Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Travels - April 2009

My April travels began in 1940s England with Noel Streatfeild's Saplings and then went right ahead sixty years with John Mortimer's Rumpole Rests His Case. I flew back to California and Maine with Sharon Lovejoy's A Blessing of Toads, and then headed again to England, this time Sarah Challis' modern-day Dorset in Blackthorn Winter. From there I went to a rarely visited literary locale, the Australia of Helen Garner's The Spare Room, set in the present day. The publication dates spanned 1945-2008.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Miz B hosts Teaser Tuesdays.
Grab your current read.
Let the book fall open to a random page.
Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
Please avoid spoilers!

I do remember that we were both insistent that we had no worries about Sam. We used Sam as a point of comparison.


Monday, April 27, 2009

The Spare Room by Helen Garner

25. The Spare Room
by Helen Garner
fiction, 2008
hardcover, 195 pages
finished, 4/27/09

I've had this book for a little while. It is one my friend Carole in England kindly sent to me. I wasn't so sure about it because of the subject matter, but I held onto it thinking I might pick it up someday. On Saturday morning when I did a blog search to see if anyone else had read Blackthorn Winter, I found a new-to-me blogger who had written a review of the Challis book, and The Spare Room. I thought this might be a sign that the time had come to read it, and so I began. I brushed away all thoughts of spring activities, settled on the shady porch swing, and got completely caught up in the story. It starts so quietly. A woman is preparing her guest room, her spare room for a friend. It seems a pleasant endeavor, but right off the bat there is an ominous note. She chooses a pink sheet because 'pink is flattering even to skin that has turned yellowish.' Uh, oh this isn't good. She wonders about putting up a mirror. 'Would she want to look at herself?' And then when the mirror falls off the wall, as I feared it would since it was just held with adhesive, a friend happens to call. 'A mirror broke? In her room? Don't. Tell. Nicola.' So there in the first five pages, the reader understands.

The Spare Room is about a woman with cancer and how her disease affects everyone around her. Nicola is part of a generation who didn't always marry and have children. Many are free spirits who have traveled and worked at several different jobs. When illness comes, who takes care of these people? There aren't any adult children or aging husbands to give the love and support needed.

Nicola comes to Helen for a three-week stay while she does some alternative treatments in Melbourne. The strain is almost unbearable for Hel, not just because of the hard, hard work of changing and washing sheets (from nightly sweats and/or loss of bladder control), hauling the heavy mattress to where it can air out, driving Nicola wherever she needs to go. No, the worst and unexpected part is dealing with Nicola's refusal to admit two things: how serious her condition is, and that she may be paying a lot of money to a charlatan. Her treatments leave her feeling terrible, and the people don't give her real care. Those at the alternative clinic leave her on her own to deal with the side effects.

The book's title is reflected in the 'spare' prose. There isn't a wasted word. Though it is set in Australia, I didn't have much sense of the outer landscape. The Spare Room could have taken place anywhere, because those of us who have been through this sort of thing know that the outside world falls away. The weather may be sunny or rainy and it doesn't register unless it connects somehow to our inner experience. Also, the reader is not 'spared' the gruesome details of a ravaged body and a hurting spirit. We are there in Helen's house for those long three weeks.

In the midst of the upsetting times, there are moments that recollect the old friendship between these two women.

Before dinner Nicola made a couple of magisterial gin and tonics and we drank them in front of the TV, to armour ourselves against the news of the world. Later we watched the DVD she had chosen, Million Dollar Baby. We loved the girl boxer leaping out of her corner with her fists up: let me at you! I privately thought the ending was sentimental; Nicola cried; and then we both praised Hilary Swank to the skies. This was the way we had always been together. It was easy.

The Spare Room has important things to say about the patient and the caregiver. They are things not often talked about. Mostly we hear about the unselfishness and kindness and generosity of caregivers. Yet caregivers may not have a chance to express their very particular concerns, angers, and fears. Here their emotions are given voice. It is an excellent book, beautifully written. Though it was sad and hard to read sometimes, I stayed with these women. It felt like it was the very least I could do.

The reviewer I noted above wondered how true the book may be, and I did as well, especially with the main character sharing a name with the author. I did a search and found an interview in which Helen Garner says she did indeed lose a close friend.

In lieu of offering a general book giveaway, if you or someone you love is going through (or has gone through) a similar experience either as the patient or the caregiver, and you would like to read the book, please go to my profile page and email me. If I get more than one note, I'll do a drawing.

A blogger on the radio!

When I saw the title of Cornflower's blog entry, 'Cornflower live', this morning on my sidebar, I had to rush over. Well, she is indeed live on the radio, and we can all listen. Go here and follow the link.

Or you may follow the steps:





On four, click listen.

The winner of A Blessing of Toads is Kiirstin!

Kiirstin, if you go to my profile page, you may email me with your address, and I'll send the book off to you.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Second Raised Bed

While I was writing today's book report, Tom was busy setting up the second raised bed. This one contains our transplanted garlic plants and French Red shallot bulbs. The first one is just to the right with a walkway in between the two.

Blackthorn Winter by Sarah Challis

24. Blackthorn Winter
by Sarah Challis
fiction, 2003
paperback, 345 pages
finished, 4/25/09

References to a 'blackthorn winter' are the bookends to this story. At the beginning of the book a man overhears people complaining about the April weather and says:

Blackthorn winter. That's what it is. Get a cold snap when the blackthorn's out and folks reckon it's colder than the winter proper. Won't be spring till the blossom's finished.

And at the end, the main character says:

The blackthorn's out. Have you noticed? Tom Atkins told me ages ago, before I'd moved into the village, that when the blackthorn has flowered, the season has turned and the cold days are done.

Though I tend to be rather obtuse when it comes to metaphors, I think this describes the emotional period of time Claudia goes through in a journey toward her own particular springtime, rebirth, renewal of life. When the book begins, her husband is in jail for some sort of fraud and has been living with another woman. To escape the scandal, Claudia buys a country home in a Dorset village. She goes back to her maiden name, and doesn't reveal her past history to anyone.

Blackthorn Winter nicely brings full circle the English village stories I've read this year. From the 1950s of Miss Read to the 1970s of Sheila Radley to the present day of this book. The concern I voice in my book report on Village School is addressed in Blackthorn Winter. I had been musing about what would happen if a non-white, non-Anglican moved into Miss Read's village. Fifty years later, of course this has happened. A woman's grandchildren are coming to live in the village along with her widowed son. They've lived their lives so far in Hong Kong, and are part Chinese. She is asked if they think of themselves as Chinese or English, and says in reply:

I don't think either in particular. So far, it hasn't really mattered. They've been used to a very international community in Hong Kong and they go to international schools. It will be different when they get here. That's the only thing which slightly concerns me.

In another part of the book, a young girl 'traveler' hates going to the village school because she is bullied and made fun of. She is happier when she goes to the larger regional school and notes that because there are two Chinese children not so much attention is given to her.

There were a couple of Chinese kids from the takeaway and even a few refugees from somewhere or other who hardly spoke any English so she wasn't the only one who wasn't, like, normal.

When Claudia's past finally becomes known in the village, she fears the response. An older new friend tells her,

Of course you'll be of interest here. That's inevitable, but it will be of a fairly restrained nature, I should say. People will talk for a while and you'll be pointed out as the woman whose husband is locked up. I don't think the village will ever forget that, but you will be accepted for what you are. Villages have changed. They're much less insular now. We have unmarried people living together, children born out of wedlock, even women cohabiting - all unthinkable twenty, thirty years ago.

Many of the wonderful aspects of village life still remain: the harvest festival, the nativity play, and best of all a real sense of neighborly kindness. There is a pulling together in times of trouble. The villagers are interconnected and dependent upon one another.

I don't know when I've read such a pleasant, interesting story. I believe the term is 'thumping good read.' Now that I've finished, I find myself wondering about the characters and the futures which were hinted at toward the end of the book. I wouldn't mind a sequel. I enjoy this village and its people. They have their strong points and failings, as do we all. And one of the great joys of Blackthorn Winter is that it is a book which features all age groups, from children to older people. It was wonderful to see all the different perspectives.

Sarah Challis' descriptions of people, the landscape, and house interiors is really terrific. She has a gift of bringing the reader right into the scene. Here she describes one of the villagers:

Julia Durnford clearly belonged to that dying breed of Englishwoman who could, given enough scope, sort out most of the world's troubles. The dreadful refugee camp she had seen on television last night with filthy tents and no water and gaunt silent mothers cradling crying children, Julia would have them all rehoused, cleaned up and sitting down to a square meal with no elbows on the table in no time at all.

Penelope Keith's character in To The Manor Born comes to mind.

My only small hesitations with the novel, and they are strictly personal, were a couple of animal situations which I could have done without. They did further the personal relationships and plot of the book, but I think there could have been some other devices used instead. I managed by skimming over the few pages. Otherwise, I loved the book and look forward more by Sarah Challis. I found a great article on her here. I thank my internet friend Carole so much for sending me the book and introducing me to a brand new author.

You may read another review of Blackthorn Winter.

A fellow-blogger kindly sent me this photograph of blackthorn.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

First raised bed

Today our new gardening adventure begins!

To make the raised bed Tom bought three 2x10 spruce planks, 8 feet long. He used the full-length boards for the 8 foot sides and cut one in half for the ends. We smoothed out an area and placed the frame; then we dug soil out of the garden where the walkways will be and filled the frame with the soil to make the raised bed.

Inside are transplanted chives, pansies which Tom's mother gave us, Bloomsdale Long Standing spinach seeds and Dwarf Jewel Mix nasturtium seeds.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Blessing of Toads by Sharon Lovejoy - giveaway!

23. A Blessing of Toads
A Gardener's Guide to Living with Nature
by Sharon Lovejoy
nonfiction, 2004
paperback, 294 pages
finished, 4/18/09

A beautiful book in every way. The subject matter, the illustrations, the feel of the paper. It is really exquisite. I first heard of Sharon Lovejoy from my long-time internet friend, Aisling, and I am so grateful. The author truly loves the creatures of this earth, and not just the pretty, sweet ones. She sings the praises of skunks and snakes, as well. They each have their own special place in the scheme of things.

The title comes from a delightful little chapter extolling the virtues of toads. In a 1915 pamphlet called Usefulness of the American Toad, A.H. Kirkland wrote:

Of the toads' total food, 62 percent was made up of harmful insects. Should ants be included as injurious, as many housekeepers would think proper, this figure would be increased to 81 percent. Toads fill their stomachs to capacity up to four times in a single night, accounting for as many as fifty-five army worms, thirty-seven tent caterpillars, sixty-seven gypsy moths caterpillars, or seventy-seven thousand-legged worms.

Because of the superior job they do, Sharon Lovejoy says "a knot of toads" just isn't good enough, and feels "a blessing of toads" is the apt phrase.

The chapters include information on how to attract various creatures to one's garden, including houses and even some food recipes. The author's enthusiasm and love for her fellow creatures is contagious, and the reader comes away from the book with a new awareness and understanding of the birds and beasts and bugs of our planet home. I want to pass along this delightful book, and will offer a drawing. If you would like the book, please leave a comment from now through Sunday April 26. I'll do the drawing on Monday April 27. I will send the book anywhere.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rumpole Rests His Case by John Mortimer

22. Rumpole Rests His Case
by John Mortimer
fiction, 2001
paperback, 211 pages
finished, 4/12/09

I've been mulling over this book report on Rumpole Rests His Case by the late, and sorely missed, John Mortimer since I finished it on April 12. And here I find myself writing on what would have been Mr. Mortimer's 86th birthday. This is the second time I've written about a beloved author without being aware that it was a special date. The first time was last July.

I've been thinking about just why I enjoy these books about Horace Rumpole, the London barrister so very much:

First and foremost is his belief in the 'Golden Thread' - the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, which guides his life's work.

His wife, Hilda - 'she who must be obeyed.'

Pommeroy's Wine Bar where Horace drinks his 'plonk,' his 'Chateau Fleet Street,' his 'Pommeroy's Very Ordinary.'

His cheroots, which he grudgingly smokes outdoors in later books.

His love of William Wordsworth and Arthur Quiller-Couch. Because of Mr. Rumpole, I bought myself The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900, edited by Mr. Q-C in 1912. It is a used library copy which cost me maybe a dollar. It should have cost a thousand.

The Timson family, those 'minor villains' who have kept Rumpole in business all these years.

All Rumpole's colleagues at 3 Equity Court, especially Phillida Erskine-Brown, née Trant, 'the Portia of our Chambers.'

These are familiar details in almost every book, yet each story is as fresh as a new day. In Rumpole Rests His Case, we are offered several situations for our reading pleasure. He deals with prejudice in Rumpole and the Asylum Seekers; he has a client who confesses to a crime he didn't commit in Rumpole and the Actor Laddie; and most alarming is the last chapter called Rumpole Rests His Case in which Horace has a heart attack in court. Often a current case mirrors or connects somehow with what is going on at home in Froxbury Mansions. Because Hilda 'stores old newspapers, sometimes for months on end, in case she should suddenly need to remember a recipe, or a new way with a cashmere scarf, or some juicy slice of gossip,' Rumpole is able to find a photograph which helps him in his work. Hilda's friendship with her old school chum, Dodo Mackintosh, a recurring character, aids him in another case.

Though there is humor, these aren't funny books. Serious matters are introduced and crimes are committed. Life with Hilda is not so cheery. Yet within their pages, this reader feels comfortably at home. I have begun to think that I love Mortimer's Rumpole even more deeply than Wodehouse's Jeeves, Bertie Wooster, or Emsworth.

Over the course of this blog, I've posted a couple of Horace Rumpole quotes here and here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April in my neck of the woods

From Spring, a 1941 essay by E.B. White:

There is a stanza in Robert Frost's poem "Two Tramps in Mud Time" that describes an April moment when air and sky have a vernal feeling, but suddenly a cloud crosses the path of the sun and a bitter little wind finds you out, and you're back in the middle of March. Everyone who has lived in the country knows that sort of moment - the promise of warmth, the raised hope, the ruthless rebuff.

There is another sort of day that needs celebrating in song - the day of days when spring at last holds up her face to be kissed, deliberate and unabashed. On that day no wind blows either in the hills or in the mind, no chill finds the bone. It is a day that can come only in a northern climate, where there has been a long background of frigidity, a long deficiency of sun.

We've just been through this magical moment - which was more than a moment and was a whole morning - and it lodges in memory like some old romance, with the same subtlety of tone, the same enrichment of the blood, and the enchantment and the mirth and the indescribable warmth. ... The full impact wasn't felt until the sun had climbed higher. Then came, one after another, the many small caresses that added up to the total embrace of warmth and life - a laziness and contentment in the behavior of animals and people, a tendency of man and dog to sit down somewhere in the sun. ... When I went back through the kitchen I noticed that the air that had come in was not like an invader but like a friend who had stopped by for a visit.

We've had just such a day today. There is a little breeze, as there almost always is on this hill, but it is just enough to tinkle the wind chimes. The air has a soft feeling, the light is so gentle, and even the songs of the chickadee, the junco, the robin are more subdued. There is a calm which has come over the whole of Windy Poplars Farm, and we are all grateful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Birthday!

While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
Angela Schwindt

Today is the 24th birthday of my 'baby.' Michael is an amazing person, full of humor and quick wit. Ten years ago, I wrote the following, and the words are just as true today.

Today is my son`s 14th birthday, and I am so thankful that he came into our lives. Tom and I are very blessed that Michael is our son. When times are hard, his humor gets us through them. He is a natural mimic and has an incredible memory for jokes, lyrics, movie lines. We have had Gandhi, an Australian, and Marge Simpson on our answering machine. Michael is his own person, who is strong in his beliefs. He has an incredible sense of what is right and wrong for him, and bears up under peer pressure. He works really hard in school. He lives for music. He plays the drums, and the piano by ear. He is a born actor. He is the most wonderful son, and we love him so much.

Of all the things I love about him, there are two that stand out for me in particular. One is that we 'get' one another's cultural references, much like Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. And how often does it happen in a parent/child relationship that both a mother and a son write papers in college on Jim Morrison?! He began the paper writing with such love for Tom and I that it made me cry. And the second, and most important, is that he talks to us. He calls us up or comes to visit when he is happy or sad or angry about something. This means the world to us. We know what he is thinking and feeling. He values our opinions as we do his. We feel tremendously lucky and happy that he is our son. Years ago when we were in the pre-adoption process, a prospective father in the group said he truly believed that an adoptive family was as preordained by God as a biological family - that the parent and child were meant to be together. I so love this, and I believe it is true. I am thankful each minute of every day that he is our son.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tom's Farm and Weather Journal - Easter

Sunday, 8:30 AM
Temp. 24ºF
Wind from NW 20 mph
I can see my breath
The ground is hard

Friday, April 10, 2009

The start of the gardening year

These little blurry photographs don't look like much, but they represent the beginnings of this year's garden. I suppose that technically one could say the start of the gardening year is the day the seeds are ordered, and if so, then this is the next step. On the top shelf of the light stand, I planted Merveille Des Quatre Saisons lettuce, King of the North peppers, and Peacevine tomatoes in one tray. The second tray is devoted to cosmos: Picotee, Bright Lights, and Seashell mixture. In the tray on the bottom shelf, I planted Gigante d'Italia parsley, Genovese basil, and Ruby Regis lavatera. There is an empty space on the bottom shelf for a later planting of sweet peas, summer squash, and cucumbers.

As with other facets of my life, I have simplified my garden. Other years I've started more annuals and more vegetables, but this year I just planted what we really love; what will fit into the garden spaces we already have. Also, after playing with the idea for a lot of years, we are going to try raised beds. Carol's post really convinced me, along with a gardening book called The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward Smith. It will be a very interesting gardening experience. I'm already looking forward to a bed of peppers, a bed of cukes, and pathways in-between. I'll be noting the progress here so stayed tuned!

Quote du jour/Christopher Morley

April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks GO!
Christopher Morley (1890-1957)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mamie's Sour Cream Cake

From my October 2003 book journal:

Neighboring On The Air 1991
By Evelyn Birkby
Nonfiction A

This is a book about the women who broadcasted on KMA radio in Shenandoah, Iowa, beginning in the 1920s. They had 1/2 hour or hour long programs about cooking, home decoration, gardening; the domestic arts. There were listeners all over the area - the programs were a way of bringing together the rural women. The broadcasters were often in their own homes, and members of their families would walk into the room and be a part of the show. Wonderful book. These old homemakers are my heroes, my role models, from whom I learn my life's work. The preface says, "this is a cookbook, a storybook, a picture book".

And the wonderful, wonderful thing is that Evelyn Birkby is still alive and broadcasting! There is a very special webpage with many informational links. I love spending time there.

In that same month, I also read and loved a fictional book which dealt with these women, called Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg. And a few months afterwards, I read:

Up A Country Lane Cookbook 1993
By Evelyn Birkby
Cookbook, History, and Memoir A+

I could see this being used as a text to study American farming life in the years after WW II. Wonderfully informative to a reader who has a deep interest in the subject. There is a mix of indoor and outdoor life. I so love her description of seeing her husband off in the fields. Even if they aren't in contact, they are together in a deep sense. They are truly creating a joint partnership in life. This is a perfect book, accomplishing exactly what it set out to do. The Birkbys eventually left farming. She is, as they say, unsparing in her descriptions of life changes, yet she is an optimistic soul. This isn't a book that mourns the passing of a way of life, but more a memento of it. It was a wonderful life, but not easy.

The recipe is from Neighboring on the Air, and the Mamie in the name is Mamie Miller who did an afternoon program called 'Domestic Science.'

Mamie's Sour Cream Cake

Mix 2 1/2 cups flour with 2 cups sugar and a pinch of salt.

In a separate bowl, beat 3 eggs well. Add 2 cups sour cream and continue mixing.

In a third bowl, mix together 6 Tablespoons cocoa and 2 teaspoons baking soda. Add 3/4 cup boiling water, and mix well.

Then add the flour mixture and the cocoa mixture to the eggs and sour cream, and beat well until thoroughly blended together.

Pour into greased 10 x 15 pan, and bake in preheated 350º oven about half an hour or until tester comes out clean. This cake is large enough for two families to share. It is delicious, and very easy to make.

My original note on the recipe card says it is great even without frosting. But today, I made a simple buttercream frosting because it is a gift for a friend who is home recovering from knee surgery.

1/2 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups confectioners sugar
Enough milk to make it smooth

Addendum: I had emailed the radio station to check on the day and time of her broadcast this month, and I just got a reply that said Evelyn Birkby was 'taken to the hospital today. They think she may have suffered a small stroke.'

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The winner of Saplings is Tabitha!

Tabitha, please go to my profile page and email me with your mailing address. I'll send Saplings off to you soon!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Today's poem - April by Sara Teasdale

by Sara Teasdale (1894-1933)

The roofs are shining from the rain,
The sparrows twitter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.

Yet the backyards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree -
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

21. Saplings
by Noel Streatfeild
fiction, 1945
paperback, 361 pages
finished, 4/1/09

Because I've had trouble getting a clear photograph of the other two Persephone books I've read, A House in the Country and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, I decided to focus on the endpaper. One of the trademarks of these beautiful editions is that each book has its own special endpaper and bookmark.

Endpapers taken from 'Aircraft' a screen printed linen and rayon fabric by Marion Dorn for the Old Bleach Linen Company 1938, reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the Victoria & Albert Museum

a young tree, esp. one with a slender trunk.
poetic/literary - a young and slender or inexperienced person.

Reading Saplings so soon after two of the Melendy family books, reported on here and here, was a startling experience. There were the Melendys safe in America; their father with an undisclosed but definitely not dangerous job. Their mother had died many years ago, but the caregiver Cuffy has done an excellent job as a mothering person in their lives. Their father is away a bit working, but when he is home he is a very loving, supportive man who gives guidance and encouragement to his children. The four Melendys are deeply happy and secure.

Compare this to the poor Wiltshire children, who even before the war have their troubles. The mother Lena is superficial, and her children are mostly decorations. She is the type often derogatorily referred to as a 'man's woman.' Her husband Alex is her main interest with the children a far-off second. She is actually annoyed when her husband takes time away from her to be with the children.

With war imminent, the children go off to live with their father's parents in the country. Alex says:

I'm not going to point out that other people's breakups [of families] are worse. You know for yourselves that you going to your grandparents is a different cup of tea to young Tom and Mary Smith evacuated with labels round their necks to strangers. ... I want you to see yourselves as part of the nation. ... nearly everybody, including the children, are doing what they have to do without fuss.

And so it begins. The 'breakup' of the family. The dissolution of ties between child and parent, and child and child. Even the grandparents' house isn't what it was. Two evacuee children have been brought there. This older couple, used to their quiet ways in the retirement years are stretched. The emotional care of the children is neglected because of too much work. The children, Tony, Laurel, Kim, and Tuesday are thrown onto the seas of misunderstanding and fear and insecurity.

More than sixty years on, most of us know the Second World War only through documentary footage. The brave Londoners coping so well. The children off to the safe countryside away from nightly bombings of the city. Never before have I read about the actual pain - the stories of what this war in England meant to people. There's a character, a governess named Ruth who is greatly loved by the children. We learn some about her past, and see a little of her present life, but mostly she is there as an observer. She tells the reader what is going on in the family unit. This is a deeply psychological novel; so much so that I sometimes felt the characters were more case studies than real people. It isn't a fun book to read. It isn't an easy book to read. There is much cruelty inflicted on the children by adults who should be taking care of them. This comes mostly in the form of verbal abuse. Criticisms that are voiced either to the child or within his hearing. I was angry at so many of the characters. There was such disregard of the children's feelings.

In addition to the subject matter, I didn't think the writing was particularly good either grammatically or descriptively. The characters remained just that. Yet, I read all 361 pages. I'm not sure what kept me going. I didn't know while I was reading, and I still don't know now. I'm happy to have made the acquaintance of the children. Perhaps I stayed with it because of my interest in that time period. I learned a great deal about what evacuation did to families, even when no one died, and I learned about the children's lives who stayed in London. But it was not a soul-satisfying book. It was sad and painful, but so much of that pain could have been avoided if only there was more compassion shown to the children. Still, I am glad I read it, and I thank my English friend Carole for sending it to me. I will happily pass it along to anyone who would like to read it. You may leave a note saying you want it on any blog entry today through Tuesday,April 7. I'll draw a name on Wednesday, the 8th. I'll send it anywhere.

Valley of the Lost by Vicki Delany

20. Valley of the Lost - second in the Constable Molly Smith series
by Vicki Delany
mystery, 2009
hardcover, 291 pages
finished, 3/28/09

One of the difficult things about this year of not buying books is that I knew the second in Vicki Delany's Molly Smith series was coming out and I'd have to wait to read it. But my old friend Kay very kindly sent me a copy of the book, for which I am so grateful! It was wonderful reading it while the characters and story from In The Shadow of the Glacier were still fresh in my mind. And what characters they are! In my reading experience, I haven't found anyone writing about children of the 'hippies' from the 1960s and 1970s. What a shock for Andy and Lucy (nicknamed Lucky) Smith when their son, Samwise becomes a lawyer for an oil company, and their daughter, Moonlight becomes a police officer. This situation provides interest in both books.

Valley of the Lost takes place in the fictional town of Trafalgar, a small town set against the Kootenay Rockies of British Columbia. One evening, Lucky comes out of her work at a women's support center and hears what sounds like a baby's cry. She follows the voice into the woods and finds a infant. Nearby is the body of a young woman. It appears that she has died of a heroin overdose, but closer inspection reveals restraint marks on her body which could mean she was murdered.

Lucky decides to take care of the baby boy until the family of the woman is found. Moonlight, who has renamed herself Molly, still lives at home and finds her family life disrupted by the crying baby who is up most of the night. Lucky is exhausted all the time but is determined to keep the baby out of foster care when a worker comes to discuss the matter.

The Smith family life, the life of the police sergeant, John Winters, and other continuing characters are what make this a great new mystery series. There is a lot going on in this little town, and the author touches upon the seedier elements that are juxtaposed with the natural beauty of the place. Those of us who live in beautiful small regions just have to read the local weekly police reports to learn that there are terrible things that happen. The yearly statistics from the local women's shelter in my home area tell a grim story. Vicki Delany doesn't shy away from these sorts of troubles.

Another facet which pervades places with gorgeous scenery is the building of second homes and resorts. The inevitable conflict between community residents is an ongoing situation in this series as well. Some favor growth and the money it will bring, while others want to maintain the status quo. How far will people go to make sure their side 'wins?'

Vicki Delany's mysteries are interesting and believable. The locale is terrific. And most importantly the characters are strong personalities whom the reader comes to care for, and think about, long after closing the books.

You may read Kay's review of the book here; and visit the author's homepage here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Today's poem - Home-Thoughts, from Abroad by Robert Browning

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad
by Robert Browning

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England -now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed peartree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops-at the bent spray's edge -
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
- Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Love - two versions

I'm admitting it to the world. I have loved Pat Boone since I was a little girl sitting in the movie theatre watching April Love with my best friend, Anne. The song is one of my all time favorites.

And here is a view of April Love right outside my window. Look at the color of his face! And the wing spread makes him walk oh, so slowly. This tom turkey had a harem of eight hens. After a snack at the bird feeders, they took a walk together up the hill and into the woods.

Check out the back view. The feathers are amazingly beautiful.