhere for a photo of this book and we haven't come up with anything.  The book in the photo is the copy I borrowed from my library, a very ratty edition with no jacket or pretty binding.  The title page is the best I can do.

I think I have one more of R. C. Sherriff's novels to read.  I know he wrote some plays and some very famous screenplays, but I'm not interested in reading those.  I've liked each of the books by him I've read.  I'm sorry there aren't more, but I'm grateful that my library had two and that I could download another of his as an e-book.

Wing Commander Sir Derek Chedworth, just back from flying at the front, goes to a musical revue in London with two of his friends.  During the performance, the theatre is shaken by nearby bombs, but the young woman on stage, Peggy Fortescue, keeps singing and dancing.  She's scared, but she focuses on one member of the audience, Chedworth, and sings just to him. 

After the show, he comes backstage to commend her for her bravery and compliment her on her talent.  Peggy finds him outside the theatre later, waiting for his driver, and she realizes that he's blind.  His plane came under fire and a piece of shrapnel pierced his skull.  There's a comedic interlude when he offers to drive her home and she tells him she's staying at the Dorchester, a very posh hotel  -  where he's also staying, much to her chagrin.  She really lives in a boarding house.  It's finally all straightened out and he asks her to have dinner with him.  And to marry him.  What a whirlwind romance!

She agrees and they go to his family home in Cornwall, Chedworth.  It's a huge estate, thousands of acres of fields and moor and farms, a huge house built of parts that are hundreds of years old.  Derek is the Lord of the Manor to the villagers.

Peggy soon realizes, though, that Chedworth is on its last legs.  The estate is broke financially and is physically broken down.  There has been no money for repairs.  Derek is proud and will not entertain discontinuing any of the charities he provides to the villagers.  The villagers think he's rich and expect the benefits bestowed on them by his wealthier ancestors.  He's been selling the manor's paintings, jewelry, and paintings.  Peggy wants to help, but he stubbornly refuses.

Derek wants to be part of the military again, but his blindness makes him non-eligible.  He's delighted when the air force wants build a field and operations center at Chedworth.  They want to buy Chedworth, which Peggy thinks will save them, but Derek won't sell.  He allows the government to build their facility on the land for a ridiculously low amount.

By the way, Derek is a lot older than Peggy.  When the airmen show up, they ask Peggy to help them put on a show.  They've discovered that she had been on the stage.  Working with the young airmen, Peggy and one of them get close.

There's drama, romance, descriptions of life in rural England at a crucial time for the country and for the relationship between the landed and the villagers under their care.  It's a good book and has something for almost everyone.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mrs. Daffodil / Gladys Taber

I grew up reading Gladys Taber's columns on country living written for Ladies' Home Journal and Family Circle.  My mother loved her quiet essays about the old country house she and her friend Jill (her name in the books, not her real name) lived in, their adventures keeping the old house alive, their neighbors and friends, their gardens and cooking, their cats and their dogs.  I loved them, too.  I have many of her books about Stillmeadow and Still Cove, her homes in Connecticut and on Cape Cod.

Bur for some reason, I didn't realize she had written fiction, too.  Mrs. Daffodil is fiction, but it is clearly autobiographical.  Mrs. Daffodil lives in an old farmhouse in the country with her friend Kay and writes columns about country living.  They have a Siamese cat and they raise Irish Setters and Cocker Spaniels.  The two of them labor around the place to keep things working, they garden, they cook, and they can.  Mrs. Daffodil happily greets admirers of her column who often drop by unannounced, Kay heads for the hills when they do.  Pure real Gladys Taber.

I think this is a charming, quiet book, instilled with country wisdom.  If you like the Miss Buncle books or Betty MacDonald's books, I think you'll like Mrs. Daffodil.  It's not bereft of problems:  small farmers are failing and housing developments are eating up the farmland, highways are cutting through residential land, people are having the same relationship problems they always have.  The septic system breaks, the new dishwasher won't work, Mrs. Daffodil gets locked in their old car, the help they hire does nothing but eat and cause problems while Mrs. Daffodil and Kay do all the work.

If you want a few serene moments out of your busy life, try this book, or any of Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow or Still Cove books. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Home Life - Volume One / Alice Thomas Ellis

Alice Thomas Ellis's collections of her columns written for The Spectator in the late 1980s are very hard to find in the US.  I've just bought Home Life - Volumes One through Volume Four from used book dealers.  I'm sorry that these books aren't easier to find.  I feel like a tease telling you how much I liked Home Life: Volume One and how much I'm looking forward to the other three volumes.

Alice Thomas Ellis was her pen name.  She was married to publisher Colin Haycraft and lived in Camden Town (London) and in Wales.  Her neighbors in London were Alan Bennett, who I assume is the author of a favorite book of hime, The Uncommon Reader, and the author Beryl Bainbridge, her best friend, with whom her husband had a 15-year affair.  Alice, I'll call her Alice for consistency, and Colin had seven children, two of whom died.  She was a Catholic.

These columns / essays are very short, usually three or four pages in a small format book.  They range from discussions of the habits of cats, of drunk strangers in the garden, her son's birthday present to himself of a young boa constrictor, bats, cooking, ghosts, why some appliances won't work for certain people, more discussions about cats and why strange ones keep showing up in the drawing room.

I like her dark humor and her wry observations.

The Stranger - Camilla Lackberg

I think I stumbled on this series because of an Amazon e-book sale.  This is the fourth book in the series, preceded by The Ice Princess, The Preacher, and The Stonecutter.  I've read them all in order.  That helps because there is a story and character progression that might be hard to follow otherwise.    The Stranger is also known as The Gallows Bird.  As of now, there are nine books in the series.

The series takes place in Sweden.  The protagonist is Detective Patrik Hedstrom.  When a local woman is killed in a single-car crash, seemingly a drunk driving accident, Patrik's gut tells him there's more to the story.  He discovers that the woman was a teetotaler and that she'd been forced to drink / inhale a bottle of vodka.  There are tape marks around her mouth, with a hole in the middle for a bottle neck.  He also finds that there are more deaths similar to hers across Sweden.  Patrik searches for a connection and finally realizes that the solution is uncomfortably close to home.

He aslo has to contend with a group of obnoxious young people who are on a reality program like MTV's Real World.  They drink, they have sex, they do drugs, they have fights.  They're out of control and being filmed and paid for behaving badly.  One of the girls on the show is murdered.

And there's Patrik's home life.  He and writer Erica are about to get married.  Erica is depressed and tired.  She hasn't lost the weight she gained while pregnant with their daughter Maja.  She's worried about her sister Anna, who lives with them with her two children.  Anna is traumatized by the domestic violence she and her children were subjected to before she killed her husband.  She sleeps all day and is non-functioning.

Patrik has his hands full.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

George's Grand Tour - Caroline Vermalle

This is a quiet book about two elderly French men who decide to follow the route of the Tour de France in a car.  George is in his 80s and Charles is younger and more enthusiastic about the trip.  George has the perfect chance to go on the adventure when his daughter goes to South American for two months.  He doesn't want her to know he's gone away.  She's been caring for him and, frankly, they both need a break.  Charles has his wife's blessing.  And off they go.

Not much happens.  George meets Charles' sister and they like each other.  George's granddaughter calls him, figures out that he's put his phone on call forwarding, learns about the trip, and asks him to  text her each night to tell her that he's okay and where they are that night.  George learns text-speak and he and his granddaughter rekindle a latent relationship.  They're both delighted about that.

They meet some interesting people and see some interesting sights, but neither are dwelt on.  The trip seems a little cursory.

Charles has a special reason for the trip, but I'm not going to tell you what it is.  He'll have to tell you.

A while ago, I read a book about an elderly man who takes off on a grand adventure, so, a similar subject, but with major differences.  The book was The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  I liked that one better.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Books Read

I've been a mostly compulsive list keeper since 1966.  I admit that in 1966, when I was 13 or 14, I only listed one book that I'd read:  Tess of the D'urbervilles.  It's my recollection that I read that over two summers while I was volunteering at our local library.  In 1967, I only started keeping my list in July for some reason.  After that I became more consistent.

This past year, I read 86 books, fewer than the last few years.  I'm not going to list favorites.  I was reading up a storm in May and June, reading ten books in May and eleven in June, then I stalled a bit.  I picked up again in September and December.  I read mostly books in paper form.

I discovered a few new authors:  R. C. Sherriff, William Kent Krueger, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, and Margot Arnold.  I revisited some favorite authors:  Tess Gerritsen, Janet Evanovich, Laura Lippman, Paul Doiron, Andrea Camilleri, Donna Leon, Gladys Mitchell, Elly Griffiths, Dana Stabenow, Alan Bradley, Agatha Christie, Robert Crais, Anthony Trollope, and Louise Penny.

I re-read two Nancy Drew books, The Mystery of the Tolling Bell and The Clue of the Tapping Heels.  They always take me back to chilly summer mornings sitting on the shady balcony outside my bedroom, wrapped in a favorite long green cardigan, lost in the adventures of another teenage girl.  I envied her so much.

I forgot to list the books I read in November.  I won't go back and list those, but here is what I read in December:

     Playing With Fire  -  Gerritsen
     Greengates  -  Sherriff
     Browsings  -  Dirda
     Tarzan of the Apes  -  Burroughs
     Do Unto Animals  -  Stewart
     The Hopkins Manuscript  -  Sherriff
     Tricky Twenty-Two  -  Evanovich
     Cross and Burn  -  McDermid

Cross and Burn - Val McDermid

This is the eleventh Val McDermid book I've read.  I stopped reading them a few years ago because I decided I couldn't tolerate the graphic torture, often sexual torture, in her books.  But I like the Dr. Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan characters and how they've developed.  

This book came up as an Amazon e-book deal for $1.99 and I bought it.  So when I recently needed a book that would grab me by the shirt and drag me into it, I chose this one.

Carol wants nothing to do with Tony because she blames him for the brutal murders of her brother and his girlfriend.  Tony is a police profiler and should have been able to predict what wacko Jacko Vance was going to do to get to Carol and to Tony.  But he didn't.  Both Carol and Tony were damaged people even before the catastrophe of Carol's brother's murder.  They had begun a tentative but unconventional relationship, trusting and depending on each other in their professional and personal lives.

But when Tony is arrested for kidnapping and murdering two women who look a bit like Carol, Carol is persuaded to come out of hiding to help find the real killer.

Cross and Burn was just what I needed to distract myself.  I flew through it in a few days and enjoyed it very much.  It lacked the graphic violence that had put me off, so I could enjoy the fast-paced story.

New Year's Eve Dinner

I finished a book last night and will post about that shortly.  We didn't really feel like celebrating this year.  Maybe we look at things through the wrong end of the glass.  We should be more thankful for all the lives, human and otherwise, we are allowed to share our lives with.  We do our best to treat all respectfully and compassionately, and I suppose that's all we can do.

Philadelphia has two sets of fireworks for New Year's Eve.  There's a 6:00PM show and a midnight show.  You can imagine the difference between the two.  Lots of families with children at the first, lots of exuberant revelers at the latter.  The fireworks are set off along the Delaware River and prime viewing spots are only a few blocks from our house.  The fireworks are pretty, but leave it to me to worry about frightening animals and birds.

We managed to motivate ourselves to make a decent dinner last night, not as extravagant as some years.  Jack made black bean burgers and rice pilaf.  I tried a new recipe for cauliflower buffalo 'wings'.  We liked the 'wings', but I used regular Frank's Hot Sauce instead of their Buffalo Wing Sauce.  Although I practically drink Frank's Hot Sauce, the wings were too hot for me.  Jack had no problem with them and had two helpings.  I'll make them again and use the Buffalo Sauce and hope they're not as hot.

Would it be silly of me to wish for a more peaceful and compassionate 2016?