Thursday, June 30, 2011

Apropos of nothing much, I'm musing about WEST SIDE STORY, the movie.

I was practising 'embedding' a video in my post and I sort of got carried away. But then the whole copy and paste thing didn't work for me, so I'll just include links like I've always done. My daughter says there are tutorials. Okay. When I'm in a tutorial mood, I'll watch a tutorial.

I first saw WEST SIDE STORY in a fancy movie  theater in Times Square a million years ago - well, okay in 1961. At that time you could reserve tickets (same as now I suppose) though I can't remember how that worked. I think we picked them up at the box office. Anyway, we all felt very grown up going to what was publicized as a Big Deal Opening of a Big Deal Motion Picture. Those were the days when going to a movie in Times Square and NOT seeing a Double Feature, was a really, REALLY BIG DEAL (To quote Ed Sullivan.) Plus the whole idea that movies were now costing way more than 25 cents to see, was kind of mind-boggling.

But, time passes: One of my biggest disappointments was watching WEST SIDE STORY years later and seeing how badly it had aged. Oh, not the music, Leonard Bernstein was too much of a genuis for that. But his genius didn't extend to saving a saggy, old fashioned, painfully dated screenplay. The dancing is still glorious of course so when I watch it I just fast forward to the dancing and ignore the rest of this schmaltzy re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. (Though I hear the B'way revivals still work. Maybe it's just a viewing it 'live' kind of thing.) I wish I could have seen the recent revival in which the Puerto Rican gang members and their girlfriends spoke the dialogue in Spanish.

Anyway, the things that still work for me are:

1) The film's multi-colored overture.

Listen to it here:

2) The closing credits by Saul Bass - those chalk graffitti scribbles were genius - pure genius.

3) Rita Moreno. She is timeless.

4) George Chakiris. Not exactly Puerto Rican, but because he was SO incredibly good looking and such a magnificent dancer, he is forgiven anything.

Both got Oscars that year, both deserved them.

5) The superb music by Bernstein and dance numbers by Jerome Robbins.

I mean, you watch this 'America' routine and you absolutely have to smile. Still.

I chose this number because we're coming up on Fourth of July and while not exactly appropriate, I thought - why not?

American Dance Number.

Okay, now for the ugly part: The two main things that don't work, didn't work and never WILL WORK for me:

Richard Beymer as Tony. Never, never, NEVER in a million years will I understand this casting decision. It isn't even as if he were a great dancer or great singer or whatnot. AND HE HAD NO SCREEN PRESENCE!!! He was a klutz!

I'm hyperventilating.

Take deep breaths, Yvette.

Natalie Wood as Maria. Oh well, at least she was beautiful. But.What? They couldn't find a beautiful enough singer? (Marni Nixon did the voice dubbing.) A beautiful enough Latin singer would have been asking for the moon, I know.

Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence originated the parts on Broadway - would it have been too much of a leap to have them play the parts onscreen?

Obviously I still have some unresolved issues with this movie. HA!

Now watch the great Saul Bass end credits. Was this man a visual genius or what?

I AM LOVE (Lo Sono L'Amore) starring Tilda Swinton. After the first 3/4, it's all downhill.

A gorgeous film poster.

I know you all think that I am mostly about vintage movies and you'd be right most of the time. But I do occasionally watch 'newish' films. And I am very fond of foreign movies as anyone who knows me will tell you.

I'd been keeping an eye out for the Italian film, I AM LOVE, for a while now - ever since I read months ago that Tilda Swinton was starring. I was lured by the very positive comments about the splendor of the cinematography, especially. This IS the summer of Italian books for me, after all.

I AM LOVE was shot in and around Milan (the film begins in a snowy Milan winter) and even though I've never been there (darn luck), I'd say that Milan has probably never looked better. This facet of the film made me want to pack my bags and head for the airport - destination:  Milano!

Unfortunately - keeping in mind that I am a keen fan of Tilda Swinton - the cinematography is all that I can enthusiastically recommend about this film. So why am I talking about it anyway? Well, because the cinematography is so splendid AND for about 3/4 of the film you may actually care what happens. I am curious about films that fall apart in the last reel - so to speak. Everything is going along, more or less, and then, for whatever reason, the screenplay just tanks. This is one of those films that sets you up then lets you down - big time - because you know, you really did want it all to work. You were cheering it on. In a film of this type there has to be some sort of pay-off or otherwise, really, it could just go on indefinitely till it peters out. Oh wait, that's exactly what happens.

Now, giving for the discrepancy in language and expression, though I'm assuming the English subtitles were as accurate as they can be when you're translating a Latin language into a non - still, there had to be something going on here that I was missing - some subtlety of which I remained unaware.

Essentially, I AM LOVE is the story of the disintegration of an old, respected and rather cool in temperament, aristocratic Italian family. The Recchis are a family undone by passion and other disturbances of the heart and soul. They have textile factories and wealth - kind of like the Missonis of Milan, owners of the fabulous and stylish Missoni line of fabrics and fashion. NOT saying the family in the film ARE supposed to be the Missonis, just saying that that's sort of what they reminded me of. (Though hopefully, the Missonis are a much happier clan.)

This sort of story has been told many times before and the best part of this particular telling is the showcasing of Milan, the Recchis' gorgeous house, the glamorous dinner parties, the food, the servants, etc...You do often get exhausted (at least I do) trying to figure out why people with so much material success can't be happy. It is one of life's imponderables.

Anyway, slowly and surely and often accompanied by hauntingly beautiful photography, you realize that all is not as it should be. Tilda Swinton plays Emma Recchi, wife of the current patriarch, Tancredi. She is a Russian ex-pat ("I became an Italian.") who married into the family and has raised two kids now grown and hoping to make their way in the world. When her daughter 'Becca reveals herself to be a lesbian involved in an affair with one of her teachers, Emma takes it in stride, though the truth is never revealed to the rest of the family. Her son, Edoardo (played by Flavio Parenti); young, impressionable and clingy, has, with his father, been left in charge of the factory ( a heavy family burden) upon the death of the grandfather and is doing his best to prove himself worthy.

Edoardo (called Edo in the film) has a close friend, a young chef named Antonio whom Emma meets on and off over the course of a few months. And therein lies the tale - the final tear in the Recchi veneer.

Though the actor playing Antonio, Edoardo Gabbriellini, is never shown to be especially handsome or charismatic he almost immediately attracts Emma's interest. The 'why' of this is left to our imaginations. Antonio does know how to cook though and I'm assuming that's the chief draw for Emma, though she, herself is thought to be a good enough cook - not that she spends much time in the kitchen. I think she falls completely under his spell while eating a colorful dish of prawns he makes especially for her while she is lunching with her mother-in-law (played by Marisa Berenson).

I can see Antonio being drawn to the always exotic Tilda, but the reverse? Not so much. I mean, one minute, he is just her son's friend and she, his friend's mother, then all of a sudden (literally), they are making mad, passionate love in the Italian countryside.

Very nicely photographed, too.

But you know, I didn't really care. It's all very prettily done, very steamy in spots, but did I care? Was I engaged? Nope.

The rest of the film is generally predictable, punctuated here and there with scenic splendor including a magnificent drive through the countryside to Antonio's place in the mountains (actually his grandfather's land) where the main trysting takes place.

I kept thinking oh well, the family will somehow find out - Emma and Antonio are hardly being discreet - and though the son will make for an awkward moment or two (not to mention, the husband),  the family will accommodate this latest turn of events and all will smooth itself out in the end. These wealthy aristocratic families can be unrelenting juggernauts.

Suddenly, melodrama with a Capital M rears its ugly head in the 'last reel'. A death occurs which is so obviously a plot point and nothing else that it leaves you gasping with bemusement rather than horror.

The end of the film is mostly revealed in dramatically accented silence, stoic tears and the disappearance of a character which is meant to imply, I suppose, that love and passion are more important than family.


But I loved the photography and I say, if you want to see Milan and the Italian countryside and a wonderful city house in all their glory, then watch the first 3/4 of the film with the sound down a bit. Did I mention that the background music is so melodramatically, over-the-top intense that it must be, has to be meant as parody? Well, it is.

Watch the trailer here. It's amazing what a good trailer can do.

NOTE: Roger Ebert, a movie critic I like very much, gave this film a good review (4 stars, I think) so maybe you might care to be guided by him rather than my own grumpy assessment.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Ray Harryhausen!

Just learned it's Ray Harryhausen's birthday from Mythical Monkey at his movie blog.

Harryhausen is one of the best, if not THE best special effects wizard the movies ever spawned.

It's never too late to wish anyone a Happy Birthday! Especially a special effects giant.

Watch the truly amazing skeleton fight from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS here.

Check out the Official Ray Harryhausen Website here.

Still trying to figure out how to embed videos. I'll get the hang of it one of these days.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: X is for Xenobiotic

Letter X is the current letter in the Crime Fiction Alphabet weekly meme hosted by Kerrie Smith. Link here to see the other entries this week. 

Okay, I'm stretching it, I know by choosing XENOBIOTIC, but try as I might I couldn't find any other interesting X lettered themes (and xenophobia was already taken).  I haven't yet read any writers with X as their first or last names though I know they're out there..

The meaning of xenobiotic though, fits in nicely enough with the staple of most mysteries and/or thrillers: murder most foul.

Xenobiotic: Indicating a substance or item foreign to the body. 

When you are killing someone you are generally introducing an item or substance foreign to their body. Wouldn't you say? I would.


Death by fencing foil in OVER MY DEAD BODY by Rex Stout

Death by knife slice in DEATH ON THE NILE by Agatha Christie

Death by poison in SPARKLING CYANIDE by Agatha Christie

Death by meat skewer in DEATH OF A PEER by Ngaio Marsh

Death by dagger in ARTISTS IN CRIME by Ngaio Marsh

Death by explosion in THE WOODEN LEG OF INSPECTOR ANDERS  by Marshall Browne

Death by bullets in ONE SHOT by Lee Child

Death by snapping turtle in VOODOO RIVER by Robert Crais

Death by arrow in LONGSHOT by Dick Francis

Death by dinosaur in JURASSIC PARK by Michael Chrichton

...and on and on and on and...

Wednesday: Quote for the Day

Of all lies, art is the least untrue.

Flaubert, Letter, 1846

Scene of the Blog Today!

Scene of the Blog at Kittling: Books starring ME - Ta-Da.....!

Today, thanks to the magic of the Blog-O-Sphere (and the interest and kindness of a fellow blogger), I am featured on KITTLING: BOOKS' weekly SCENE OF THE BLOG post. Thanks so much to Cathy for including me in her very popular feature - I feel now as if I've really, REALLY arrived.  If you want to see more pix of where I blog and work, not to mention a pix of Rocky the Wonder Dog sprawled on 'his' sofa (and I hope you do), please use the above link and you will instantly be transferred to Cathy's wonderful KITTLING: BOOKS blog.

It's not all about me, of course. There are plenty of previous 'scene of the blogger' posts to look at (one of my favorite things to do ) - it's always so interesting to see where bloggers do their stuff. Don't you think? Plus, of course, you will find terrific reviews of books you will want to add to your TBR list and/or pile and often a beautiful painting by one of my favorite artists: Deborah DeWit Marchant.

I'll see you on over there.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Bookish Websites; Organizations, etc.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme run by the gals at THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH. Each week there's a new top ten topic for us to elaborate on. This week it's Top Ten Bookish Websites; Organizations, etc.

Don't forget to check out the other participating bloggers at the above link.

Here's my list:

1) Stop, You're Killing Me!

The best and quickest way to see what new mystery and/or thriller books are coming down the pike, month by month. A no-frills site I use all the time to get an idea when my favorite writers' new books will hit the stores or library. It's great for planning ahead and, incidentally, for making Christmas lists. It's also occasionally filled with a surprise or two. As in: "I didn't know this author had another book out this year!"

2) FantsticFiction.Com

The one and only most convenient spot to get a comprehensive list of any and all mystery/thriller/sci-fi writers book lists AND short author bios. This is my 'go to' when I want to know a book title or how many books a certain author wrote or WHAT a certain author wrote. I could not write my blog without this site.

3) Galleycat

My favorite publishing world news and book-related gossip site. A great place too to read about new and/or old author wheeling and dealing.

 4) The Book Bench

The Book Blog of The New Yorker Magazine. You never know what's going to turn up on these pages. That's part of the fun. I'm a big fan of The New Yorker anyway, but I especially love them when the topic is books.

5)  Murder, Mystery and Mayhem: A Resource for Readers

A great place to find a general round-up of what's newly happening in mystery/thriller-ville. There are reviews and lists and heads-up postings on anything mystery/thriller-related. I can never get enough lists, as most of you already know.


Audible is the best place in the world to get hooked up with audible books. They have a good intro package. And even at the regular monthly price, you're still saving a heck of a lot of money considering what audible books coast in the marketplace. Only the library is cheaper, but that's more hit or miss. And Audible has a lot of esoteric titles you might not find elsewhere. Plus it's so much easier to just click a button and within seconds the book shows up in your Audible folder for you to listen to any time.

7) In Reference To Murder

I check in every day just to make sure I'm not missing anything. B.V. Lawson's blog has the latest in upcoming book deals, book conferences, TV, movies, casting decisions, publishing bits and pieces and anything else related to mystery and thriller books, including reviews.

8)  The Browser - Five Books Section

Experts in all kinds of fields pick their Best Five Books on a particular specialty. i.e. politicians on political books, scientists on science books, historians on history books, playwrights on plays, that sort of thing. It's fun and enlightening (and often eye-opening) to check through the archive pages when you have some time. There are also interviews, essays and commentary. A goldmine of information.

9) Publishers Weekly

Besides galleycat, the most comprehensive industry news and gossip re: books and publishing. Reviews as well and just general, in-the-know booky stuff.

10) NPR Book Page

Assorted book news, reviews and commentary. A page you can spend an inordinate amount of time in and on. As with most of these links. They are all addictive.

Honorable Mentions:

Good Reads.
At which I don't spend very much time, but I still recognize that it's a handy place to keep track of what you read. I'm not very familiar with all its other gadgets.

Sussex County Library System
My local library without which I would be lost. But I'm sure every town has its own special library site. This one happens to be mine.

Better World Books
I like that part of the purchase price goes to worthy causes. I like the free shipping with no minimum. I like that they have used books as well as new.

Forgotten Film Tuesday: ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1948) starring Robert Walker, Ava Gardner, Eve Arden and Tom Conway

Today is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Tuesday. Please check over at Todd Mason's blog SWEET FREEDOM to see what other overlooked films bloggers are talking about today.

ONE TOUCH OF VENUS is a film that lived better in memory than it did in 'actuality'.Still, it was fun to watch again and there's no getting around the fact that the main 'love' song, Speak Low, When You Speak Love, is a helluva tune. If you haven't seen this, I recommend it when you have 90 minutes or so with nothing else to do and you're not in the mood for intellectual probing, are a fan of Ava Gardner and ready for a light-hearted romance with a bit of music.

If you've seen this, I'd love to know what you think. It might help to humor my slightly disconcerting disappointment with a film that has music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ogden Nash. I mean, really, how dare I even quibble?

The less than distinguised direction is by William A. Seiter and the screenplay is by Harry Kurnitz and Frank Tashlin based on a book by S.J. Perleman and Ogden Nash based on a novel by F. Ansley (The Tinted Venus). See what I mean? Anything with S.J. Perleman and Ogden Nash anywhere in the vicinity couldn't help but be great. Or so one would think.

So why am I writing about ONE TOUCH OF VENUS anyway? Well, because I'd planned to and watched it last night since I hadn't seen it in years and years. It really is a harmless bit of fluff and occasionally that's all anyone wants from a movie.

Besides, as everyone knows, memory is tricky.

The gist: Eddie Hatch, a generally hapless and ineffectual department store window dresser (Robert Walker) drinks a martini left behind by his aging playboy of a boss (Tom Conway) and while arranging the curtains draped around a statue of Venus (The Anatolian Venus according to the screenplay) drops his inhibitions and kisses the statue on the lips.

The marble statue of Venus Goddess of Love (Ava Gardner) comes immediately to life and wreaks havoc on poor Eddie who can barely keep up with the frenetic plot.

Problem One for Eddie prior to The Kiss: His skulking girlfriend Gloria (Olga San Juan) who has marriage on the brain and apparently nothing much else. She and Eddie both work at Savory Department Store and it appears she's been chasing him for a while, but he, at least, is smart enough to know or suspect that, perhaps, Gloria might not make the best wife for him. I give him credit for that. Though at the same time, he is too wimpy to break it off with Gloria completely.

Problem Two for Eddie after The Kiss: For reasons that cannot be explained, Venus fixes her ardor on Eddie and falls in love with him. He, as might be expected, is at first shocked, perplexed and prone to bouts of hysteria especially when, later, he is suspected of having stolen the statue because...

Problem Three for Eddie: While Venus is 'alive' the statue is, of course - gone. Disappeared from the pedestal on which she'd been placed by Eddie's boss in preparation for a splashy news conference revealing the newest and most expensive acquisition to his 'art' collection which is displayed in a 'gallery' at the store.

Problem Four for Eddie: His boss, the aging Lothario Whitfield Savory (!) played wonderfully by Tom Conway who, visually, is the epitome of all aging Lotharios - believes that Eddie has, somehow, made off with the Venus. His secretary and general factotum Molly Stewart, the equally wonderful, long-suffering, wise-cracking Eve Arden doesn't believe Eddie did it. She is in love with her boss (of course) but channels her affection into being the perfect ultra-reliable, if often grouchy assistant WITH glasses.

Problem Five for Eddie: Venus is very beautiful and very persistent. Eventually she gets under Eddie's skin and off they go to the park to dance the night away even while being chased by detectives hired by Savory to arrest Eddie. (I didn't know you could hire detectives to arrest anyone, but apparently, in this movie, you can.)

Not so much a problem for Eddie as for his friend, the amiable Joe Grant: Joe (the stolid crooner Dick Haymes) is actually in love with Gloria (Eddie's girl). But since he is Eddie's close friend, has done nothing about it until a song he and Gloria both hear playing on the night air -  the haunting, Speak Low, When You Speak Love - sung (dubbed) by Ava Gardner from the balcony of Savory's Department Store - gets under their skin...uh, skins. The song appears to have some sort of spell-casting ability and Joe makes the move on Gloria. (He too, joins in the singing.)

Problem for Gloria: She is confused.

Problem for Joe Grant: He is played Dick Haymes. I mean, Haymes just has zero screen presence. He has a beautiful voice, a crooner's voice, yes, but better heard than seen, in my view. He just did not know how to move in front of a camera.

Problem for Eddie: He is dragged off to jail.

Problem for Venus: To persuade Savory to have Eddy released from jail, she must put up with his not so subtle amorous attentions. ("Call me Whitfield...") He has no clue that the beautiful woman in his arms is Venus come to life. She is just someone he saw sleeping in one of the department store beds (in the 'model apartment of the future') whom he decided he must have even if it costs him all the jewels, designer clothing and other feminine inducements in the store. Money is no object in Whitfield's quest for 'love'.

Problem for Molly Stewart: She is forced to stand by as her boss makes yet another gigantic fool of himself over a younger woman.

Problem for Whitfield Savory: Molly has finally had enough. She quits rather than be a party to his duplicity. He calls her (instead of the jail) from his apartment (with Venus sitting nearby sipping a martini), pretending to have Eddie released. Molly tells him this is the dirtiest trick he's ever pulled and she's quitting, effective immediately. Whitfield rushes off into the night clutching a corsage and bottle of champagne and the next time you see them, Whitfield and Molly are married and planning a trip to Niagara Falls. "We're going over in a barrel." Molly tells the press.

In truth, the scenes with Conway and Eve Arden are the most fun in the film. Well, she's a scene stealer from way back, for sure. I also like Conway's smirky litle playboy smile in this - it works for him.

Problem for Eddie: By the time he's released from jail and rushes back to the department store, Venus has been turned back (by Jupiter, presumably) into a marble statue. "You didn't even say, goodbye." he says, staring wistfully at her marble countenance.

But not to worry: Along comes Savory's newest employee, a girl named Venus Jones who, remarkably, is the exact image of - you guessed it - the Anatolian Venus.

All ends well. Even for Gloria and Joe who were last seen together dancing and kissing in the park.

My favorite scene: The one where Venus (back at the department store being primped and dressed), Gloria (doing the hair dressing and general primping) and Molly (kibitzing) sing a little ditty about falling in love. "It's Him," I think the song is called. A fun scene.

I liked the department store set which is of the old fashioned, all encompassing stores of the past full of everything and anything tastefully displayed, including a model 'home of the future' and even, Savory's own personal art gallery. Not to mention, his penthouse apartment (with balcony) atop the building. Talk about 'living above the store.'

I was bemused by the set of the 'city park' which resembled no park I'd ever been in with live music, waltzing couples and quaint little bridges over water. Well, actually, when I was a kid, there was a park across the street which had 'swing' dancing every Friday night. But no 'live' music, no waltzing and no bridges.

Though the gowns were by Orry Kelly - ordinarily no slouch in the fashion department - I didn't think much of Venus' costumes. In fact, I felt that part of the problem in the film is the odd way that Ava Gardner is photographed. Never once did I feel she was being 'shot' to look special. I mean, here she is, Venus Goddess of Love and all. She wasn't lit very well either. As I said, odd. In fact no one was really photographed to their best advantage. Possibly because they were all just a bit too old for their parts. Well, maybe except Ava.

Robert Walker is a strange sort of duck. He has scenes where he moves along in a klutzy fashion well suited to his role as Eddie Hatch and then there are scenes in which he moves like a guy in full command of his body. And what a strange body it is - high square shoulders to the point of stiffness, he often looks as if he has a hanger stuck inside his jacket. He is gangly and awkward looking except when he isn't. A singer and dancer he is NOT. There's just something about him that's a little off.
He's supposed to be endearingly cute in this movie - but he absolutely isn't. Maybe he just got through playing that guy with the wife problem in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN? Nah, that was later, in 1951.

I kind of like Robert Walker, don't get me wrong, I just think he was probably not right for this part.

Boy would I have loved to have seen a young Cary Grant in the role of Eddie Hatch or even, come to think of it, Danny Kaye.

Now THAT would have really been fun.

ONE TOUCH OF VENUS is not a bad film, really, it's just that it has the components to have been so much better.

My second favorite moment: The beginning - as the opening credits unfold you think you're seeing a set of Mt. Olympus but once the lettering fades, out pops Eddie from behind what proves to be a store display. A nice visual joke.

A brief grandma moment...

Allow me to brag for a moment or two or three on this Tuesday morning. This is a pix of my granddaughter. She is 13 months old. No more need be said since, really, her little happy face says it all.

Okay, now we can go back to our regular programming...

Monday, June 27, 2011

5 Best of the Year - So Far...

5 Best Books is a weekly meme hosted by Cassandra at her blog INDIE HOUSTON READER  Each week participants post 5 Best Books on any subject matter. Today it's a little different as we're posting 5 Best Books of the Year - So Far.

Now normally, at the end of the year is when I post my Best Of List which includes titles picked from ALL books I've read in the one year, whether they were first published in that particular year or earlier. If the book is 'new' to me, I consider it 'new'. Why not?

For this week's 5 Best, I'm considering books published whenever - simply because I just don't read a lot of brand new, current stuff. (But I'm not including re-reads so I can honestly say that the books I've listed are all 'new' to me since I read them in 2011 for the first time.)


My 5 Best Books of the Year - So Far (And in no particular order.)

1) THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1859) by Wilkie Collins.

Well, yeah, you probably guessed this was coming if you read my adoring two-part review. No big surprise. I loved this book and it will forever be one of my favorites. That I waited so long to read it is my own stubborn fault. Not to put it on my list of Best Of would be a joke. This is the sort of 'what happens next' story nobody writes much anymore -  a cliffhanger in the best sense of the word.  A Victorian era classic about a poor but honest hero, a needy but likable heiress, an intelligent, plucky and devoted half sister, a sad woman in white and a cast of odious, hiss-worthy villains.

2) THE MOVING TOYSHOP (1946) by Edmund Crispin.

My intro to Crispin's work. A book that had been languishing on my shelves for a couple of years. Can't even remember where it came from or how it got there. When that happens I automatically think: book elves!

Anyway, finally read it, loved it and reviewed it. It's the bizzare and very funny story of poet Richard Cadogan who, looking for adventure, shows up in Oxford one night in 1938 and finds it. Late in the evening, while out walking, he spots the dead body of an old woman in a toy shop. But before he can do much about it, he is knocked unconscious. When he wakes up, the body is gone and so is the toyshop, replaced by a grocery store. Since no one will believe his story, he turns to the excrutiatingly eccentric college don Gervase Fen. From there, matters can only go from bad to hilariously worse.

3) ROGUE ISLAND (2010) by Bruce De Silva.

A very self-assured, Edgar Award winning debut by a new (to me) thriller writer, set in and around Providence, Rhode Island. Who new that tiny Rhode Island (the 'Rogue' in the title) was such a vicious hot bed of intrigue and murder? I sure as heck didn't.

Investigative reporter and R.I. native Liam Mulligan smells arson when he investigates the deadly fires that are ravaging his old Mt. Hope neighborhood. Eyed by the harassed and apparently incompetent cops as a loud mouthed intruder and general pain in the ass, Mulligan goes his own way. Despite the many obstacles, he wants and needs to prove that it's the powers that be, the sleazy politicos, landlords and lawyers who are behind the very suspicious fires burning up his hometown. Mulligan is such a corrosively vibrant individual with such a wicked sense of humor, I can't wait to read the next book in the series. This book was a real surprise for me. I love surprises.

4) A RED HERRING WITHOUT MUSTARD (2011) by Alan Bradley.

This is the third book in a wonderfully inventive series set in the English countryside of the 1950's and featuring an 11 year old protagonist and budding chemist by the name of Flavia de Luce. Flavia is acutely precocious, curious and lonely - an often wicked combination when there are adults in the area up to no good. This time out, Flavia traverses her village and the land surrounding her home, the run-down estate of Buckshaw, on her bicycle, looking for clues as to why an old gypsy woman has been attacked and left for dead.

Dodging the bullying of her two usually up-to-no-good older sisters, and when necessary, her indifferent stamp collecting father, Flavia usually has the run of the place, free to grow up basically on her own as she fiddles about in the elaborate third floor chemistry lab left almost in tact by her equally eccentric great-uncle Tarquin.

It is the character of Flavia that holds these stories together - she is an inspired creation. (Hard to believe she was created by an almost elderly man.) Despite her obvious eccentricities, at heart, Flavia is basically a lonely young girl trying desperately to give her life some meaning, longing for the long dead mother - who she refers to as Harriet - she doesn't remember. 

A quirky series, but occasionally a very moving one.

5) THE SENTRY(2011) by Robert Crais.

I've long been a major fan of Robert Crais' Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels set in L.A., which are told, in general, from Elvis Cole's first person point of view.  Just a couple of years ago, R.C. began writing a series (now three books along) from the laconic and genuinely enigmatic Joe Pike's point of view. Pike has certainly come a long way considering that R.C. actually thought about killing him off at the end of the first Elvis and Joe book, THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT, many years ago.

In this entry, Pike becomes intrigued with the mystery apparently surrounding Dru Rayne and her uncle, fugitives from the deadly hurricane that gutted New Orleans. Soon he and Elvis are drawn into a deadly battle involving an insanely proficient hired killer, the Mexican mafia, Bolivian drug lords, the LAPD and the FBI. Together, Pike and Elvis will decide when and if to stop trying to help Dru but as secrets are revealed, Elvis must play 'sentry' to keep  his friend Joe Pike from losing his way.

Monday Review: THE TALISMAN RING (1936) by Georgette Heyer

This book is part of my Library Loot of a week or so ago.

I'm not as familiar with Georgette Heyer's writings as perhaps I should be. I've only really begun reading her work within the past couple of years. First with her mysteries, a happy discovery, since I'd had no idea she'd ever written any and now I've graduated to her Regencies - primarily because of urgings and recommendations from the Blog-O-Sphere.

An aside: The Regency era in English history was a brief one but not so to judge by all the novels and stories set near or within those few years of 1811 - 1820. An intriguing and fun to read non-fiction book about the Regency is AN ELEGANT MADNESS High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray, if, by the way, you want to know more about this particularly interesting, though rather short, period in time.

Since I'd just recently finished reading THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins - a book set in a totally different era of British history (the Victorian years) - but blessed with the same speech rhythm and tone - something which falls very nicely on my American ear - I suppose I was predisposed to enjoy reading Georgette Heyer's two stories filled with witty banter and the often preposterous hi-jinks of the English gentry.

First THE TALISMAN RING,  then a few words on THE CORINTHIAN:

The thing that struck me first and foremost about THE TALISMAN RING is that at some time it must really, should really, be turned into a play - a costume farce in the style of Oscar Wilde or Sheridan or Oliver Goldsmith. It is perfectly created for that purpose, whether by intent or just happy circumstance. The whole thing speaks VISUALS as you read, the scenario practically forming itself front of you as you read. (I would love to get an audio version of this at some point.)

I mean, the thing practically stages itself. Most of the action takes place in either an inn - and oh, what an inn! - or at a nearby manor house with one of the scenes there being an everyone bumping into each other in the dark burglary attempt complete with secret passageway, suddenly snuffed out candles, shots in the dark and mysterious exits and entrances.

The Red Lion Inn which is the main set of the piece is an Inn conceived in brilliance,  perfect for a stage set. It is a large place, second and third floors, filled with passageways and stairs in and on which to lurk. It has a public space and a private - for those staying overnight. But best of all, it has secret cellars where the smuggled (or 'free-trade') whiskey is stored far from the prying eyes of the law. One of these cellars is used throughout most of the book to hide one of the two main characters from the grasp of the Bow Street Runners who keep turning up ready to arrest him for a murder he didn't commit. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When Eustacie, the highly imaginative and half-French granddaughter of Lord Lavenham runs away in the night (on horseback through a dark forest) rather than marry Sir Tristram Shield (to whom she has been betrothed by the dying Lavenham) because Sir Tristram is 'not sympathique,' events are set in motion. Eustacie is soon caught up in a smuggling operation gone awry, in fact she runs right into the arms of her black sheep of a cousin, Ludovic Lavenham (don't you love these names?) a young, handsome and mostly reckless miscreant who is on the run from the law and a possible charge of murder most foul.

Events then dictate that Eustacie and Ludovic take refuge in The Red Lion Inn for most of the book. There, they meet up with the very sensible Miss Sara Thane (a wonderful character) a 28 year old spinster travelling with her eccentric brother, Sir Hugh, both staying on in the inn because he is nursing a head cold.

Here is a flavor of the sort of conversation that goes on between Sara and Eustacie once the girl in flight explains her plight:

"...In fact, we are betrothed. That is why I have run away. He has no conversation. Morevover, he said that if I went to London, I should not find myself in any way remarkable."

"He was wrong," said Miss Thane with conviction.

"Yes, I think he was wrong, but you see he is not sympathique, and he does not like women."

Miss Thane blinked at her. "Are you sure?" she said. "I mean, if he wants to marry you - "

"But he does not want to marry me! It is just that he must have an heir, and because Grandpere made for us a mariage de convenance. Only Grandpere is dead now, and I am not going to marry a person who says that he would not care if I went to the guillotine in a tumbril!"

"Did he really say that?" inquired Miss Thane. "He must be a positive Monster!"

"Well, no, he did not say exactly that," admitted Eustacie. "But when I asked him if he would not be sorry to see me, a jeune fille, in a tumbril, and dressed all in white, he said he would be sorry for anyone in a trumbril, 'whatever their age or sex or - or apparel!"

"You need say no more; I can see that he is a person of no sensibility," said Miss Thane. "I am not surprised that you ran away from him to join your cousin Ludovic."

"Oh, I didn't!" replied Eustacie. "I mean, I never knew I was going to meet Ludovic. I ran away to become a governess."

"Forgive me," said Miss Thane, "but have you then just met your cousin Ludovic by chance, for the first time?"

"But yes, I have told you! And he said I should not do for a governess." She sighed. "I wish I could think of something to be that was exciting! If only I were a man!"

"Yes," agreed Miss Thane. "I feel very strongly that you should have been a man and gone smuggling with your cousin."

Very soon, Sir Tristam Shield shows up looking for his estranged fiancee - just in the nick of time, actually. But Shield isn't the only one who shows up to be drawn into several hairbrained schemes as the story progresses.

The Red Lion Inn is constantly plagued by comings and goings, luckily it is a setting made perfect by multi-doors and windows opening and closing, hallways, upstairs and down. As someone departs, someone else enters - just the sort of split second timing beloved of farces since time immemorial. In fact, there is so much activity going on in the Inn that the building sort of takes on a life of its own.

Here's the gist of it: Ludovic Lavenham is thought to have murdered a man named Plunkett a few years before the story begins. No definite proof being found for it except that a shot was heard and the body found just moments after Ludovic arrived on the scene. But the most important thing is that the ring that Plunkett had in his possession - the talisman ring of the title, an old Lavenham family heirloom - has disappeared and presumed stolen by Ludovic at the time of the murder. To know more about the 'why' of the murder you'll have to read the book. Suffice to say, Ludovic has been on the run, cut off from his family and inheritance (he is next in line to Lord Lavenham's title). But instead of fleeing the country, obviously, Ludovic has been hanging around  the vicinity and fallen in with a nefarious gang of 'free-traders' - smugglers to you and me.

The real bad guy is eventually reasoned to be the deceptively charming Beau Lavenham (not telling you anything you won't either figure out or find out early in the book) a man given to wearing chartreuse, puce and stripes (!), a man who, if Ludovic were out of the picture permanently, would be next in line to inherit.

The rest of story is taken up with the dour Sir Tristram, the irrepressible Eustacie with her often impenetrable, (unless you speak French) but very flavorful utterances, the indefatigable Miss Sara Thane, her befuddled brother, the stalwart innkeeper Bob Nye and last, but not least, the scapegrace Ludovic who must be kept hidden at all costs - all trying to figure out a way to outwit the Beau (as he's called) and find the lost talisman ring (which will prove Ludovic doesn't have it and is therefore innocent). The ring is thought to be in hiding somewhere in Beau's abode - currently the dower house of the late Lord Lavenham's manor - and this is where the secret passageway plot comes in. Author Georgette Heyer leaves nothing out - of course there must be a secret passageway!

It's all too engaging and fun and delightful to read as events unfold at breakneck speed as they must in a story of this kind. As I said earlier, this is perfectly set up to become a play (or even an operetta) if only someone would adapt it.

The other book of Heyers which I read recently, practically in tandem with THE TALISMAN RING, is THE CORINTHIAN, also a story of a runaway (two, actually) from that beloved trope of novelists, an Arranged Marriage. When Sir Richard Wyndham, a rich Corinthian being pressured by his family to marry and produce an heir, first meets the fabulously rich heiress, Miss Penelope Creed (known to her friends as Pen) she is dressed as a boy and making her escape out a bedroom window dangling from a sheet.

The rest of this charming book flies by as both Wyndham and Pen are forced, by circumstance, to ride a public stagecoach (!) and suffer occasional unpleasantness in their plan to reach Pen's childhood sweetheart who had, originally, promised to marry her when they grew up. Wyndham is caught up in the scheme primarily because he is postponing the moment when he must return to 'reality' -  London - and make a most unsuitable marriage himself.

As I said, another delight of a book.

I will be reading more Georgette Heyer, sooner rather than later. When I think what I have been missing, I mean, it is just not to be borne.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting...Or Two...Or Three...

 A Woman's Work

 The Chinese Restaurant

Spring Planting - Greenwich Village

 John French Sloan (1871 - 1951) born in Pennsylvania, was an American painter at a time when painting was in a state of tremendous flux, world history was re-shaping itself and representational artists were being overshadowed by the 'new modernism'. An early believer in 'socialism', Sloan was a leading member of the 'Ashcan' school of painting (a name he apparently hated). Sloan is known for his depictions of 'everyday' city life and down-to-earth subject matter. One of his most famous works is the painting of McSorley's Bar (1912) in Manhattan.

To read more about John French Sloan, please check his Wikipedia page here.

For more about Sloan's work, please link here.

John French Sloan - Self Portrait with Pipe

Friday, June 24, 2011

365 TRAVEL edited by Lisa Bach - Another book to add to our expanding list of Favorite Travel Books

I'd forgotten I had this chunky little book on my shelf and only ran across it by accident last night while looking for something else. Isn't that always the way?

365 TRAVEL - A Daily Book of Journeys, Meditations, and Adventures, edited by Lisa Bach is just nothing less than a charming delight of a book, perfect to dip into now and then, when one is in a mood - when you need to focus on faraway places even if only for a few moments.

Each day of the year gets a page and a post. There are short excerpts from fiction and non, from famous authors and some not so famous - opinions and descriptions and all sorts of bits and pieces related to travel or travelling.

Here are a few examples:


Bogota is a city of conversation. As you walk along you have to keep skirting couples or small groups, all absorbed in excited talk. Some of them even stand out in the middle of the street, holding up traffic. We suppose they are discussing politics. The cafes are crammed, too; and everybody has a newspaper, to quote from or simply wave in the air.

Christopher Isherwood, The Condor and the Cows


It is the smells  of a strange city that gradually lure one into its inner mysteries, and in Moscow these were rich, strange, and various, especially in summer: a blend of low-grade petrol fumes, cheap calico, black mahorka tobacco, disinfectant, the warm yeasty odor or freshly-baked bread, and the slightly acrid smell of tar when the water-cart has passed. Then as the days lengthened and the dry breath of the surrounding plains invaded the city, the topol, or white poplar, shed its fluffy seeds upon the air, where they slowly sank to gather in great bleached drifts along the pavement edge, like a parody of snow-falls past or still to come.

Erik De Mauny, Russian Prospect


It is the most marvelous sea in the world, the most suited for these little adventures; it is crammed with strange towns, differing one from the other; it has two opposite peoples upon either side, and hills, and varying climates, and the hundred shapes and colors of the earth, here rocks, there sand, there cliffs, and there marshy shores. It is a little world. And what is more, it is a kind of inland sea.

Hillaire Belloc, Hills and the Sea (1906)


The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book - a book that was the dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.



Exploration is nothing more than a foray into the unknown, and a four-year-old child, wandering about alone in the department store, fits the definition as well as the snow-blind man wandering across the Khyber Pass. The explorer is the person who is lost.



Up in the High Air, you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and though: Here I am, where I ought to be.

Isaak Dinesen, OUT OF AFRICA


Your travel life has the essence of a dream. It is something outside the normal,  yet you are in it. It is peopled with characters you have never seen before and in all probability will never see again. It brings occasional homesickness, and loneliness, and pangs of longing...But you are like the Vikings or the master mariners of the Elizabethan age, who have gone into a world of adventure, and home is not home until you return.

Agatha Christie

Friday's Forgotten Books: LUCK IN THE SHADOWS (1996) by Lynn Flewelling

I haven't noticed any slim, buff guys in tank t-shirts parading around our town yet - too bad. Still, I wish a happy Gay Pride Weekend to my many friends who will, with pride and fortitude, be celebrating over the next few days.

Having said that:
It's odd to think, but not hard to imagine, that one of the few series with two gay protagonists living, more or less, happily ever after, is one based in a fantasy alternate universe which resembles Europe's medieval ages if it resembles anything earthly familiar at all. Yeah, I assume the setting is earth, but earth of another time and place - a home of wicked sorcerers, evil witches, beautiful princesses, handsome princes, royal dynastic machinations, murder, skulduggery and oh yes, magic, wizards, exotic spells and counter-spells. The stuff of life.

Except for Harry Potter and the Temeraire books of Naomi Novik, I'm not, normally, a big reader of fantasy but this series was enthusiastically recommended a few years ago by a friend on a reading forum and sure enough, I picked up the first book, LUCK IN THE SHADOWS, and was pretty instantly hooked. Author Lynn Flewelling's series featuring the adventures of Seregil and Alec is like nothing else I've read although if you, unlike me, have been reading fantasy for awhile, it  might  seem a little less exotic to you. To me, it was all brand new - at least, the colorful trappings, anyway.

The story is an age-old one: A man disgraced who can never go home, pretends to indolence and caring for nothing but carousing when in reality he is a spy for the forces of good. (Who these forces are is still relatively unclear to me even after having read all the books in the series except the very latest.) I think it's all about good and evil at constant war with one another in the guise of warring kingdoms and factions - that sort of thing. I still find some of the trappings of fantasy occasionally mystifying.

Anyway, the spy, rogue, thief and noble, Seregil (LOVE that name) of Rhiminee has been alive for longer than any of us can imagine (without, in appearance, showing his true age) so he comes equipped with long-ago history and back-story which is revealed by the author as the books progress. When we first meet  Seregil he is a 'guest' in a dark dungeon, cast away in prison awaiting his chance to escape. This present incarceration is the result, of course, of one of his many colorful adventures. While there Seregil gets a new cell mate, a young man named Alec of Kerry. Once they manage a daring escape, they become allies and Seregil takes young Alec under his wing as an apprentice. This book could have easily been called The Spy Master's Apprentice because that is precisely what Seregil does - he teaches Alec the ways and means of becoming a master spy - a calling that Alec appears to have an aptitude for.

In the dark lands (resembling medieval England) in which these two dwell, very little, very few can be trusted and a friend one day may be an enemy the next. But Seregil and Alec persevere as they're swept up in a sinister plot in which neither may come out alive. With death, destruction and betrayal all around them, the apprentice must soon learn the ways of the master if he and Seregil are to survive.

Seregil, despite what he would have the world believe, is a man of honor and though we suspect that along the way he is developing an affection for Alec which is more than that of teacher for student, he controls his emotions and doesn't let on. Alec, he believes, is too young to deal with any added emotional baggage. In this first book, LUCK IN THE SHADOWS, they are no more than friends who must unravel a devious, murderous plot.

It's only beginning with the second book in the series, STALKING DARKNESS, that Seregil and Alec's relationship develops along a certain, not entirely unexpected, emotional path.

The main thing I like about this series is that, like all good fantasy or for that matter, all good books in general - the personal relationships are what matter. If there were no interesting relationships among the main characters and their friends, allies and enemies, there'd be no point in reading the story.

Though, so far, Seregil and Alec are still together, continuing their daring adventures, often being torn apart and having to fight their way back to each other - harrowing to say the least - always working for the good of their friends, allies and noble houses, who knows what the future holds? The main draw of these books is the relationship of Seregil and Alec and, I suppose, a wish to see what author Lynn Flewelling does with it next.

Too bad this sort of story, minus the wizards and casting of spells, couldn't. apparently, take place in our everyday sort of world.


Turns out that Internet Movie Database has a page for LUCK IN THE SHADOWS which means, there's a project, at least, in some stage of development. No screenplay, no cast, far as I know. But good news nonetheless.

This post is my entry in FRIDAY'S FORGOTTEN BOOKS a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE. Check on over there to see what other books other bloggers are talking about today.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet - Letter W is for: The WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE by Joan Aiken

Cover art by Edward Gorey.

I thought about doing W for Nero Wolfe, but I'd already done N is for Nero Wolfe - wouldn't want to repeat myself - if I can help it.  The Crime Fiction Alphabet 2011 is a weekly meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, MYSTERIES IN PARADISE. 

THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE is my entry for the Letter W.

Joan Aiken (1924 - 2004) a daughter of poet and novelist Conrad Aiken, was an amazingly prolific writer of the sort you hardly see anymore. All you need do is look at her publication history  on  her fantastic fiction page and you will be wowed. In this case, W could also stand for Wow.

THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE (1963) is the first book in The Wolf Chronicles, a series of books for slightly older children or YA as they're called today. The two I've read (WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE and MIDWINTER NIGHTINGALE) were just as much fun for me to read as they must have been for kids over the years. Maybe more, because I have an appreciation of the type of Victorian story telling that Aiken was parodying. Long before Lemony Snicket showed up on the scene with his Series of Unfortunate Events, there was Joan Aiken doing it earlier and doing it very well indeed.

Aiken was not afraid to fill her tales with good doses of doom and gloom - just enough to place her young protagonists in dire peril - living in an England where dark doings (and bands of roving wolves) were commonplace and parents were often separated from their children by Unhappy Circumstance.

In THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE, we have the story of Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia. Both girls have been left in the care of the cruel governess, Miss Slighcarp, when Bonnie's parents go on a long sea voyage. Uh-oh.

When news comes of the suspicious sinking of the parental ship - well you knew that was coming -Miss Slighcarp takes over the house - the servants are dismissed and the furniture sold. Dressed in rags, the two young girls are turned out - sent to a prison-like orphanage. What are Bonne and Sylvia to do?

Luckily, they are plucky types and with the help of Simon the goose boy and his flock, the girls escape and then must look to find a way to wrest their family home, Willoughby Chase, back from the evil clutches of Miss Slighcarp.

I wish I'd read more of Joan Aiken's work (Oh well, there's always tomorrow.) - though it seems to me that I read several of her novels written for adults once upon a time. Oh, if only I'd begun keeping track of books read over the years.

I own the hardcover of THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE which has some mighty fine interior illustrations by Pat Marriott. Another wish: I wish the dustjacket were in better shape.

The other Joan Aiken YA book I've read and loved.

5 Best Books About Travel

Five Best Books...on any given subject, is a meme I am very fond of. Hosted weekly by Cassandra at INDIE READER HOUSTON, this week the subject is: Five Best Books About Travel. From what I understand, in Cassie's view, 'travel' has a broad definition as you will see when you check out her picks for the week.

My own particular favorite books about travel are all a little more down to earth except perhaps one or maybe two.


1) Not so much about the actual fact of travelling but certainly about the art of travelling and finding yourself establishing a new kind of life for half a year, every year. UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Frances Mayes is the first book I can remember reading about someone moving to another country - in this case, the Tuscan countryside of Italy. Though now there seem to be tons of books of this sort, for me, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN was the first and still, the best. I am very fond of Mayes quiet and poetic sense, her lyrical observations about what has to be one of the most gorgeous places on earth and also, of course, her thoughts on the people she meets there.

Not so crazy about the movie which, outside the photography, (And how difficult, really, is it to photograph Tuscany so that it appears beautiful?) has little to recommend it.  The film-makers took Frances Mayes original and very affecting story and changed it around to make it - what? More appealing to a younger audience? I say: read the book. Try if you can to find a copy without the movie tie-in.  I would also recommend BELLA TUSCANY by Frances Mayes, as a wonderful follow-up.

2) A THOUSAND DAYS IN VENICE An Unexpected Romance by Marlena de Blasi.
At a point in her life and at an age, in which she was fully and fairly expected by children and family to be 'settled' into a more 'routine' sort of life, Marlena, a divorced chef from St. Louis, suddenly finds herself the unexpected and intense object of 'love at first sight.' In this case, 'sight' being a glimpse across the crowded Piazza San Marco. Fernando, having once seen Marlena, is thoroughly smitten and having once devised to meet her, falls even more under her spell. A pragmatic Italian with yet an intense streak of romance flowing through his veins, Fernando soon convinces Marlena (who also has a wild streak of romanticism flowing through her veins) to sell her home in America and come to Italy to live with him. They are married and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is the first of several books in which Marlena de Blasi extols the pleasures of the Italian countryside, the beautiful heart and soul of the Italian people and last, but certainly not least, the glories of Italian food.

3) THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR By Train Through Asia by Paul Theroux
The travel book to define all travel books, I think. I read this classic by famed novelist and non-fiction author Paul Theroux, many years ago and truth to tell, I should probably line it up to read again - my memory being what it is. But what's not to like about a book that is really a four month long romantic,
colorful, quirky, eye-opening, eccentric and entertaining train ride through an exotic array of countries.

According to Wikipedia:
The book '...recounts Theroux's journey...through Europe, the Middle East, the Indian Sub-Continent and Southeast Asia before finally returning via the Trans-Siberian Railway."  I mean, really. How else, where else, could you have such an exuberant travel adventure without actually leaving your home?

There is a sequel of sorts done up recently by Theroux in which he goes back over the same trail and discovers what has changed over the course of the trip to the 'same' countries. It is called, GHOST TRAIN TO THE EASTERN STAR and it is on my TBR list as we speak.

4) Wikipedia says that Jasper Fforde's style of writing is called Postmodern Literature - if that means that Fforde has invented a brave new world based on altered images and alternate histories of both 'real' and non-real events then I say: okay, sure - postmodern it is.

To travel to Greater Swindon, the 'place' in England from which most events having to do with Thursday Next, Literary Detective, spring forward, is to undergo a transformation of everything you know and hold near and dear. Ha! You can begin with THE EYRE AFFAIR or really,  LOST IN A GOOD BOOK or even THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS. Doesn't matter, you will be mostly lost if you try to make any rational sense of it all. So there's really no point in trying. Knowing that going in, you can easily jump back and forth without much fuss.

The journey is the thing. The journey alongside Thursday Next (the heroine) into and out of books in a universe which is the same as ours, but not - where you get to mingle with fictional characters from classic literature, occasionally do a bit of time-travel and duke it out with the most fearsome and ferocious killer imaginable, the Minotaur from ancient legend, who shows up now and then to wreak havoc. But be forewarned, if you do not like British wit, literary puns, similes and metaphors run amok - you will not be welcome.

Travel to Swindon and its environs at your own risk.

5) ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll.
Yeah, it's a travel book. Really. Think about it. You fall down a rabbit hole and you find yourself a stranger in a strange land forced to walk near and far, from pillar to post, trying to find your way back home. What are you doing in Wonderland but travelling? Oh, and having adventures of course. But that's the best part of travelling.

Enough said.


There are a few other 'travel' books I've been meaning to read (or read so long ago I might just as well not have read them at all) over the years and though one has finally made it into my home (the book by Beryl Markham) it remains unread due to the fact that try as I might I can't really read everything at the same time. If you can figure out how to do this, please, will you let me know? Thanks.

WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham
A book about adventures in Africa, travelling by plane piloted by Markham herself, in the early part of the 20th century when planes were still a novelty and only the very intrepid dared take to the air in the rickety things. Markham was one of the most intrepid.

I've been trying on and off, to find a copy of this book for awhile now. I leave it up to luck. I know I'll come across it at some point. Recommended very highly by Nancy Pearl. She recommends all of Newby's work. And as you all know, Nancy Pearl is my reading guru.

Another book - a novel - I've been meaning to hunt down. This one features the famous opening sentence: " Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass." Really, there's very little more to be added. I want to read this book.

Two books which I read long ago (in high school) and remember very little about except that at one time - influenced by same - I had the notion to travel to Africa on a picture safari - never did manage it though. But everyone should read these books who is at all interested in the world outside their front doors: THE WHITE NILE and THE BLUE NILE, both by journalist Alan Moorehead, both about the search for and discovery of the source of the Nile river - back when great parts of the world were still hidden from western eyes and exploration was the grandest of dangerous adventures.

Oh, and if you want to have fun playing archaeologist in Egypt at the turn of the 20th century, I really, REALLY recommend the Amelia Peabody books by Egyptologist and author, Elizabeth Peters. Adventures told in the high romantic style of H. Rider Haggard. Begin with CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK and take it from there.

Also, don't forget to take a look at Nancy Pearl's latest in the Book Lust series, coincidentally having much to do with today's subject: