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Archive for April, 2012

Author Interview with Anita Page

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview with Anita Page by Diane G. (icesk8tr)

 

Diane: Thank you for allowing us to interview you for the PaperBackSwap Blog! I really enjoyed reading Damned If You Don’t, and once I started it, I did not want to put it down! You have the ability to draw the reader into the story from the first few pages!

Anita: Thanks so much for the kind words about the book, Diane. I’m delighted to be here.

 

Diane: I see that you have had success with writing short stories, and have received the Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society in 2010 for “Twas the Night”, which appeared in The Gift of Murder. So, with this background in writing short stories, what inspired you to write a novel?

Anita: For one thing, the story I wanted to tell demanded the space a novel would allow. Also, I looked forward to the challenge of writing a novel. The best thing I can say about that first book, which preceded Damned If You Don’t, is it taught me a lot about how not to write a mystery —e.g., you don’t give away your red herrings in chapter three.

 

Diane: Was it hard to transition from writing short stories to writing a novel?

Anita: The short answer, yes. The long answer: Each form has its own challenges and rewards. I love writing, and reading, short stories. I love the fact that when I begin writing a story, I can see it as a whole. The challenge is that there’s not a lot of room to establish the setting, tell the story, and develop fully-realized characters. Also, to my mind, the shorter form demands greater attention to language. If you’re looking at a huge mural, you won’t notice that one brushstroke is a bit off. You will notice that, though, if you’re looking at a miniature painting.

Writing a novel feels to me pretty much as E.L. Doctorow described it: driving on a foggy night when you can only see as far as the headlights. Scary? Absolutely, especially when one of the headlights burns out. While the novel gave me and my characters room to breath, it also demanded a complex structure involving multiple story lines. Since I’m organizationally challenged, I set up a large poster board with sticky notes spelling out the main action in each chapter. I used different color notes for the various subplots. Low-tech, but it worked for me.

The great pleasure in writing a novel is getting to live in a world of your own creation. However, the people you live with may not enjoy those long, silent car rides when you disappear into book world.

 

Diane: How long did it take you to write the book?

Anita: I worked on Damned If You Don’t for two years, and took it through six or seven re-writes. This was after I retired from teaching and had the luxury of writing full time, which meant five or six hours a day, often seven days a week. I was lucky to have the help of a wonderful writers’ group, and a journalist husband with a keen editorial eye.

 

Diane: How do you come up with ideas for what you are going to write about?

Anita: Newspapers, the police blotter, conversations overheard in diners—I’m a world-class eavesdropper. The trick is to take snippets of real life, and then listen to your imagination. I recently read an article about a second-story burglar who fell out the window when he was trying to drop his haul to the ground. This man obviously needs a new career, but what great possibilities for a short story.

 

Diane: Hannah Fox, the protagonist in the story, is a very put together woman. She is complex, intelligent, and seemed so real to me. Is this character based on someone in your life?

Anita: I’m so glad you like Hannah. She’s not based on any one woman, but was inspired by a number of women who’ve been important in my life, especially a group of feminist friends very similar to Hannah’s Women of Action crew.

I’ve been asked whether I’m Hannah, which is flattering, but the answer is no. We have some things in common though, including our politics and our careers—Hannah’s a teacher, as I was. Also, we’re both indifferent cooks, have a high tolerance for clutter, cherish our friends, and love our dogs. Hannah’s more of a risk taker than I am, and our backgrounds are very different. She grew up on communes in the sixties, and her childhood took second place to her parents’ politics. While she resents that, she finds herself on a similar path because her social conscience doesn’t allow her to ignore injustice. Also, I’m happy to say that our marriages are very different.

Diane: Why did you pick the Catskill Mountains as the location for the story?

Anita: I’m originally from New York City and lived in the Catskills for nine years before moving to the mid-Hudson Valley. When we made that move, I promised myself I’d be back one day, and setting the book there was a way of doing that. Also, the Catskills are a perfect setting for a crime novel, given the gorgeous landscape, the endless winters, the isolation, and the fact that everyone seems to be related to everyone else.

I also chose that setting because I knew I was going to deal with the issue of eminent domain. In the book, Hannah organizes a campaign to prevent the town from forcing the sale of undeveloped land that’s been in a friend’s family for generations. The drama of that struggle is heightened, I think, with the mountains as a backdrop.

 

Diane: There is a lot of great information in the story relating to domestic violence. Is this something you would like readers to learn more about so they can recognize the signs of it in someone they may know?

Anita: I didn’t set out with that as an agenda, but domestic violence is certainly a central theme in the book. Hannah volunteers at a domestic violence hotline because she’s concerned about the issue. However, only when she hears victims talk about their lives, does she really understand what it means to be subject to brutality on a daily basis. If DIYD inspires readers to reach out to someone who needs help, or to ask for help themselves, that would be gratifying.

 

Diane: Do you plan on writing another novel, perhaps another story with Hannah Fox?

Anita: I’m working on the next book, same setting, new protagonist. Hannah and Jack Grundy, the police investigator with whom she may or may not be having a serious relationship, are still around, but this time Hannah’s an important secondary character. I made that choice because as a reader I’d be skeptical if an amateur like Hannah once again became involved in a murder investigation that put her in life-threatening situations. In the new book, my protagonist is a journalist on tryout at the local newspaper. She’s young, edgy and has a very dark past. I’m having fun writing her.

 

Diane: Do you enjoy reading yourself? If so, which author has influenced you?

Anita: I can’t imagine not reading. As for influences, I’ll mention a few writers whose work I re-read because I learn more each time I pick up one of their books: Denise Mina, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Ngaio Marsh, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, John Harvey, Stewart O’Nan, and the list goes on. Right now, I’m reading Charlotte Bronte. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre since high school, go back and re-read it—wonderful characters and setting, great suspense. Bronte was a marvelous story teller.

 

Diane: Do you have a website or a blog?

Anita: I’ve been blogging for a few years at Women of Mystery with a group of friends from NY/Sisters in Crime.  A number of us have short stories in the anthology Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices that was published last year. It’s a tour of the city’s dark side, with stories set in neighborhoods visitors rarely see.

I’m also at anitapagewriter.blogspot.com, a hybrid web blog that I find more flexible than a website. A few of my short stories are available there for free download. Also, readers can find the first two chapters of Damned If You Don’t at Criminal Element.

 

Diane: Thanks again for an enlightening interview! I look forward to reading your next novels!

Anita: Diane, it’s been so much fun talking to you. Thank you for the great questions. Thanks also the PaperBackSwap Blog for this opportunity to talk about Damned If You Don’t.

 

 

Anita page has generously offered a copy of her book, Damned If You Don’t to a member who comments here on this Blog. A winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!

Author Interview with Caro Peacock

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Author Caro Peacock by Jerelyn (I-F-Letty)

 

I have been fortunate so far this year, for I have found several very interesting, new to me authors.   I go through reading phases, and right now I am in a mystery phase.  I love historical mysteries, of nearly every kind.  In the past two years I have been drawn into all things Victorian and Edwardian.  I have hit the Jack Pot with this author.  

As Caro Peacock, the author has created the Liberty Lane series.  Our Miss Lane is not a typical young woman at the dawn of the Victorian era.  Her parents weren’t your typical parents; they were intellectuals with an interest in music and the arts and tended to have republican leanings. 

With her parent both dead; Liberty must make her own way in life.  While most young women would marry this does not suit her independent nature. Here is the author’s interview with her character Liberty Lane.   (I love when authors do this.)  Caro Peacock:  “I’ve interviewed her in a question and answer session that I hope will tell the reader a little more about her.” Here is the link to the webpage: http://www.caropeacock.com/libertylane.htm

Writing as Gillian Linscott, the author has also created the character of Nell Bray; whom I believe is a front line Suffragette.   These are set in the Edwardian period, and I am sad to say I have yet to read these.   But they are on my list and I will be reading them soon.  So I will be concentrating in this Interview on the Liberty Lane series. 

 

 

Jerelyn: I would like to welcome Ms Peacock to the PBS blog and thank her for taking the time to participate in this interview.  Firstly would you tell us a bit about yourself?

Caro: Thank you, Jerelyn, and it’s good to be talking to PBS readers. I suppose I’ve been a history nut since childhood. I remember sitting on the floor beside the armchair of my great uncle, who used to be a horse cab driver in Berkshire, England. He’d actually been among the crowds in Windsor at the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901. The town where he used to drive his cab was a fashionable place on the river Thames and he told me stories about glamorous showgirls from the Edwardian stage who’d come from London for an afternoon’s boating. He’d drive them in his cab to meet the beaux on their boats. I loved it all. My adult life took me away from history for a long time and into journalism. I now live in a 350-year-old cottage deep in the country. When not writing, I work as a gardener and guide at our local stately home, which goes back six hundred years.  So a lot of my life is involved with history. I am bossed around by two Burmese cats, Damson and Figaro, who have no sense of history but a keen sense of their own rights.

 

Jerelyn: In reading your bio it sounds as if writing has been, in your case almost a vocation, was this always what you wanted to do?

Caro: Yes, I always wanted to write but I was diffident about it. I came from a loving and stable but not particularly literary family. Becoming a published writer looked like a steep climb – which it was.

 

Jerelyn: You say that you have done other work besides writing; it seems most novelists now days have to work a “day job” to afford to write. But I get the feeling that your curiosity has lead you to try other professions is this true assumption?

Caro: Curiosity, yes, and the need to earn a living. I had a great time as a journalist, working for the Guardian newspaper and the BBC among others. I reported quite a lot from Northern Ireland during the troubles of the 1970s and also reported from parliament. I like working as a gardener too. Fiction involves living in your own head so much that it is a great pleasure to spend a day planting out rows of vegetables. No doubts, no wrong turnings, just lots of lettuces.

 

Jerelyn: What draws you to the Victorian period?

Caro: So much happened. It covered two generations, 64 years, from 1837 to 1901 and in that time almost everything changed. At the start of the period, travel was on foot or by horse, lighting by lamps and candles. By the end of it we had trains, motor cars, telephones, electricity. Aeroplanes were only a few years away. Politically, most men had gained the vote and most women were well on the way to it. The advances in medicine, science, psychology came so thick and fast that people must struggled to begin to understand all that was happening around them.

 

Jerelyn: You have also said that you feel the Victorian period is misunderstood.  How so?

Caro: For a long time people tended to think of Victorian society as a smug and settled for the middle and upper classes, with nothing but slums and pea-souper fogs for the rest. It was never very settled. At the start of the period, there was a lot of social unrest with many people fearing an English revolution, on the lines of the French one. By the end of it, with the rise of socialism and trade unionism and women’s struggle for the vote, it was also seen by many people as an almost revolutionary time. People were becoming more and more aware of injustices in society and trying to fight them. The world was starting to open out, for women and working people as well as for the empire-builders. I think the image of the Victorian period as self-satisfied and constricted came mainly from the intellectuals writing about it a generation later. Their parents had been Victorians and, like most children, they wanted to think of themselves as more interesting than their parents.

 

Jerelyn: Where did Liberty Lane come from?

Caro: I’d been writing about my suffragette character, Nell Bray, following her career from 1901 to when British women got the vote in 1918. Now I wanted to go back to the other end of the Victorian period. I set the opening of the first Liberty Lane (A Foreign Affair in the USA, Death at Dawn in the UK) in the first days of Queen Victoria’s reign. I knew I wanted to write about a young woman on her own and also to set her in the British radical tradition. Then – quite apart from any theories – I suddenly had this mental image of a young woman walking on her own on the Calais sands. That’s where she started.

 

Jerelyn: I have never been to London, but I have poured over maps of the city for as long as I can remember.  What I love is the sense of place you give London in your writing. It is almost like being on a walking tour.  Was this a conscious choice on your part?  I learned so much from these books.

Caro: That’s kind of you, because I’m not a Londoner by birth or upbringing, though I did live there for some time as a journalist. But I love maps too and I love walking. I got all the old maps I could and walked, looking for traces of how things had been around 170 years go. Once I was in Leicester Square, wondering where the Rotunda Panorama that I use in A Dangerous Affair (UK Death of a Dancer)  had stood. A kindly refuse cart driver asked if I was lost. He didn’t seem surprised when I said I was in the wrong century. They get all sorts in Leicester Square. One odd thing happened. I’d decided that Liberty should live just off Adam’s Mews in Mayfair, which exists, though now it’s called Adam’s Row. I created, I thought, a fictional little cul de sac off the mews called Abel Yard. Later, on another map, I found there really was such a cul de sac with no name given, just where I’d put Abel Yard.

 

Jerelyn: Was Disraeli as much as a puppet master as you make him out to be?

Caro: Oh yes. He was ambitious, charming, ruthless, manipulative and liked to have a hand in all that was going on. He had a keen sense of drama – usually his own drama. As a young man, he’d modeled himself on Byron. I love the way he took over the Conservative party, almost against its will. There he was, deeply in debt, Jewish by origin (although his father had converted the family to Christianity), flashily dressed, too clever by half and, to his regret, not an old Etonian – all very un-Conservative. But they couldn’t do without him.

 

Jerelyn: He was rather a provocative character, wasn’t he?

Caro: Totally. And he could never resist a witty phrase. In the Oxford Book of Quotations he has more entries than Oscar Wilde. He was the man who said: ‘When I want to read a book, I write one.’

 

Jerelyn: I can’t decide who my favorite secondary character is, I love them all.  But I think Amos is my favorite.  Do you have a favorite?

Caro: Yes, I think Amos is my favourite too. He is partly the product of my love affair with the county where I live now, Herefordshire, on the west side of England, near the border with Wales. It is mainly a farming area and people from cities sometimes see Hereford people as slow and easy going. But there is down-to-earth cleverness here, as well as gentleness and a sometimes anarchic sense of humour. I’ve tried to put some of that in Amos.

 

Jerelyn: Why did you make Liberty a young single female, as opposed to a well respect matron or widow?

Caro: I wanted to write about somebody who was vulnerable as well as spirited. Also, I fancied a bit of frivolity. Liberty is serious about many things, but likes fashionable clothes, interesting men, music and dancing.  Also, until well into the twentieth century, marriage did close off a lot of options for women. I’m struggling with what to do about that. Liberty is full of life and passion. She is pretty seriously in love with Robert  Carmichael  whom she meets in the third book. (A Family Affair in the USA, A Corpse in Shining Armour in UK) She has encouraged him to go on his travels because she thinks he doesn’t know what he really wants. In fact, I’ve sent him away because I need time to think. If she marries him, her life will change. But I can’t keep him on his travels and her single forever. Real dilemma this and I don’t know how to solve it.

 

Jerelyn: Did a woman of her class have more freedom than her upper class sisters?

Caro: Some upper class women managed to have quite a lot of social freedom, especially in the earlier part of the nineteenth century when the manners and morals of the Regency period still dominated. But the nineteenth century was a time when educated middle class women were beginning to claim more territory. If I had to choose to be one or the other, I think I’d go for educated middle class for a more interesting life. I’m thinking of women like the novelist George Eliot, Florence Nightingale, the mathematician and astronomer, Mary Somerville. (My old college at Oxford, founded in 1879, was named after Mary Somerville.)

 

Jerelyn: Liberty is well educated and can draw on any number of skills, to make a living; do you think that helps her in what is becoming her primary employment?

Caro: Yes. She’s good at languages and quick minded. But there’s a streak of wildness in her that made her choose to be an investigator. She could have done quite well by staying as a music teacher and marrying somebody suitable. She may pretend, even to herself, that events pushed her into it, but it was mostly her choice.

 

Jerelyn: I always wonder just how much like their characters authors are, what would you say you and Liberty have in common?

Caro: Well, let’s see: Liberty is clever, generous, brave, loyal to her friends, young, good looking, witty, a superb horsewoman, a good musician. In that list, I reckon I score, with luck, two and a half out of nine. I’m not saying what two and a half.  When it comes to defects, we’re both impatient and pretty stubborn.

 

 Jerelyn: How fully realized are your books when you begin to write?  I ask this because they have a very organic feel to them.

Caro: Organic is a kind word and, I think, an accurate description of the way I write. When I start a book, I have no very clear idea where it is going and I certainly have no notion whodunnit. Sometimes I start with no more than a scene or a setting in mind. I write much like I garden – get it started and hope it grows.

 

Jerelyn: Your love and knowledge of horses really comes across in the books.  Have you always been horse mad?

Caro: Oh yes. I think I wanted a horse even before I wanted to be a writer. It was a long time before a horse came along. The horse, Patrick, died last year. I have an empty paddock and a hope that it will be filled soon.

 

Jerelyn: I love to know what books writers read.  What books did you read as a child, and what do you read now?

Caro: As a child, I read a lot of the ‘wrong’ things like Enid Blyton. (Don’t know how popular she was in the States, but here she was the top children-have-unlikely–adventures writer.) I know we’re supposed to look down on her now, but I can’t quite manage to do that. Robert Louis Stevenson was a revelation. I still think Kidnapped is one of the great books. Crime books came quite early. Conan Doyle, of course. Raymond Chandler was another revelation. That man moves his plots so slickly and is such a brilliant stylist that I re-read him now and again to be reminded how a master works. Nearer the present, I much admire Walter Mosley. Easy Rawlins is one of the great characters in crime literature.

 

Jerelyn: I am chomping at the bit for book five, Keeping Bad Company, where we finally get to meet Liberty’s younger brother.  When will that be released?

Caro: It is out now in Hardcover.  By the by, I’d like to apologize to readers in the U.S. for the confusion over titles. With the first three books, the American publishers gave them different titles, so that some people thought I’d written six books when there were only three. Luckily, numbers four and five, When the Devil Drives and Keeping Bad Company are the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

Jerelyn: Again, thank-you and best of luck with Keeping Bad Company.

Caro: Thank you, Jerelyn. And best wishes to you and your readers.

 

 

You can read more about Caro Peacock/Gillian Linscott at http://www.caropeacock.com/ or follow her on Twitter @CaroPeacock


As Caro Peacock:

 

A Foreign Affair (US) Death at Dawn (UK)
A Dangerous Affair (US) Death of a Dancer (UK)
A Family Affair (US) A Corpse in Shining Armor (UK)
When the Devil Drives (US and UK)
Keeping Bad Company (US and UK)

 

As Gillian Linscott she is the author of the award winning series about the suffragette detective Nell Bray.
The Nell Bray Books:

 

Sister Beneath the Sheet
Hanging on the Wire
Stage Fright
Widow’s Peak
Crown Witness
Dead Man’s Music
Dance on Blood
Absent Friends
The Perfect Daughter
Dead Man Riding
Blood on the Wood

 

Also by Gillian Linscott: The Garden

 

 

 

International Cheeseball Day!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

It’s National Cheeseball (or Cheese Ball) Day!!!!

Photo by Michelle H. (mishnpow)

 

By Gail P. (TinkerPirate)

 

Yup, it’s a holiday. But, it’s a holiday surrounded in mystery.

You can google National Cheeseball Day and there are loads of sites that talk about it. But, none of them identify who started it or why or even the year it was first celebrated. And, then there is the whole mystery of how it became a “national” holiday. There’s no record of Congress naming it or setting aside April 17th as National Cheeseball Day. The final mystery is what is really being celebrated! There are 3 different kinds of cheeseballs:

  1. An airy puff of cheese-flavored nothingness to be munched upon whilst watching basketball leaving your fingers tips, lips, and likely the arms of the sofa roughly the same color as said basketball.
  2. A spherical structure of cheese often decorated with nuts, herbs, and/or spices, typically surrounded by teeny, tiny crackers, and often impaled with a dull, short-bladed knife with a handle reminiscent of whatever holiday is being celebrated.
  3. A guy who says really stupid stuff in an attempt to “get lucky” not realizing the really stupid stuff he says is exactly what is keeping him a virgin.

As Grammie to a soon-to-be 17 year old grandson, I prefer the 3rd definition, but that’s not what the holiday is actually about. And, since I HATE basketball (I’d rather chew tin-foil than listen to the sound tennies make on the wood floor), I’ll ignore definition #1. Which leaves us now with the one kind of cheeseball I happen to know a lot about and take a lot of family flack for.

I LOVE CHEESEBALLS! I love the fact that they are full of surprises! What is encased in that layer of pecans or cracked pepper or paprika or oregano??? Is it going to be a white cheese or a yellow cheese? Will it be cream cheese alone or will there be a mixture of grated cheeses? Is it just cheese on the inside or cheese AND something else…..like BACON!!!!! Then, there’s the anticipation about way the cheese spreads. Will the cheese be soft and flow smoothly over the cracker or is it going to be hard…too hard for the teeny, tiny crackers? I hate that…..the cracker snaps as I try to spread the cheese and you end up with cheese all over my fingers and a cracker half that flew across the table landing in my mother-in-law’s lap. Lastly, how will the cheese taste? Will it be sharp, will it be salty, will it be sweet, will it be earthy? I think you are getting the picture about why my family kids me about my obsession with cheeseballs! And, yes, I do own a complete set of dull, short-bladed knives with handles for every holiday, so just get over it already!

 

But, enough about me……here’s an easy cheeseball recipe for you to make, share, and celebrate National Cheeseball Day:

2 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese

12 slices of lean bacon

3 scallions

1/3 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (use the kind that are in the jar with oil)

Cracked pepper

1 snack-size bag of cheeseballs

  1. Let the cream cheese sit on the kitchen counter for at least an hour before you start.
  2. Fry the bacon until it is crisp and then crumble it into pieces.
  3. Wash and dry the scallions. Cut the root end off and trim the green end to about 4 inches. Then thinly slice (including the green part).
  4. Drain the oil of the sundried tomatoes and pat dry. Chopped them into a course chop.
  5. Place the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer (or by hand if you have a really strong wrist and forearm) until it is smooth, creamy, and kind of fluffy.
  6. Mix in crumbled bacon, sliced scallions, and chopped sundried tomatoes.
  7. Season with fresh cracked pepper to taste.
  8. Form the mixture into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
  9. About an hour before you are ready to serve the cheeseball, remove it from the refrigerator.
  10. Smash the contents of the cheeseball bag, unwrap the cheeseball from the plastic wrap, and roll the cheeseball in the smashed cheeseballs.
  11. Place on a plate, surround with teeny, tiny crackers, and stab it with a dull short-bladed knife….preferably with a handle that looks like a cheeseball.

 

If you are looking for more recipes with cheese, try out some of these books available through PaperBackSwap.

 

Fondues from Around the World: Nearly 200 Recipes for Fish, Cheese and Meat Fondues, Oriental Hot Pots, Tempura, Sukiyaki, Dessert Fondues
Author: Eva Klever, Ulrich Klever

The Cheese Course
Author: Janet Fletcher

 

Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cookbook
Author: Kraft Kitchens

Grilled Cheese & More
Author: Louis Weber, Glenn Fuller, Shaughnessy MacDonald

 

Cheese: How to Choose, Serve and Enjoy
Author: Sunset Books

Who Cut the Cheese: A Cultural History of the Fart
Author: Jim Dawson

 

Mystery Monday – The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

I have a tee shirt that says “So Many Books, So Little Time”….and it’s true.  I enjoy all types of genres, and all types of subjects and so keeping up with my reading is difficult.  I seldom have the inclination to go back and re-read books, and if I ever do…you can be sure they are books I LOVED the first time around!

I recently ran across an old paperback copy of “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax” by Dorothy Gilman and on the spur of the moment, I decided a light, cozy mystery was exactly what I needed.  I read “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax,” which was published in 1966, when I was in high school in the early 70’s, so it was time to revisit this endearing character.

Mrs. Pollifax is in her 60’s.  Her children are grown, married with children of their own, and live far from her neat apartment in New Jersey.  She has her Garden Club, of course, and volunteers to push the book cart at the hospital every Wednesday, but for the most part she feels…well, she feels that no one needs her.  It’s a very depressing situation.  Her doctor, young, busy and unable to truly relate to her feelings of worthlessness, suggests that she look at this phase of her life as her time to do what she has always dreamed of doing.  She tells him she has always wanted to be a spy, which amuses him very much.  But Mrs. Pollifax is sincere…and the more she thinks about it, the more she likes the idea, until she decides to take action.

She makes a trip to Langley, Virginia to visit CIA headquarters in order to ask for a job.  The nice young man who receives her there is taken aback.  He politely and gently turns down her offer of becoming a spy.  However, while she is there, she runs into William Carstairs, the head of one of many departments in the CIA.  Carstairs is looking for an “innocent tourist” type to act as a courier, and Mrs. Pollifax is perfect!  With her prim hat covered in roses, her gray hair and open, smiling face…who would suspect that she is an agent?

And so Mrs. Pollifax’s first adventure begins!  She is sent to Mexico City.  All she needs to do is visit a bookshop, ask the man behind the counter a pre-arranged question, and he will give her a package which she must bring home with her after her week-long stay.  Simple, right?

Well, of course, nothing about this assignment goes according to plan.  What’s worse, Mrs. Pollifax finds herself in a great deal of danger and she must use her wits to try and complete her assignment.

Dorothy Gilman wrote 14 Mrs. Pollifax mysteries, and I’ve worked my way through each one.  The premise is usually the same: what should be a simple assignment in a foreign country turns into a complex mission, filled with danger and fascinating people, some friendly and some out to kill her.  As the series progresses, Mrs. Pollifax takes karate lessons (she’s a brown belt) and meets a charming man that she eventually marries.  (He fully supports her spy career, of course).

But the real attraction is Mrs. Pollifax herself.  She is warm, kind, very open and curious about other people and other cultures.  She can also get cranky, have a sharp tongue, and be incredibly stubborn.  She is thrilled that she feels useful again, and is delighted that Carstairs doesn’t find her too old to help out.  She is simply charming and this series is a perfect example of the cozy mystery genre.  If you enjoy intrigue without lots of violence and bad language, then Mrs. Pollifax is definitely for you!   In fact, I’ve decided that I’d like to be Mrs. Pollifax when I grow up!

 

On the Centennial Anniversary of the Sinking of RMS Titanic

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

by James L. (JimiJam)

“The ship was a fabulous passenger liner, larger than any other that had ever been built, and it was called unsinkable. Sailing across the North Atlantic in the month of April, with many rich and famous passengers aboard, it struck an iceberg and sank. Hundreds of passengers lost their lives because there were not enough lifeboats. The name of this ship? It was called the Titan. But it only existed in a novel called Futility by Morgan Robertson, published in 1898…” from 882 ½ Amazing Answers to your Questions about the Titanic, by Hugh Brewster and Laurie Coulter.

It’s no great revelation that, as the years and decades mount, the span of human history comes to form an odd sort of prism, through which the increasingly distant events of the past are refracted and dissembled into discernibly different elements. On the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, one is hard pressed to avoid the attention being paid this memorial milestone of one hundred years having passed since those tragic events transpired. There is certainly no shortage of articles touching upon the basic facts surrounding the iconic ship’s construction and demise, nor is one left wanting for a more thorough analysis of the sinking itself. We now know more than ever before how the ship behaved following the initial impact, following its path to the current resting places of the resulting fragments along the ocean floor. There have even been a fair number of pieces analyzing the general fascination with which we view the Titanic’s story, and there are few who fail to catch sight of its prominence in pop culture, thanks to such efforts as James Cameron’s epic film. Many have explored the dichotomy of human hubris set against the harsh realities of unfeeling nature, as had clearly been the case even years prior to the ship’s eventual conception. Ultimately, in the last analysis, as is often the case once the bulk of our compulsion to reflect is satisfied, we are left with only the most wide-ranging, far-reaching of questions: What does it all mean?

To be sure, the Titanic’s origins were perhaps not so inspired as the romanticism of nostalgia may have made them out to be. Though we often consider the Titanic to be a grand, shining example of the technological, artistic talents (and yes, general hubris) of mankind, plans to build ships of this size were initially little more than a competitive marketing ploy. At a time when the most common and efficient means of traveling between Europe and North America was by ocean liner, two shipping companies battled for supremacy: the White Star Line, and the Cunard Line. By 1907, Cunard had proudly launched two luxury ships capable of traversing the Atlantic in only five days, the RMS Lusitania and the RMS Mauretania. The capacity for such swift travel quickly elevated the Cunard Line to prominence, and fast became the talk of the shipping world.

RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic

The White Star Line was naturally concerned with facing the challenge presented by its main competitor’s achievement. At a party held at the mansion of shipbuilder Lord William Pirrie, a conversation on these new ships between Pirrie and J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, eventually led to the suggestion of larger, incomparably more luxurious ships. Thus a new line of ships was conceived: the Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic.

Key to the tale of the Titanic’s demise is the notion that the White Star Line’s ships were designed to be unsinkable. Proof to the contrary notwithstanding, the sinking of this infamous vessel was in fact no small feat. The compartmentalized double hull was indeed a formidable method of attempting to reduce the likelihood of sinking. In truth it required a confluence of events that lend themselves to a vision of a conspiratorial notion of Fate to send the mighty vessel to the ocean floor. The Titanic was initially to embark upon its maiden voyage nearly a month sooner than it eventually did, but an accident in September of 1911 involving its sister ship, the Olympic, required shipbuilders to halt work aboard Titanic in order to make repairs aboard the ailing vessel. Thus the original launch date for Titanic was pushed back, from March 20th, 1912, to April 10th. This delay proved crucial to the circumstances surrounding Titanic’s demise, as recent theories have now suggested.

Though it was not necessarily unexpected that the Titanic might encounter the presence of ice along its North Atlantic journey, the hiring of a captain as experienced in sailing the North Atlantic as Capt. Edward Smith should have proven more than sufficient in avoiding such hazards. However, the amount of ice encountered, including massive icebergs like that which ultimately sunk Titanic, was not something anticipated by the ship’s crew. It is here where Fate played its hand. Recent analysis and speculation have put forth the following theory to explain the unusual hazardousness of Titanic’s route: The moon’s orbit, which varies in distance from the Earth over time, drew closer than it had in over 1,400 years. This, combined with an alignment of the Sun and Moon, produced gravitational conditions resulting in an unusually high tide a few months prior to Titanic’s sailing. In these elevated waters, the icebergs usually grounded off the coasts of Labrador, Newfoundland, and Greenland, were raised enough to free them from the ocean floor, loosing them upon the open waters of the Atlantic. Over the course of three months following their liberation, the icebergs drifted nearer to shipping lanes such as that which the Titanic sailed. Had the launch taken place in March as planned, it’s likely the iceberg which felled the Titanic would not yet have arrived to block the mighty ship’s passage. Thus, the delayed departure, unusually high tide, and simple lack of visibility which prevented earlier detection of the oncoming hazard, combined to doom the vessel’s maiden voyage.

And so, with eerily prophetic 19th century fiction, competitive marketing, technological achievement, seemingly cosmic interference, and a century between then and now to consider, what does it all actually mean? Is it, as it has often been characterized, merely a tragic and cautionary tale, warning against the overconfidence of humanity? The story of the RMS Titanic certainly serves such a purpose, though unsuccessfully, as shipbuilders went on to construct even larger ships only a few years after the Titanic’s sinking. More to the point, could such a message of warning explain the fascination with which many of us research and remember the event, or is there more to this tale than the loss of a ship and many of its passengers? I believe there is more truth to be found by observing the romanticism applied to the story, though not necessarily the sort of romance depicted in James Cameron’s film. Ultimately, the tale of the Titanic speaks to the core of humanity itself, and the indomitability of the human spirit.

Having taken place during an age of so much progress and transition into the fullness of a new age, yet prior to the great wars that would come to dominate the first half of the 20th century, the tragedy of the Titanic’s sinking provides a counterbalance that illuminates the boundless vision of the burgeoning modern world. The time surrounding the dawn of the 20th century featured an amount of intrepid progress and discovery then unmatched by any other time in human history. Central to this progress were the industries and advancements that made the swelling influx of a new immigrant population in America possible. As thousands upon thousands of people emigrated to the United States, so too did their talents, hopes, dreams, fears, and frailties journey to the American shore.

The story of the Titanic is more than simply an example of these advancements and dreams, it embodies them collectively. Encapsulated in that single, failed voyage, the spirit of a new era can be found intact, a perfectly blended combination of each of its elements. That a confluence of coincidences seemed to conspire against the fated vessel long before it set sail only adds to such a perspective. Mankind has always struggled against the forces of nature and the seemingly harsh winds of fortune. With each addition to our knowledge of this event, what may have once been a simple, yet catastrophic, tragedy becomes an ever more finely-crafted tale that appeals to us on an increasing number of levels. As this centennial milestone passes, one cannot help but marvel at both the story itself, and the century of curiosity and fascination that bridge the gap between then and now. And as we look from our present vantage to the future, with stories such as that of the Titanic’s epic voyage in mind, we can trust fully that our own progress and travails might one day prove just as fascinating one hundred years hence. Any stage of the journey may come to epitomize the age in which it takes place, and only through the brilliant prism of retrospect will we be able to reflect and once again ask, as we do now, what does it all mean?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Futility by Morgan Robertson

 


882 1/2 Amazing Answers to your Questions about the Titanic by Hugh Brewster, Laurie Coulter

 


Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story by Joyce B. Lohse

 

Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler

 


Explorations: A Life of Underwater Adventure by Robert D. Ballard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Member Musings – Our Love of Books

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

A Modern Day ‘Coming of Age’ Tale

by Mirah W. (mwelday)

 

Years ago, I was a book snob.  Sort of.  Here’s the deal: I liked fiction.  The general, contemporary fiction you find on the bestseller lists: Jodi Picoult, J. K. Rowling (I wasn’t a snob against adolescent lit, give me some credit), Lisa See, Charlaine Harris, Daniel Silva…you get the picture. I loved books, but not classics.  Then one weekend my friend Sara came to visit and wanted me to watch the newest movie version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with her.  (Insert eye rolls and some choice sarcastic language here)

I allowed myself to be persuaded and watched.  And I fell (hard) in love with classics. Where had they been all my life?  I know what you’re thinking: Chick, you read classics in school, don’t act like they’re a new invention.  Yes, it’s true.  I read classics in school and I actually appreciated some: ‘A Separate Peace’ by John Knowles, ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne, ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee were all excellent.  But the trudging through Shakespeare, Steinbeck and Hemingway made me want to claw my eyes out. After the required reading in high school and college, I turned my back on classics and didn’t look back. That is, until I saw Darcy clench his hand after helping Elizabeth into the carriage in the 2005 version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.  After that, I was on a mission to read classics, and especially Jane Austen.

I jokingly tell people I read classics so I can appear more educated but that’s not really it. The truth is this: I love the language and careful weighing of words.  Why don’t we speak like that anymore?  Just a few words can say more than most speeches given by people today.  Words had more meaning and depth then and were carefully chosen. I mean, have you ever heard anything more condescending than Lady Catherine’s, ‘Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?’  Ouch, that lady has some venom and there’s not a curse word in the mix.

I like the beauty and complexity of stories about a simpler way of life.  Lives without the distractions we have today.  I seriously doubt Huck would have gotten on that raft if he had a Wii or the internet to occupy his time.

I adore the love stories that are told with stolen glances and plays on words rather than casual sex and mindless flirting.  I can’t even imagine some of my favorite heroes stuck in the modern world.  Poor Mr. Knightley would be fit to be tied at some of the horrible things we say to each other. He thought Emma said bad things but, given today’s society, she’s an angel.

And, at the heart of most really good classics (good in my opinion), the story can be transplanted into any period of time and the plot is still just as moving and appealing.  I see what our world is turning to for entertainment and I cringe when I think what Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte would think of what we’ve become.  Snooki had a bestseller, for crying out loud.  I bet Jane and Charlotte are rolling in their graves.

Now I’m slightly obsessed with classics, with Jane Austen especially.  I’ve started to sprinkle classics amongst my other reading in an attempt to make up for lost time, I suppose. In some small way, I believe it keeps me grounded.  I get to escape this modern world and I relish it and, at times, I think I was born in the wrong century.

And, while I’m making admissions, I’ll admit sometimes I just don’t have what it takes to finish a classic…darn you, Dickens, I just couldn’t hang with ‘Hard Times’.  But most of the time I see a whole new world and appreciate my life in a whole new way; like when I read ‘North and South’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. Sometimes I just learn a lot about Russian farming like when I read ‘Anna Karenina’ by Tolstoy. The point is, I’m learning.  And if I’m ever forced to live on the land in Russia, I’m prepared.

This is my ‘coming of age’ tale.  Perhaps it’s not as tragic or uplifting as Jane Eyre’s or as scandalous as Becky Sharp’s, but it’s mine and I’m proud of my self-realization.   I’ve realized the error of my childish ways and I’ve learned my lesson.  Classics are good. Reading classics is good for you.  I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

Triskaidekaphobia

Friday, April 13th, 2012

By Carole (craftnut)

 

From Wikipedia – Triskaidekaphobia (from Greek tris meaning “3″, kai meaning “and”, deka meaning “10″ and phobia meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”) is fear of the number 13; it is a superstition and related to a specific fear of Friday the 13th, called paraskevidekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia.

Does the number thirteen make you nervous?  For Friday the 13th, here are two reviews of books with the number 13 in the title.   There’s no need to be afraid of these stories.  They are not scary at all.

 

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Sometimes you hear about a book and think, I need to read that.  Then, looking at a discussion you find a lot of people hated the book, so it goes to the back burner for a while.  Then, a while later, you run across it again and are again intrigued by the book synopsis.  Thirteenth Tale is such a book.   There are readers that were bored to the point of wallbanging the book.  Others were captivated a few pages in.   My curiosity finally got the better of me and I ordered this book and read it.  I am so glad I did, as this one is a keeper.

A reclusive author, Vida Winter, decides to tell her true-life story to an unknown writer after decades of making up stories about herself.  She is haunted by a request to ‘tell the truth’, along with some disturbing memories.  She tells her story to Margaret Lea who has her own pain connected with a family secret.  This secret is similar to the secret Ms. Winter has to reveal and impacts Margaret in a way she doesn’t expect, impacting her decision to do the biography.  The story unfolds slowly, but builds on itself becoming more complex as it progresses.  It completely drew me in as it went forward, making the book harder and harder to put down.  The present day is woven into the tale as Margaret tries to verify some of the details, as when she finds the original house where Ms. Winter lived.  There are several twists and turns, and you won’t see them coming.  I am pretty good at figuring out how plots will progress, but this one surprised me more than once.  Just when you think you know, there is something more that changes everything.

Books play an important role in this novel, always a delightful discovery.  The book is written from the point of view of Margaret, who is the daughter of a rare bookseller.  Gardens and architecture provide interesting backdrops for the before and after aspects of the story.

I recommend The Thirteenth Tale.  I found the story captivating, and will read it again.

 

 

 

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

This story is inspired by the true story of William Holland Thomas, the only white man ever to be chief of the Cherokee tribe in North Carolina.  He arrived in the North Carolina Mountains as a teenager to work in a trading post.   He became friends with the Cherokee, learning their language and eventually being adopted by the tribe.  When the post closed, he opened his own.  Thomas organized two companies of Cherokee troops to serve the Confederacy, along with four more of North Carolina white men.  These companies were never defeated by the Union.  Their main battle was fought in Waynesville, near where I live.  Thomas represented the Cherokee in Washington after the war, and was a state senator for 12 years.  He helped secure land for them, purchasing it in his own name using not only their funds but his own money as well.   He was chief of the Cherokee from 1838-1869.  He suffered from dementia (or maybe Alzheimer’s disease) and was committed to a state mental hospital in 1867, two years before he was succeeded as chief.  He died in 1893, after years of being in and out of mental hospitals.

The Thirteen Moons is historical fiction about William Cooper, a young orphan who is sent on a journey into the Cherokee Nation wilderness, his adoption by the tribe and his adventures.  Frazier states in his afterward that the character of Cooper is fiction and the story is fiction, although inspired by fact.

I found this book tiresome as it starts with one misfortune after another.   The story follows the same basic trajectory as the real person on which it is based.   The writing style is pedantic to me, much like his other book, Cold Mountain.   Honestly, this book was a wall-banger for me, but I persevered mainly because it was set in the North Carolina mountain area.  It didn’t get much better.  My husband found it interesting from the perspective of historical fiction, but didn’t care for the book overall.  So, unless you are a history buff that doesn’t mind this style of writing, don’t waste your time.

 

 

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