Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Distant Hours

It started with a letter. A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey. I think about it sometimes, that mailbag: of the hundreds of love letters, grocery bills, birthday cards, notes from children to parents, that lay together, swelling and sighing as their thwarted messages whispered in the dark. Waiting, waiting, for someone to realize they were there. For it is said, you know, that a letter will always seek a reader, that sooner or later, like it or not, words have a way of finding the light, of making their secrets known.

The Distant Hours

Kate Morton

Pg. 7


Read this one between the two Elizabeth Kostova novels--The Swan Thieves and The Historian. Love Kate Morton. A wonderfully detailed writer. There are at least three, if not more, interwoven stories here. Dated chapter headings keep the chronology clear.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Swan Thieves


I got the call about Robert Oliver in April 1999, less than a week after he'd pulled a knife in the nineteenth-century collection at the National Gallery. It was a Tuesday, one of those terrible mornings that sometimes come to the Washington area when spring has already been flowery and even hot--ruinous hail and heavy skies, with rumbles of thunder in the suddenly cold air. It was also, by coincidence, exactly a week after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO; I was thinking obsessively about that event, as I imagined every psychiatrist in the country must have been...

The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostova


This is the opening paragraph, although I wish I'd marked more of the outstanding excerpts in this truly beautifully-written novel. Alas (Rarely get a chance to use that wonderfully expressive word.), I was reading a borrowed copy of Elizabeth Kostova's 2010 book. And, had not yet determined to never return the book to its rightful owner. (With permission...)

Anyhow, for me this is one of those books that you never want to end. I cherished the pages and stretched it out--a rarity for this book-a-day gal.

Now, I've begun Kostova's 2005 best seller--The Historian.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Operative

"Blogging?You're so twenty-ten," she said as she browsed down her queue of (Twitter) updates. "He's tweeting from the convention center for his student newspaper. It's called ambient journalism."
"I see. And how's that different from reporting?"
"Anyone can do it," she said.
"So the difference is it's for amateurs."
"That's harsh."
"Not at all," Kealey said. "Where's the editor, the veteran eyes?"
"It's the public, Ryan. The process has been democratized."
"Cheapened--no offense to Colin."
"You're wrong," she said confidently. "The good journalists get repeated hits. The bad ones are relegated to Facebook. The worst ones are left to comment on what's relegated to Facebook"

The Operative
by Andrew Britton
p. 33

A definite insight into the best view of social media vs. journalism, or what passes for journalism. Just wish Twitter was actually that democratic and newsworthy. Just saying.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Gate at the Stairs

[protagonist Tassie describing some of the idiosyncrasies of her hometown in Wisconsin]

Prepositions mystified. Almost everyone said "on" accident instead of "by." They said "I'm bored of that" or "Wanna come with?" They pronounced "milk" to rhyme with "elk" and "milieu" as "miloo," as in skip to my loo--when they said it at all. And they used tenses like "I'd been gonna." As in, "I'd been gonna to do that but then I never got around toot." It was the hypothetical conditional past, time and intention carved so obliquely and fine that I could only almost comprehend it, until, like Einstein's theory of relativity, which also sometimes flashed comet like in my view, it whooshed away again, beyond my grasp. "I'd been gonna to do that" seemed to live in some isolated corner of the grammatical time-space continuum where the language spoken was a kind of Navajo or old, old French. It was part of a language with tenses so countrified and bizarrely conceived, I'm sure there was one that meant, "Hell yes, if I had a time machine!" People here would narrate an ordinary event entirely in the past perfect "I'd been driving to the store, and I'd gotten out, and she'd come up to me and I had said..." It never reached any other tense. All was backstory. All was preamble. The past severed prologue and was never uttered to be anything but. Who else on earth spoke like this?
pg. 67
A Gate at the Stairs
Lorrie Moore

I've actually read this one before, but it's well-written and well-conceived and it'd been long enough (oh so many other reads ago) that I enjoyed the unwinding of the plot and the character development even as I anticipated them.

This lady can write. And, with all that I read, I've come to understand that a lot of the novels written, promoted, reviewed, and revered are not well written. I love words and writers who use them so very well.

gods in Alabama

There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, back in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches.

I made a deal with God two years before I left there. At the time, I thought He made out pretty well. I offered Him a three-for-one deal: All He had to do was perform a miracle. He fulfilled His end of the bargain, so I kept my three promises faithfully, no matter what the cost. I held our deal as sacred for twelve solid years. But that was before God let Rose Mae Lolley show up on my doorstep, dragging my ghosts and her own considerable baggage with her.
gods in Alabama
Joshilyn Jackson

Stumbled on this one last week, and then yesterday I didn't put it down. Clever, witty, quirky characters and writing. Takes the stereotypical Southern genre to a whole new level. Don't see how I missed its debut in 2005, but obviously the reviews at that time were very favorable...

“Joshilyn Jackson’s stellar debut has all the elements of great southern fiction, a plucky heroine with a sense of humor,a gripping tale and a mysterious dead body that needs explanation. Arlene Fleet, with a crystal clear voice and purpose takes the reader on a wild ride of despair, hope and redemption that no reader is likely to ever forget. What a storyteller! What a new, original voice!”
- Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of Big Stone Gap and Lucia, Lucia.

gods in Alabama has everything a first (or any) novel should possess but seldom does: an engaging plot, a protagonist whose original voice has you alternately laughing out loud and misting up, and a vividly etched sense of place… What really elevates gods, though, is Joshilyn Jackson’s fresh, unpredictable way with words. She writes so creatively that you slow down, because every sentence is a delight of some sort… gods in Alabama leaves readers grateful for the journey and smiling at the redemptive powers of love. Fresh…unpredictable…satisfying…the kind of book you hate to finish but can’t wait to pass on to friends.”
- Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A winning blend of Steel Magnolias and Sweet Home Alabama with a whodunit twist.”
- Glamour
“Wild, salacious, and hard to put down… Reading the book is like sitting on your neighbor’s porch, drinking lemonade, and listening to all the good gossip… a great new voice for Southern literature. Joshilyn Jackson’s sweet, sassy, smart Southern voice is one that will resonate for those born and raised below the Mason-Dixon and Yankees alike.”
- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“This novel has deep shadows and sharp edges. And if you’re not careful, it will break your heart.”
- Creative Loafing (GA)

Good news! Ms. Jackson has a backlist and a brand new book scheduled for release September 25th.


Monday, July 2, 2012


The ice cream was a plausible explanation. They'd had too much to drink, most of the food in the dining room was gone, they didn't want any more ham. No one wanted anymore ham. Everywhere everyone went, there were ham sandwiches. In bakeries and butchers, supermarkets and cafes. At the kiosks in malls, in the vending machines in offices, under glass domes on the counters at gyms, on airplanes. God-damned ham sandwiches, everywhere.
The Expats
Chris Pavone.

Loved this rant. I made similar rants during our recent 4-weeks in France. Really. How do those Parisiene ladies stay so thin with all the pork on offer? Realistically, the slices of ham on those sandwiches are thin and few--mostly baguette. Finding a chicken sandwich was like winning the lottery.

Liked the book. It skips around a bit which CA didn't love, but I managed to follow the thread. And, the publisher employs font changes to nudge you into the right timeframe.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Martin Walker's Bruno

So, after reading Black Diamond I checked three more Martin Walker books from our library system in Northern Illinois and read them in chronological order. The first is not about Bruno, but indeed sets the background for much of the back story for this village in the Dordogne Region of Southwest France.

An art-history mystery that spans 17,000 years, THE CAVES OF PÉRIGORD is an ntertaining romp through the part of southern France known for its cave paintings, including the famous Lascaux cave. Written by historian and National Public Radio commentator Martin Walker, the book is divided into segments set in three separate times: the present; 1943-44; and circa 15,000 B.C. Romance, war, and betrayal are intertwined with French politics, ancient religion, murder, family, and feminism. It's a lot to hold together in one book, but although some of the dialogue sounds wooden and the writing isn't always gloriously lyrical, Walker does a good job of maintaining intrigue while avoiding confusion.
The Book Reporter

Then, the Bruno series...

Benoît "Bruno" Courrèges is a master chef and devoted oenophile in the town of St. Denis in the beautiful Dordogne region of France. He also happens to be the town's beloved Chief of Police. In Martin Walker's three books, BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE, THE DARK VINEYARD, and, most recently, BLACK DIAMOND, Bruno's had his hands full with murders, suspicious fires, and truffle-smuggling ring. Get to know Bruno with excerpts from all three books!
Alfred A Knopf

And, it looks like Bruno has a new set of mysteries to solve coming this July. I'll look forward to this one, too.

Friday, March 23, 2012


The man who wanted to kill the young woman sitting beside me was three-quarters of a mile behind us, as we drove trough a pastoral setting of tobacco and cotton fields this humid morning.

A glance in the rearview mirror revealed a sliver of car, moving at a comfortable pace with the traffic, piloted by a man who by all appearances seemed hardly different from any one of a hundred drivers on this recently resurfaced divided highway.

* * *

When innocent people find themselves in situations that require the presence and protection of people like me, their reaction more often than not is a smuch bewilderment as fear. Mortality is tough to process.

But keeping people safe, keeping people alive, is a business like any other. I frequently told this to my protege and the others in the office, probably irritating them to no end with both the repetition and the stodgy tone. But I kept saying it because you can't forget, ever. It's a business with rigid procedures that we study the way surgeons learn to slice flesh precisely and pilots learn to keep tons of metal safely aloft. These techniques have been honed over the years and they worked.
Jeffrey Deaver

This is a riveting read. Truly. I loved it. Many, many twists and a few switch-backs. It's that curvey. Still, it held my attention and I sped through it in under 24 hours. Sometimes I just have to. And, I had the time yesterday.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Black Diamond

There were not many times that Bruno Courreges disliked his job. But today was certainly one of them. The weather was not to blame, a crisp day in late November with thin, high clouds trailing feebly across a sky that was determined to be blue. And even this early in the morning the sun was warm on his face and lending a rick gold to the few remaining leaves on the line of old oaks that fringed the town's rugby field. It gave warmth to the aged stone of the mairie across the river and to the red tile roofs of houses that climbed the hillside. The season was still mild enough, he noticed, for the women to have thrown open their windows and the blue wooden shutters. Splashes of white and blue, stripes and floral patterns adorned the townscape where they had heaped out bedding to air on the balconies, as their mothers and grandmothers had done before them. It might be the last day of the year that would be possible. A touch of frost had silvered the grass outside his cottage when Bruno walked his dog just after dawn that morning, and he had heard the first of the Christmas Muzak in the supermarket over the weekend.
Black Diamond
Martin Walker

Doesn't the opening paragraph just make you want to find that village, move there, and throw open your own patina'd blue wooden shutters?

I like Bruno enough to have decided to read the backlist--this is the third in the series, and there's a fourth. Fast read, entertaining. Fun. And, I know so, so much more about truffle hunting, the market, etc. than I'll ever use.

I'm soon off to find some of those black diamonds to sniff out and taste.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


(This is a big, thick book. Actually, the copy I bought used on Amazon is a Doubleday Book Club edition. It took me a lot of time to read. Unusual for me, but I was somewhat indisposed (Shingles) during the time I was reading it. I loved returning to it every single night at bedtime. I love this book.)

For all our youth the Astell family had lived in and out of Douzy, the small chateau named after the village, hidden by vineyards lining the gentle, sloping hills of Champagne. My American father and mother, his father's father, my French grandma, my brother and his twin sister, our friends, our lovers--all had made up a patchwork of happiness that none believe would ever end.

* * *

That was before. But then the serenity of Douzy was exchanged for lives that tore us apart, of death and torture for some, despite neutrality, and eventually, after America entered the war, for me a life spent in ditches and barns, hunting the enemy or being hunted--to protect or to kill.

A Farewell to France
Noel Barber

I will begin to read everything written by Noel Barber. Everything. He's written loads of fiction and non-fiction. This book is his second novel, and it makes me want to read his first, Tanamera (which is also a film) and then to proceed through his entire roster.

Noel Barber was for many years the chief foreign correspondent for the London Daily Mail. He was the first Briton to reach the South Pole since Scott, was stabbed five times covering wars in Momrocco, reported on the fall of France to the Nazis, was shot during the Hungarian uprising, and walked across the Himalayas to report the Dalai Lama's escape to India.
from the back cover flap

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Loving this book. Loving it. It's a long one, which is great since I've been under the weather and in need of distraction. I've not finished it yet, but already I know I want to read everything Noel Barber has written. And, that's a lot--fiction and non-fiction..

Whoops! The above links are Amazon U.K. Here's a U.S. link.

Be back soon with more details and my review.

Tanamera: A Novel of Singapore (1981)
A Farewell to France (1983)
A Woman of Cairo (1984)
The Other Side of Paradise (1986)
The Weeping and the Laughter (1988)
The Daughters of the Prince (1990)

Noel Barber has enchanted millions of readers with his bestselling novels. These powerfully exotic novels have each become timeless classics in which he drew upon his own experience as one of the leading foreign correspondents from the '40s to '60s working on the Daily Mail. He was the first Briton to reach the South Pole since Scott, was stabbed five times covering the wars in Morocco, and was shot during the Hungarian uprising. He died in 1988.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Can I just say that I haven't read much of anything memorable for months and months. Really. Oh, there have been a few quotes that caught my attention, but mostly in mediocre books. I'm always reading. Stay tuned.