I have not read with Elaine for the last couple of weeks. Last week she had croup, poor lamb. The week before I had physical therapy (poor me.)
This week's books were delightful. We both liked Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs best. Mo Willems is brilliant. He's the author of the well-known Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. The three dinosaurs (Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and a dinosaur who happens to be visiting from Norway), being familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, decide to set a trap for Goldilocks. Their favorite treat is chocolate-stuffed-little-girl candies so they leave bowls of chocolate pudding for her. The book drips with irony, so we talked about irony. I didn't think a five-year old would understand. I know a lot of adults who don't get it. But Elaine saw right away what I was talking about.
Also high on our list was This Moose Belongs To Me by Oliver Jeffers. Wilfred finds a moose and names it Marcel. He makes a lengthy list of rules, few of which the moose pays any attention to. Then a little old lady says the moose is hers and his name is Rodrigo. Whose moose is it?
Middling Mary and Other Silly Folk: Nursery Rhymes and Nonsense Poems by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Katja Bandlow, is filled with zippy rhyming verse, some of which set us giggling. Mary's pig is not too fat and not too thin, not too pink and not too green, not too dirty and not too clean. There's a long list. Elaine and I made up some more of these, which wasn't hard to do (she was better at it than I.)
Boot and Shoe by Marla Frazee, is about two dogs from the same litter, Boot and Shoe. One of them likes to sit on the front porch and the other likes to sit on the back porch. Which is fine until a mischevious squirrel appears and in the course of chasing it around the dogs get separated and can't find one another. You could never guess how they finally reunite.
We also talked about end papers and how in children's books they are often very clever. The end papers for This Moose Belongs to me is a blue line that starts at the top and winds back and forth until it gets to the bottom. What could that be all about? You will find out when you read the book. The endpapers from Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs are filled with variations of Goldilocks and . . . Goldilocks and the Three Penguins, Goldilocks and the Three Ground Hogs, etc. Again, we made up a few more.
Don't you wish you read with a bright little girl every week?
I didn't discover Hilary Mantel until Wolf Hall was published. I like to think of myself as well-read but somehow she had slipped through the cracks. So I only recently became interested in her as a person and in her work. I read her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, which I'll talk about in another post when I get my emotions and opinions about it under control.
When I read a post on dovegreyreader about her first novel, Every Day Is Mother's Day (1985), I decided to read all of her books in order. There are only a dozen or so mostly short novels, some novellas, and two memoirs and for someone who regularly reads authors like Anthony Trollope and Frances Hodgson Burnett, who both wrote more than 50 very lengthy books, Mantel's oeuvre will be easy to handle.
This first novel is brilliantly written, as one would expect even from Mantel's earliest work. It is also disturbing, with deeply dislikeable characters. It is about a social worker, Isabel, and the vicious young girl and her mentally confused mother whom the social worker tries to help. Isabel has problems of her own, mired in an unworkable affair with Colin, another deeply dislikeable character. His wife and sister are not much better. All these characters are warped and tangled in the lives of the others.
I do not like the book, but I appreciate it. In fact, I am about to buy a copy because it's a novel that needs re-reading. Mantel's next work, Vacant Posession, is a sequel.
For an excellent review of the book, go to the dovegreyreader review.
By the way, the only seller offering the first edition on abe.com is asking $2000 for the book.
Harry Lipkin has been a private detective in Miami for a long time. He spent a few years as a cop early in his career but for the last 50 yeas or so he has been out on his own. Harry is 87 and he's slowing down a bit, but he's still got cases.
These days I deal mostly with the sort of cases the cops don't want. Cops want serial homicide. It makes them feel good when they catch someone. But how tough is it to catch a serial killer? You put his picture on TV Nationwide. You wait. Ten days later a schoolteacher on her lunch break spots him. He's walking out of a Baskin Robbins in a hick town somewhere in Montana. That's him. The guy whose picture was on TV. Before you know it he's surrounded by a million armed cops telling him to drop everything and freeze.. And then they shoot him. Ninety-one cents' worth of vanilla, banana, and pistachio ice cream wasted.
As Harry says, he may not be the best in Miami, but he's sure the oldest. In this short mystery by former writer for Private Eye, Barry Fantoni, Larry tells us about his most recent case.
Mrs Norma Weinberger, a widow a little younger than Harry, has had a problem with theft. The items stolen aren't of great value, especially compared with her million-dollar jewelry collection and objet d'artes lying about her mansion. A Limoges enamel box is missing and some love letters are gone.
"Since my pillbox was stolen, Mr Lipkin," she said, "I haven't had a wink of sleep."
"You think maybe the thief is planning on stealing something else?"
She shook her head. "My sleeping pills are in the box."
There are five suspects: the chauffeur, the gardener, the chef, the butler, and the maid. Harry sets out to investigate all of them. They all appear to have more money to spend than they should considering their wages. Harry has contacts all over the city, so when the chauffeur tells him he makes a lot of money boxing professionally, Harry knows just who to call. A friend who is a trainer looks up the guy and determines he is a boxer and he's good. Harry can scratch the chauffeur from the list.
The chef, a black Ethopian Jew, contributes a lot of money to build synagogues in Ethopia. Harry has an old friend, a rabbi who is involved in fund raising and he vouches for the chef. The butler spends a lot of time at the racetrack, but Harry's old pal who works at the stables assures him the butler has a system that really works. He is making money betting on the horses. Scratch the butler.
And so it goes. Everybody gets scratched from the list. So who is stealing Mrs Weinburger's things? The solution to the thefts isn't as complex as might be expected and Harry, with the help of his client's nephew, solves the mystery.
Harry is charming, he knows his limitations (he keeps a .38 and a spare set of dentures handy at all times), and he still has a few cases to work on before he retires, and his narrative of the Weinberger case is delightful.
Most people when they think of Frances Hodgson Burnett, if they think of her at all, remember The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Little Lord Fauntleroy and dismiss her as a writer of children's books. But Burnett wrote many adult novels, including The Making of a Marchioness, which was republished not long ago by Persephone and has become popular among discerning novel readers. She wrote about 30 adult novels and 15 or more children's books, many short stories, and a few plays and some of this work is excellent.
The Head of the House of Coombe and its sequel, Robin, which were published in 1922, were the last books Burnett wrote. They tell the story of a flighty woman, so flighty people called her Feather, and her daughter, Robin. Feather's husband dies, leaving her with a child she does not want and an enormous load of debt. When the servants, long unpaid, leave her and the child alone in the house she is frantic.
Lord Coombe arrives when she is at her lowest ebb and tells her he will pay her debts and support her. He does not want to make her his mistress, but the situation will be misunderstood, and he asks if she is willing to accept the social ostracization that will ensue. She cares nothing for morals or her reputation. She wants only money and the wealthy Coombe will give her the luxury she craves.
The story takes place in the 20 or so years before and during World War I, a time that is described in the novel as one in which many young people have broken free of the standards of their parents. Feather, seemingly a man's mistress, finds this is no bar to a busy social life among a fast crowd in London.
Coombe is a Georgette Heyer sort of hero. He is believed by most people to be wicked, a misconception he does nothing to correct. For much of the first novel he is perceived by the reader as a man who has lived a life of dissipation. Entirely out of character is his interest in Feather's daughter, Robin, who is almost entirely ignored by her mother whom she knows as The Lady Downstairs.
In a touching episode Robin, playing in the park and ignored by her nurse, who is engrossed in a novel (Lady Audley's Secret, I think), is befriended by a Scottish boy, Donal, who as it happens is Lord Coombe's heir. The children, young though they are fall in love. But when Donal's mother discovers who Robin is, and thinking the child is the daughter of Coombe's mistress, she hustles Donal off to Scotland. Both children are bereft.
Coombe discovers the child's nurse is mistreating Robin and hires a loving and intelligent nurse for her, builds an apartment onto Feather's house for her, and when the time comes, hires an excellent governess who comes to love the child dearly.
Robin knows none of this and has come to hate Coombe, thinking he is responsible for her mother's degredation. When she has grown into an adult, Robin again meets Donal. Has their love survived? Where will Robin's life go from here.
It's all very dramatic. These are the days of sentimental novels and this one fits into that frame. But it is also peopled with interesting and complex people and as the plot works its way to a conclusion, the reader is on the edge of her chair, eager to find out what the author has in store for these characters.
There is a bibliography of Burnett's work here. Many of her works are available for the Kindle at little or no cost.
C C Benison's Eleven Pipers Piping really is about eleven pipers. They are members of the Thistle But Mostly Rose South Devon Pipe Band and Mr Christmas is a guest at their annual Burns Supper. Tom Christmas is not looking forward to this event.
He himself felt thoroughly English, and if he were about to give allegiance to another people, it would . . . not be the Scots, who could only have been led by a ghastly climate and impoverished soil to think a celebratory dinner should consist of offal and oatmeal stuffed into a sheep's stomach then boiled, turnips -- his least favorite vegetable -- boiled, and potatoes -- yes, boiled.
But he is their chaplain and is required to attend despite the haggis (great chieftan o' the puddin-race), neeps, and tatties. He must give the Selkirk Grace, in heavy Scots dialect. He has been diligently practicing.
There should be 22 men at the supper, but because of dire predictions of extremely heavy snow throughout England and the fact that the snow has begun in Devon and is already quite deep, about a dozen members from outlying areas have called to say they won't be there. The supper is attended by eleven pipers and Mr Christmas. Until an unexpected would-be guest at the inn appears and is invited to join the men, making it 13 at dinner. Not a good sign. And then someone dies, apparently of a heart attack. (But as we all know, an unexpected death early in a mystery novel is never just a heart attack.)
One of the things I like in a novel is a switch from the point of view between characters and another is the inclusion of letters. In Eleven Pipers Piping, as in Twelve Drummers Drumming, we are treated to some of the daily letters, heavy with dramatic irony, written by Mr Christmas' housekeeper cook to her mother. Madrun Prowse was sent by the previous incumbent to culinary school to learn to make elaborate French dishes, and her boeuf bourguignon and pastries are the delight of Thornford Regis. Her most serious problem is the inexplicable collapse of her Yorkshire pudding, until, that is, her berry tarts are implicated in the death of the innkeeper.
The Thorn Court Country Hotel has been on slippery financial ground of late and now it is completely closed for renovation. However, having agreed to host the Burns Supper some time earlier they do open their dining room for the event. As there are no employees in the kitchen, the wife of one of the pipers caters the event and the daughter of another serves the dishes, so with the unexpected guest, there are plenty of people to choose from as suspects. With the dead man heavily insured and his having been in a bitter feud with the family of the woman catering the event, not to mention the mysterious reasons for the arrival of the unexpected guest, there are numerous motives to choose from.
C C Benison is actually Douglas Whiteway, a Winnipeg newspaperman and editor who majored in religious studies at the University of Manitoba and journalism at Carleton University. He has apparently given up his earlier careers to write mysteries and I'm deeply grateful to him for doing so. His books are clever, witty, and filled with interesting and sometimes complex characters. They have plots reminiscent of the golden age of detective stories. My review of his first Jane Bee mystery, Death at Buckingham Palace is here.
Shooting at Loons by Margaret Maron is the third in her Deborah Knott mystery series and in this book Deborah has been sent pro tem to Beaufort (pronounced BOW - fort, not BYEW - fort like that other place down in South Carolina) to fill in for a judge who is ill. She has a cousin who has a small house on Harkers Island where she can stay. Her neighbors, whom she knows well because she vacationed there every summer when she was a child, are natives of the island some of whose families have been living and fishing there since the 1720s.
Shortly after she arrives a neighbor takes her out on the water and they find the body of another neighbor, Andy Bynum, on a sandbank. Andy owns a menhaden processing plant and is a member of a committee of developers, vacationers, fishermen, and environmentalists who are trying to work out compromises that keep everyone happy. That is impossible to do in a very old but now quickly changing area like the Crystal Coast, which is what they call this beautiful area, and there are bitter feuds between these people.
Next door to the cottage is a volatile old timer, Mahlon Davis, who is building a traditional island fishing boat in his yard. But the boat is partly on the vacant lot that has been bought by the most active developer, Linville Pope. She is threatening to have all of Mahlon's years of collected junk removed from the lot, including the boat. She is also threatening to build a boat storage facility and docks next to a beautiful mid-19th century house that the owners have completely restored. She wants to buy a fish processing plant that has been in the owner's family for generations and which employs local men. She insists that she is not threatening, just stating facts. Those facts can change if people agree to do what she wants, sell her what she wants to buy for shoreline development.
We see Deborah in court handling traffic and other non-felony cases and it is as entertaining as it was in her last book, Southern Discomfort. She is enjoying the ocean and the seafood and catching up with old friends from the area. Until another body is discovered and she is in the thick of the search for the murderer.
Once again I think this book is even better than the earlier ones, and they were very good. A clever series with lots of Southern charm, local color, food, and North Carolina hospitality.
Tags: Beaufort North Carolina, commercial fishing, Crystal Coast, Deborah Knott, environmentalism, female judges, game laws, Harkers Island, loons, Margaret Maron, menhaden, North Carolina coast, real estate development, Shooting at Loons, sports fishing
Ever heard of necrotic arachnidism? Chironex fleckeri? Trypanosomes? Sponge face?
These are the less than cheery subjects of a book I got this morning at Auntie's, Spokane's favorite bookstore.
Psychologists tell us that human beings are born with an innate fear of spiders and bugs, snakes, and a couple of other dangerous creatures. I was born without this fear. I have induced grown men to whimper by picking up a spider or a cicada or a tobacco worm.
I may want to re-evaluate the situation after reading Pamela Nagami's wonderful book, Bitten: True Medical Stories of Bites and Stings. She tells tales of people killed by swarms of fire ants, a lethal spider (which lives only in and near Spokane), an almost indiscernible jellyfish, as well as snakes, snails, ticks, flies,mosquitoes, ferrets, rats, dogs, and the occasional Komodo dragon.
Necrotic arachnidism is what results when you are bitten by a venomous arachnid, like Spokane's hobo spider. Chironex fleckeri is a particularly nasty Australian jellyfish. Trypanosomes are the little guys that give you sleeping sickness; they are delivered by the tse tse fly, beloved of crossword puzzle afficianados.
Sponge face is what they call you when you've been attacked by the protozoans passed along in the bite of the sandfly, Phlebotomus argentipes. And don't underestimate horses. They don't often bite people, but when they do the wound can produce a pretty disgusting infection.
All-in-all, this is the creepiest thing I've read since The Gashlycrumb Tinies.
Update: This post is from 28 December 2006. Last year we pulled some stored bedding out of the guest room closet and there on the floor were a couple of dozen dead hobo spiders. Since then we've found them (always dead) under a night stand and elsewhere. Fortunately, for reasons nobody seems able to understand, they don't go above ground level so we see them only in the basement and so far only dead ones.
Alas, this is not a history of wallpaper. It's mostly a thinly veiled public relations effort to boost the manufacturers and sellers of contemporary wallpaper. Some of the designs of this modern paper are stunning and I was delighted turning the pages and looking at the pictures. The lily of the valley paper on the cover is an example of the beauty of some of these papers.
I didn't find the book useful or instructive. However, if you are decorating a very modern space and are looking for something to make a strong statement, you will find it here.
In Suitors by Cecile David-Weill, Laure and Marie Ettinguer are the 30-something children of a very, very rich old-money French family. They own a villa, L'Agapanthe, in Cap D'Antibes, which they open for a couple of months every summer and which costs millions to keep up. The girls are shocked when their parents announce they are going to sell the house. The parents don't have money problems, so why would they sell? We will learn more about this as the story moves along.
The girls are heartbroken. How can they save the house with its memories of their childhood and gracious livng? They would like to buy it themselves, but their money is really their parents' money. Where can they get that kind of cash - not just to buy the house but to keep it running?
The obvious answer is for one of them to marry money, Big Money, a man who could afford to buy and maintain such a place. So the girls make a pact - they will identify some extraordinarily rich men and invite them to L'Agapanthe then make a play for them. The girls are attractive and desirable (one is a psychotherapist, the other the translator for the president of the republic.) Surely this can be worked out.
The book tells the story of three weekends with guests that include a rich self-made technology nerd, a hedge fund operator and playboy, and an American billionaire who is more interested in health food and yoga than in the girls. As these three mingle with the usual guests who come each summer they break every rule of etiquette and thoroughly bungle their visits.
Meanwhile the reader learns how the other 0.001% live. We discover that it's even more gauche for the French to say "Enchante" when introduced to someone than it is to say "Delighted" in English. We learn what to wear when. Never wear yellow shoes after 5 PM, for example. (I would have thought the rule would have been never to wear yellow shoes at all.) No velvet after Easter. Men should wear a tie when visiting a capital city.
The problems of very rich women are touchingly described. How to explain why they are late to work every Monday morning? (They have just flown back to France on the SST.) Why can't they invite friends home? (Their house is bigger than the Elysee Palace and thoroughly intimidating to their less wealthy friends.)
The author is from an old-money French family who vacation on Cap d'Antibes and Publisher's Weekly says the book is a roman a clef, one which American readers and especially we of the bourgeoisie, are unlikely to be able to unlock. But when David-Weill tells you it is not done to drive a Rolls Royce or that bodyguards patrolling the grounds is declasse, you can believe she knows whereof she speaks.
This book is available on Kindle for less than $10, but I recommend you get a paper copy. The design of Suitors is delightful, with menus, schedules of arrivals of guests, seating arrangements, and other special pages that make is a lovely thing to hold in your hand.
I want to thank my friend, Frandy, for telling me about this book. She thought I might like it. I love it.