Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Favorite Christmas Movies

These are my own personal favorites, my own personal choices. I realize there are many more holiday movies out there, more modern ones too, but the ones I like just happen to be of the older variety (except for one or two). I LOVE and cherish old movies! But I'm no fool, I also happen to love and cherish Patrick Stewart. Ha!

My Favorites then, in no particular order:

  • THE THIN MAN starring William Powell and Myrna Loy Yes, this is a Christmas movie. Well, the murder and mayhem take place over a New York Christmas holiday. This is a New York Christmas like no other. A Christmas in a NYC that probably never was but sure looks like a lot of fun. William Powell and Myrna Loy were born to play the roles of Nick and Nora Charles and we were born to watch 'em. Asta's no slouch either.

  • SCROOGE starring Albert Finney I'm no big fan of Albert Finney, never was, but I admit he's pretty wonderful in this musical of the Dicken's classic. My favorite scene: the ghost of Christmas present. The original story is here + lots of great musical numbers.

  • CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sidney Greenstreet Delightful film with Barbara Stanwyck as a hyper-drive NY magazine columnist/editor trying her best to look domesticated for her boss, publisher Sidney Greenstreet (who is wonderful), while falling in love with a soldier on holiday leave, Dennis Morgan. This all takes place in a movie-style Connecticut farm house during a movie-style white Christmas.

  • MIRACLE ON 34th STREET starring Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara and John Payne Simply put: I like this version best. LOVE Warren Cowan as the befuddled prosecuting attorney. Natalie Wood is perfect as the little girl slowly brought around to believing in Santa Claus. Edmund Gwenn is utterly charming as Mr. Claus. (He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.)

  • MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (aka Babes in Toyland) starring Laurel and Hardy We watch this for Thanksgiving and, if it's available, we watch it at Christmas. It's just tradition. Sometimes I like to sing along with the Victor Herbert songs. What can I say? Watched this since we were kids and they used to show it every year on WPIX, channel 11. Don't like the colorized version though, I'm a purist.

  • EMMET OTTER'S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS from Jim Henson Absolutely adore this gentle (mostly) hour long film starring the Henson marionettes and puppets. Just a lovely, lovely film with the most charming woodland characters and quite beautiful music. The voices for each character are absolute perfection.

  • A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Patrick Stewart Patrick Stewart makes for a sexy Mr. Scrooge probably without meaning to. I most especially love watching him dance at the end - charming. This is a good version of the Dickens tale. I also liked the George C. Scott version done a few years previously. Well, George C. Scott can do no wrong in my book.

  • A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Alastair Sim What many consider the best and most classic version. Alastair Sim is simply wonderful as the crotchety Mr. Scrooge and watching his delight at the end of the film is a joy. But I also liked the previous version with Reginald Owen, though not as much. Still, if that's all you can find, it's worth watching.

  • IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed What can I say? Sometimes I feel as if I have to watch this one more time I'll run screaming through the streets - but then there's the times when I want to watch it and the magic of it flows over me once again.

  • THE BISHOP'S WIFE starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven Now we ALL knew Cary Grant was not of this world, but this film confirms his other-worldly origin in an especially touching way. I've always been a fan of David Niven too. Lovely film.

  • TOM AND JERRY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL Any Tom and Jerry cartoon done in the 1940's/50's celebrating Christmas is worth the watching. (Forget the later ones, the animation sucked big time - not to put too fine a point on it.)

  • AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS This Gian Carlo Menotti opera was first shown on tv when I was a kid - NBC if I remember correctly - and I was immediately transfixed by the music, the singing and the story. I'd never seen an opera before and from that first moment, I became a life-long opera lover. This was a watershed moment in my life. The mother's arias are particularly stirring for me as she is tempted by the obvious wealth of the The Three Kings (the Night Visitors in the title) as they stopover in her poor little house on the road to Bethlehem. I also love the singing of the Kings near the end. Just a wonderful 'small' opera, perfect for the season. Sung in English, by the way.

The Utter Delight of Pumpkin Butter

I've discovered a new treat. A few weeks ago, when Fall was till in the air and Halloween on the horizon, we all trekked up to Ort Farms here in Northern New Jersey, to pick a pumpkin or two and take a few pictures. Well, I was instantly smitten with the neatly stacked jars of Apple Butter (which always sounds better than it tastes - at least to me) and Pumpkin Butter on display. I'm a sucker for 'country' looking displays of comestibles I've always associated with 'country' living (it's the city slicker still alive within me). Anyway, long story short, I bought a jar of the Pumpkin Butter thinking I'd try it out - how bad could it be?

But the jar lingered on my pantry shelf until this week, mainly because I'd convinced myself I wouldn't like it at all and why open the jar and have to throw the contents out? (It's a Mason jar size - smallest they had at Ort.) So I merely looked at it and remembered the fun time we'd had at the farm and how well Rocky had behaved in the crowd and how cute my granddaughter had looked.

Well, this week, throwing caution to the winds, I opened the jar and lo and behold I've made a new culinary discovery. I LOVE PUMPKIN BUTTER! And how come I've never tried it before?
I know, I know, better late than never. You guys all probably love it too and know all about it - right?

The stuff I bought has no preservatives, it's all pumpkin, sugar and apple juice and has the consistency of jam. YUM! And what's more - it's probably good for me if you overlook the sugar part.

I'm thinking it will be great slathered on cranberry bread (or any other bread, come to think of it), I've been having it at breakfast on biscuits and/or toast. It would be great too on muffins or for dessert, over vanilla ice cream with a touch of home-made whipped cream.

Or how about pumpkin shortcake? Slice a biscuit or scone in half, slather on the pumpkin butter, add some creme fraiche or home-made whipped cream with just a touch of vanilla added (no extra sugar) and voila!

I'm thinking too it might work in rice pudding. A kind of rice/pumpkin pudding sort of thing. Haven't thought out the recipe yet, but it might work. And of course, it would work with or added to bread pudding.

It might, just might, work with or mixed in a brownie as well. What do you think?

Pumpkin Butter - what could be better? Not much.

And by the way, a jar of the stuff tied with a friendly checked ribbon and bit of holly or tinsel would make a nice hostess gift.

I also discovered a new cooking blog, Closet Cooking. Here are some recipes from a day in 2008 which would work wonderfully at this time of year. Good recipes never grow old. Here's a link to a more recent page as well. I love to read cooking blogs even if I never (or hardly ever) make the recipes - it's like reading cookbooks: the fun is in the speculating.

Monday, November 29, 2010

2011 Calendar Gifts

Just a few calendars I saw that looked interesting for the new year. I'm wondering if calendars, though, aren't going to go the way of the dodo since the computer is perfectly capable of telling you what day it is and at the touch of finger, the entire month flashes on the screen. My computer, in its ever expanding quest to be helpful, has a calendar/appointment thing I could activate if I wanted to, but I'm not that handy with it. I'd still rather have a hard copy- something with pages I can write in. But I wonder how many other people still feel that way.

Monday Review: SHOOT TO THRILL by P.J. Tracy

It's been several years since the mother/daughter writing team known as P.J. Tracy had a new book in their Monkeewrench series, but SHOOT TO THRILL, published this year, was well worth the long wait. This is one of those series that doesn't, necessarily, have to be read in order. You can pick up quickly enough who is who and what is what if you pay attention as you go along. But if you're a stickler, I'd say, read the first book, the much heralded MONKEEWRENCH, then the second, LIVE BAIT, then skip around as you like. Or just pick up the latest one and dive right in - it's not rocket science, just damn good writing.

The computer looms large as both friend and foe in this latest thriller set in the mid-west and featuring the always welcome, wise-cracking detective duo of Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth, the homicide aces of the Minnesota Police Department. And of course, where and when computers are involved, can the whiz-kid team of Grace McBride's Monkeewrench crew be far behind? This time out, the Feds get involved when, much to their chagrin, they, too, must ask for help from Monkeewrench: the country's top computer software designing crime-fighters who have honed hacking to a fine art. The book introduces, too, a new character, John Smith (yes, but that's his name) a strait-laced, near-retirement FBI agent who quickly becomes a favorite. Smith has been sent to work with the Monkeewrench team as a sort of liaison and general government 'minder'. But he quickly turns into a fellow conspirator and the charm of the thing is watching him slide down that slippery slope.

When murders on video start popping up online - not staged murders, but the real thing - the authorities are stumped. No sooner do they void the video, another one pops up in its place. The murders are occurring all over the board, across the country. Getting a handle on this sort of thing seems a never ending nightmare and the detectives spend a great deal of time cursing the day the internet was born while their Monkeewrench allies, Grace, Harley, Roadrunner, and Annie, use their talents to try and track down a bunch of sociopaths using the worldwide web for gruesome show and tell.

The thing is: except for the video treatment, there is no one modus-operandi, the crimes are all over the board and involve victims who seem not to have anything in common except that their brutal deaths have been flashed on computer screens all over the world. Add to the mix, the deadly copycat element and all in all, not a happy time is to be had in Minnesota.

When FBI agent John Smith first meets with the Monkeewrench crew, ground rules need to be established if anyone is to get anything done that might actually help. Here is John confronted by Annie and Harley:

"Oh, come on. Let's cut to the chase here. You've got posts of real live murders the FBI can't track, at least not legally, because the servers are registered in countries where U.S. access is denied. So what do you do? You call in a bunch of salivating hackers and tell tham that if they try to access these foreign servers they would be in violation of international law. Good grief. Talk about dragging a slab of bacon in front of a bunch of wild dogs."

"I can assure you that was not the Bureau's intention."

"Yeah, right. And these eyelashes are real. The point is, we don't give a gnat's ass about your text files. Don't even havbe to look them over. But if you want us to write software that differentiates real murders from staged ones, we need to download the videos of those bodies in five cities."

"I am not authorized to give you permission to do that."

Harley moved the mass of his body a step closer to Smith. To his credit, the smaller man held his ground. "We're going to download the videos. Are you going to fink us out?"

It took Smith a minute to remember what 'fink' meant. He had to go back several decades. "I do not believe you will do that."

"I just told you we're going to do that."

"Yes you did. But in my opinion, that was bravado. I do not think it was sincere; therefore I will not report it."

Annie tucked her hands into her hips and tapped a toe on the marble floor. Agent Smith watched the toe moving up and down, mesmerized. "I can't decide if your instructions are to handle us just like those other poor fools at the seminar, or if you might actually be a good guy."

"I have never been accused of being a good guy."

"Uh-huh. You want some chili before we get to work, darlin?"

"No, thank you very much for the offer."

"How about a beer?" Harley raised his own bottle.

"FBI agents do not drink alcoholic beverages on duty, sir."

"Yeah, yeah and FBI agents are always on duty, right?"


"Well, I guess that makes my goals pretty clear here. Before you leave I'm going to see you totally snockered with three belly dancers sitting on your chest and a really great Cuban cigar stuck between your teeth. Let's get up to the office."

Despite the vicious crimes at the heart of this latest Monkeewrench adventure, a gallows sort of humor is always to be expected when these characters work their magic: the computer crew skirting the law while Magozzi and Gino pretend not to see. But it's the interwoven relationships and how they work (or not) that makes this series of books so intriguing, and despite the dark crimes, so much fun to read. This is one of the few times, by the way, when women writing male characters get it just right. (Especially tricky I would think, when it's two women writing as one.)

Magozzi and Gino.....stopped at Tommy Espinoza's office on the way to Homicide, primarily because Gino had heard the crackle of a bag that sang to him like sirens on a sea cliff.

"Gino, it's eight o'clock in the morning."

"What's your point? I hear the sound of salt and fat and I obey."

"Could be a bag of raisins."

Gino snorted and pushed past him into Espinoza's office, central command for the department's computer division. Tommy looked up from his monitor, his dark Hispanic coloring making his blue eyes strangely intense. Gino always thought they were about the same color as the blue stuff people put in toilet bowls.

"Hey guys." He automatically handed Gino a bag of Cheetos.

"Not those. I can never get the all that orange stuff off. Angela will find a speck and I'll be busted. Got anything white?"

"Sure. Popcorn, potato chips..." Tommy spread his arms expansively toward a metal tabel that looked like the snack aisle at Cub Foods. "Rummage away, my friend. Mi casa, su casa."

While Gino went on a cholesterol hunt, Magozzi looked at the monitor Tommy was working on. "You're on YouTube?"

"Sad, but true. We who serve the public must sometimes walk the sewers. Take a look at this." He tapped the screen where a streaming video showed five girls beating the crap out of another girl trying to crawl away."

"Jeez. Is that for real?"

"This one is. A lot of the ugly stuff that gets posted is staged - Spielberg wannabes trying to outdo each other - but some of them are the real McCoy."

Gino walked over to look, his hand deep in a package of potato chips. "Hey. I saw that on the news. High school girls from someplace advertising stupid. They put the girl in the hospital, then they posted it with all their faces showing. How dumb is that?"

"Thank God for the dumb ones. The Brits are having a ball monitoring these sites, ID'ing the perps then heading right for their digs like they had a written invitation. But every now and then, a smart one surfaces, and that's when it gets really scary. Take a look at this. This is Cleveland, four months ago." He fiddled with the mouse until a new video appeared, this one showing a man from the back, beating another one to the ground.

"Jesus," Gino said. "Why the hell do the servers let this kind of s**t on the Web, and why the hell aren't we shutting them down? My kids could see this, for God's sake."

"Take it easy, buddy," Tommy passed him a Butterfinger as if that would cure everything.

As the crimes online escalate, they strike at the heart of all Minnesotans and the world watches 24/7 on CNN; Monkeewrench and their cop cohorts work round the clock to stem what appears to be one too many cracks in an already severely compromised dam.

This is a terrific, page-turning thriller. It looks like P.J. Tracy is back in business.

To learn more about P.J. Tracy and the Monkeewrench series, please go here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Salon: Summing Up.

It seems as if most everything I picked up to read this past week was quickly determined, by yours truly, to be not quite the thing I actually wanted to read. Another blah week of reading. Well, except for the last book I picked up late last night: SHOOT TO THRILL by the mother/daughter writing team known as P.J. Tracy. This is a real page-turning thriller (and only their latest book in years) and I might or might not review it for Monday Review. My hesitation? The crimes in it are pretty ugly and this is the Christmas Season, after all. Do I need to keep that in mind for my reviews? Should I save the review for the New Year? Maybe I will. What do you think, at this time of year, about books which feature crazed maniacs committing mayhem? Is it okay to review them despite the season? How do you handle it? Any opinions?

  • Thanksgiving passed by quickly this year - as it always seems to do - and why am I always surprised? It was a smallish, quiet celebration at my brother's: NFL football (which I love) and turkey (which I less love). Delicious pecan pie for desert. (The rest of our family - with the princess Julianna - were in upstate NY, near Syracuse, visiting with other family there.)

  • This coming Christmas, though, everyone will be in New Jersey - looking forward to that! Julianna's FIRST CHRISTMAS! You will probably be bombarded with pictures on Facebook and elsewhere. And rightly so. Ha!

  • I'm doing my best to feature some interesting and personal Christmas shopping ideas on my blog, probably because it's such fun for me to conjure them up for you. When I was younger and more energetic, I was always a very eager shopper. Not so much anymore, hence my idea of fun: finding stuff online and in my personal library to recommend to you. Most everything I list, I either own or have seen, read or researched mightily. Hopefully there will be a few things you won't find listed elsewhere.

  • November 22 came and went as it always does. The sad anniversary of the tragedy that defined my generation - the murder of a President.

  • This coming week I'll finally be posting my 10 Favorite Books of the Year. (Well, 10 plus Honorable Mentions.) Not necessarily all books published in 2010, but all read by me for the first time this year. It was a great reading year, so it's tough trying to whittle the list down to manageable proportions. I'm sure you're all having the same problem. I'm going to try and link to other Best 10 Lists as I come across them.

  • I thought I'd explain how my reading (and reviewing) policy works, sort of bringing everyone up to date. On the lower left side bar of my blog, I have one or more small boxes titled: CURRENTLY READING. There you will usually find the title of the book or books (and the covers) I'm reading and hoping to review. BUT if the book should mysteriously vanish from that box and NOT appear in the LAST TEN BOOKS READ listing box, then that means I've given up on the particular book for whatever reason: dislike, ennui, exasperation or plain GAK! Since I NEVER review books I dislike, draw your own conclusions. (Sometimes though, I simply will not finish a book because my mood has changed and I've decided to put it off until I'm more receptive - that happens too. ) Also, I really can't review EVERY book I read, so there's that to consider as well. I review books I like but also books I think will make good copy. If you're interested you can always check my separate Page which lists all the books I've read this year - that's as up to date as I can make it.

  • We've gotten a few more entrants in the Short Story Challenge and I really can't wait to see what we all come up with, come February 14th. As I've said before: I'm hoping this will be lots of fun. It's great sometimes to be handed a topic and told: well, write something up - even if all it does is stretch your writing muscles. You gotta' keep those things in fighting form.

Sunday Salon: Hallelujah 'Flash-Mob'

How thrilling. A Hallelujah 'Flash-Mob, in the middle of a Mall, in the middle of a quick Mall snack, in the middle of shopping Mall madness. Thanks to SJ Rozan for posting the video on her Facebook page where I picked it up. I've watched it several times and loved it more each time. What a splendid thing.

Obviously, as S.J. says, this was rehearsed so it's technically not a real flash-mob type occurrence, but hey, it's close enough and who cares about 'the how' of if when the result is so spectacular.

Thanks so much, S.J. for passing it on.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Music in Films: DIVA

Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez singing the gorgeous aria from La Wally, Act. I. This occurs at the very beginning of the 1980's French film, DIVA, still, after all this time, my favorite romance/crime-thriller. The synchronization is a bit off on this video unfortunately, but I wanted you to see the glorious diva at work. If you haven't seen this film, you must get your hands on it asap, drop everything and watch it. (The subtitled version, of course. No dubbing allowed.)

The dvd is a GREAT Christmas gift for the romance/mystery/Francophile on your list. (Talk about hitting several birds with one stone.)

I'd also recommend this film as a superb example of the often brilliant art of set decoration and design. Esthetically, simply a beautiful film to watch above and beyond the amazing screenplay, terrific direction, wonderful acting and camerawork. Am I besotted with this film? Emphatically, yes!

The divine Wilelmenia Wiggins Fernandez as she appears in the film.

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting

Painting of Paul Cesar Helleu Sketching With His Wife by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) A less formal approach done in what appears to me to be a fast, brushstroke style closer, perhaps, to an impressionist's outlook than in most of Sargent's other work. I have to admit I'm very fond of paintings of artists at work, and this one is especially pleasing to me. (There's a similarity in subject matter to last week's painting - Leighton's Painter's Honeymoon in that the artist's wife is included and both men are sketching.)

On first glance (and in my subjective opinion), this Sargent is all about the artist, Paul Cesar Helleu's right arm. That raised pinkie finger. Every time I see this painting I see that arm moving, that finger held aloft in the most graceful manner as the brush moves quickly across the canvas. It's all about the balance of that raised pinkie. While there's frowzy movement in the various grasses, it's the movement of that hand that holds my interest and, secondly - the comfortable and accommodating angle of the painter's body as he goes about his work. The grumpy boredom of the wife with all this going on next to her, excluding her, is, however, to be understood.
Self portrait of Sargent looking very bon-vivant and confident of his artist's 'look'. I like it. To read about John Singer Sargent and see more of his work, please go here. For a gorgeous video of Sargent's work, please go here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas Shopping: More Book Ideas

More bookish Christmas ideas for the art, book, or film lover on your list. Again, I have no finger in any of these pies - shop where you will. These are mostly books I've read (except for one or two) and think would make great presents. A few are new this year, most are old favorites. Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, so you might think of patronizing any of the small, independent bookstores in your area.

THE ART OF NOIR by Eddie Muller.
Muller is a film noir guru, author of mysteries, film books and lecturer of all things having to do with film, most especially noir. This is an older book but definitely worth hunting down. Worth looking for too, are his other film noir book, DARK CITY and two of his noir-ish mysteries featuring boxing writer Billy Nichols: THE DISTANCE and SHADOW BOXER.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE EXQUSITE An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins. For the esoterically inclined, the Francophile, the Anglophile, for anyone who is inspired by the glamorous and delightful.

PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren.
The book for the young girl on your list who hasn't, so far, met Pippi. This is the book that opened up the world of adventure to me when I was a kid thinking that girls couldn't do anything, that boys had all the fun. Pippi Longstocking quickly disabused me of that notion, thank goodness!

CHRISTMAS AT THRUSH GREEN by Miss Read.Well, you can't go wrong with a Miss Read novel about the quiet country doings in the village of Thrush Green. I love Miss Read. Haven't read all of them, just a few, but I'll keep reading until I've finished all of them.

This is such a brilliant concept: a quick introduction to painting. Each page shows one painting and a short explanation of the work, the school of painting and the painter. Open to any page and you're bound to find something of interest. I've had this for years and I'm still finding new things in it.

One of the best books I read this year. A love story for the grown-up who still believes in romance. A charming story that proves that just when you think life has passed you by, it hasn't.

THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann.
Another terrific read from this year. A non-fiction account of the search, in the Amazon, for the lost city of El Dorado and the fate of the father and son explorers who went missing in the early part of the 20th century. Fabulous, hair-raising story.

EYEWITNESS TRAVEL GUIDES published by DK Publishing.
I've included these because, to my mind, they are the most splendid guides for the actual or arm chair traveler. Each book features gorgeous photography, maps, artwork, unique points of interest, architecture, museums, you name it. All in a beautifully designed and easy to read (and hold) format. I love to sit and pretend I'm traveling and these books make it seem as if I'm there. They're a little pricey at about 20 - 25 bucks each, but far as I'm concerned, it's worth it to feel as if you've gone somewhere. These books are as close as you can get to a foreign country without actually being there. I love them.

Anderson wrote two classic satires of the Agatha Christie school of mystery writing (I most associate these books with Christie's SECRET OF CHIMNEYS - if you loved CHIMNEYS, you'll love the Anderson books). His second book THE AFFAIR OF THE BLOOD-STAINED EGG COSY is more or less the same sort of tale as the title above. Both books are bustling with eccentric British wits and nitwits. The stories take place in large country houses filled with servants and suspicious doings. TONS OF FUN.

A BOOK LOVERS DIARY is a wonderful journal filled with witty quotes and plenty of space in which to jot down titles or lists or whatever book-related things your heart desires. I have one. I love it.

ONE GOOD DOG by Susan Wilson.
The extraordinarily touching and life affirming story of a man and a dog who both get a second chance at life. I didn't think I'd like this book when it was recommended to me, but I wound up loving it.

61 HOURS by Lee Child.
This is the first of a two book year for Lee Child - you can't go wrong with either of them. For the thriller lover on your list, these are the books to have. I give a slight edge to 61 HOURS, but WORTH DYING FOR is terrific as well. Either/or. Next to Robert Crais, Lee Child is the best thriller writer working today.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll, exquisite illustrations by Helen Oxenbury. The two volumes in one gorgeous slip-case. A gift that couldn't fail to please any reader on your list, young or old.

This is the latest book of movie essays, after Book I and Book II, by the movie maven extraordinaire and, far as I'm concerned, head honcho of the critic establishment.

THE DICTIONARY OF IMAGINARY PLACES by Alberto Manguel, Eric Beddows and Gianni Guadalupi.
A guide book that defines the places that never were from all the books we're read or are familiar with: Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Narnia, Oz, you name it. I can't think of any imaginative reader who wouldn't enjoy this.

A DOG ABOUT TOWN by J.F. Englert.
Meet Randolph, dog raconteur and wag about town. I happen to know that Santa is bringing me this Christmas morning. How do I know? Well, that would be telling.

Read my other Christmas Shopping Ideas for the Book Lover, here and here.

My Favorite Reads: THE LINNET'S TALE by Dale C. Willard

Right at the beginning let me say that I consider THE LINNET'S TALE a classic of its kind, a simply wonderful example of a book that creates a tangible link between child and adult. A book by an author who loves the English language and has loads of fun proving it. (A book that, by the way, would be great fun to read aloud to anyone within listening distance.) A book that sparkles with imagination and wit as the author spins the charming tale of a village of mice and the beautiful linnet - of the title - who comes to live among them and who narrates the tale.

I read this several years ago and still remember the delight I felt while doing so. All I have to do is think of this book and I smile. The Linnet's Tale was published in 2002 and I've always wondered why there hasn't been a sequel.

From the back cover: In the garden of an English cottage live the lovable, highly literate field mice of Tottensea Burrows - Peebles Carryforth the Mayor, Opportune Baggs, the inventor, the Fieldpea family with their three beautiful daughters, Grenadine, Almandine, and Incarnadine: the widow Proserpine Pockets and her young son Farnaby; and Merchanty Swift, the bold mouse who becomes the hero of THE LINNET'S TALE.

But if you're thinking this is just another sugary tale of cute mice doing cute things, you'd be wrong - there are no attacks of the cutesies here - author Dale C. Willard doesn't allow it.

He manages to come down, always, just this side of an overdose of cute, at least to my eyes.
The book reveals a secret world unto itself and soon enough you forget you're reading about mice and become involved in the ongoing drama of a way of life that is about to change.

Because the language in this book is so darned beguiling, I'm simply going to lift some paragraphs and post them for you to enjoy. This book, needless to say, would make a great Christmas present for any inventive, imaginative, language-loving adult or child you may know.

I am, of course, a bird. That is beyond dispute. And though some Americans will call me a house finch, I suppose, until the day they perish from the earth, I should like you to know at the beginning of things, that I refer to myself as a linnet.

Small difference, you might say. House finch. Linnet.

Perhaps. Still, would you be called a house finch if it were in your power to be known as a linnet? No, I thought not. Nevertheless, let's be good friends - whatever you may call me - and, though I did wish you to know my position, I shall not bring this matter up again.

And now to my purpose. I should like to tell you about a delightful company of field mice who once lived in a place called Tottensea Burrows and how it came to happen that they all went away...

Chapter 1 - Grenadine Learns the Language

Grenadine Fieldpea used to conjugate field mouse verbs, aloud, while sitting at the breakfast table, swinging her legs under the chair and waiting for her mother to finish boiling the oatmeal. It sounded like this:

I will eat porridge
you will eat porridge
he will eat porridge.

we will eat porridge
you will eat porridge
they will eat porridge

I will be eating porridge
you will be eating porridge
And so on.

Grenadine's sisters, Almandine and Incarnadine, would beg their mother to make her stop this and, indeed, at some point - as no one could likely parse an entire field mouse verb before breakfast! - her mother would be forced to do exactly that, saying something like "Stop conjugating Grenadine, and eat your porridge. It's getting quite cold. And besides, dear, you've got the future perfect progressive all in a muddle. It's 'I will have been eating' not 'I will have been having eaten.' "

Grenadine was, all her life, a quite linguistic mouse. But when she was little this characteristic tended toward extremes. At one point, for example, when her interest had turned a little away from conjugating verbs and more toward acquiring vocabulary, she began to run across words in the dictionary that she thought very fine and that needed to be more evident in field mouse usage. She thereupon undertook, herself, a small crusade to this end. The first method she tried was simply to quote the definition of the words to everyone, in turn giving full particulars, and at the end, an exhortation. Mr. and Mrs. Fieldpea found it pleasant enough to be accosted a few times a day by a small mouse holding a large book who would read out something like:

SIMULTANEOUS adjective: existing or occurring at the same time. See COINCIDENT.
followed by "Please use that as soon as possible." Or

SUBSEQUENT adjective: following in time, order or place. See SUCCEEDING.

"Before lunch, if you can. Thanks."

Some description later in the book pertaining to our hero, Merchanty Swift.

But if something of a tragic figure in amours, Mechanty Swift was legendary in commerce and had certain accomplishments of exchange which were repeated by others in tones almost hushed for very awe. Preeminent among these, to be sure, was the cheese thing. It requires a small book, I'm afraid, to tell it, but if one is interested the account is available in any reputable mousebook shop. SWIFT AND MODERN CHEESES may sound a dry tome but in fact I've always thought it moves rather well, if one may be forgiven for saying so oneself, and it is populated by the most colorful characters of every stripe, from the darkest brigands of mongery - smugglers and hoarders and monopolists and the like - to the fairest heroes and heroines of the mercantile arts. One might enjoy it.

He appeared to all, Merchanty Swift, a casual fellow - easily met and full of good stories. But his coworkers and a few close friends knew him to be, in fact, almost meticulous. Indeed, though I am certain that there were times when he actually worried, he had such an enormous natural talent for what he did that his work appeared easy and effortless. It wasn't, of course. It was difficult, rigorous, often tedious, and occasionally dangerous. But there was this: he had nerves of steel, Merchanty Swift.

Those who had seen him in the marketplace, toe to toe with bullies and wheedlers and flatterers and whiners - the whole panoply, in fact, of conscienceless higglers in the world - were certain that Merchanty Swift would come down in his price (or up his offer as the case may be) exactly one mousesecond before his opponent (if buying) would huff away from the table having taken irremediable umbrage or (if selling) would hurl his wares back into his valise in an ostentatious gesture of undisguised finality. Those who witnessed such bargaining events were often heard to use the word "breathtaking" in their description.

If you would like to read more about the mice of Tottensea Burrow and the strange affair that led to their going away, pick up a copy of THE LINNET'S TALE wherever you can find it. If you do, I truly hope you will love it as much as I do.

Note: Occasional light-hearted drawings in the book are by James Noel Smith.

Link to AT HOME WITH BOOKS' My Favorite Reads.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Wishing you all a very happy day full of fun, food, family and friends. (Thanksgiving tidbits from the Food Pages of the NY Times you might like to read when you have a moment to spare.) It's a typical November day here in New Jersey, chilly, gray and overcast, but Rocky and I are visiting with family, so what could be better? Not much.

Have a wonderful day everyone!
P.S. We'll be watching Babes in Toyland aka MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS starring Laurel and Hardy, later. Our annual tradition! The uncolored version, of course.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Culinary Mysteries

Need a break? Over at Murder, Mystery, Mayhem Reading Resource, they have a great list of Culinary Mysteries if all the cooking of the season puts you in a certain frame of mind. Ha!