Little Free Libraries

Yesterday I spotted an interesting headline in USA Today“Little Free Libraries are taking Root on Lawns”. It seems that Todd Bol of Wisconsin decided two years ago to build a miniature library, I’m talking bird house size, fill it with books, and place it in his front yard. He built it to honor his Mom who was a teacher and book lover during her lifetime. You can click on the link to read the entire article if you’d like.

Well, it seems that his idea for the Little Free Library has taken off and now lawns across the country are sprouting their own teeny book depositories. How wonderful!! There is even a website devoted to this new phenomenon, http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/index.html. Their mission is to promote literacy and a sense of community.

What a terrific idea! And of course now I want one in my front yard!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

When I was watching the snooze fest, otherwise known as The Oscars, the other night, I was roused from my slumber when they announced the winner of the Best Animated Short Film. Why you may ask…because there was the word “book” in the title, and the much too short clip they showed look pretty darn cute!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is truly an Academy Award winner, and as an added bonus it’s all about books!!

Mad Men is Bewitched

Mad Men

Image via Wikipedia

I’m pretty excited about the return of Mad Men next month. It’s been a long time, 17 months, since season four ended, and it’s a testament to the show, that after that long of a hiatus the fans are still enthusiastic for its fifth season. A lot of shows would have just fizzled out and died with that big of a break in the action. 

I remember that the first thing that popped in my head when I saw the first episode of Mad Men was that this is a grown up version of Bewitched —without the magic!  Or, at the very least, series creator, Matthew Weiner, must have been just a tad influenced by my favorite show of all times!

Just look at these amazing similarities:

  • Bewitched was filmed in the 60’s~~Mad Men is set in the 60’s  
  • Darrin Stephens works in an agency ~~Don Draper works in an ad agency
  • Larry Tate is a prematurely white-haired ad exec ~~Roger Sterling is a prematurely white-haired ad exec 
  • Samantha Stephens is a blonde witch~~Betty Draper is a blonde witch 

Come on go with me here! Regardless of whether my old favorite show, Bewitched,  influenced one of my new favorite shows, I’m sure glad Mad Men is returning soon.

….now if they could just add an Endora-like character I think Mad Men would be complete….

The Snow Child

I’ve just finished The Snow Child and it was a beautifully written novel. This is not the type of book that I would normally pick up without some prompting. I don’t really like novels set in cold climates and it’s premise of being based on a Russian fairy tale didn’t sound appealing in the least.  But I kept seeing the cover pop up on Goodreads and The Readers were doing an interview with the author, Eowyn Ivey and I do spend time in Alaska so I decided to hurry up and read it before Simon and Gav did their interview with her on The Readers.

I am so very glad that I did! It’s hard to believe that this a debut novel. The descriptions of life in Alaska just jump off the page and are so vivid and clear that I could almost feel the cold air kissing my cheeks and hear the snow crunching under my feet. Well, I have to admit it is pretty cold in my neck of the woods right now, but I still think I would have felt cold, isolated and shivery even if I was reading this in August! It’s just that good.

Set in 1920’s Alaska, Mabel and Jack have decided to leave Jack’s family farm in Pennsylvania and set up roots in the wilds of Alaska. There is a sadness within themselves and within their marriage. You see Mabel and Jack’s only child was born stillborn and now in their early 50’s they still long for what might have been if they were able to have a child.

After two years of struggling to farm their small plot of land in Alaska, and a long winter ahead of them with the prospect of little food, they are about to give it up and head back East when fate intervenes. First Jack is befriended by George, a long time homesteader. George and his wife Esther and their three children take the couple under their wing and help curb the isolation and loneliness as well as give them practical advice on how to survive the upcoming winter and most importantly hope.

Then something even more miraculous occurs. The night of the first snowfall, Mabel is giddy and happier than she’s been in a long time. She and Jack play in the snow and build a snow girl, complete with carved face, scarf and mittens but when they arise the next morning their snow girl is in ruins and the scarf and mittens gone.

Soon after this, first Jack and then Mabel spot a young, blonde girl hiding in the woods surrounding their cabin wearing the missing scarf and mittens. Is she real? I think I will let you read this glorious book and discover that for yourself!

Dashing through this book, I fell in love with the authors prose and hope she will be writing something else very soon!

Clubs and Club Life in London

Time again to dust off my shelves~~
Clubs and Club Life in London, originally published in 1872 (my copy is from 1908), has a subtitle that drew me to it ~~ with anecdotes of its famous coffee house, hostelries and taverns from the seventeenth century to the present time.  This interesting book, by John Timbs, was written to preserve the history of these establishments. This is a lengthy book with 508 pages and a large table of contents. It’s page after page of brief synopses of clubs, coffee-houses and taverns from the early 1600’s up until the time of the book’s publication. 

The earliest club mentioned is The Mermaid Club (1603)  which met in the Mermaid tavern and whose members included Ben Johnson, Sir Walter Raleigh and Shakespeare. Apparently wit-combats occurred between Ben Johnson and Shakespeare at this club according to a Mr. Charles Knight, who was a youth when witnessing these exchanges. I too did not know the definition of wit-combat, but from what I can figure out it is a battle of wit using rhyme. I think this is my new favorite word!

The Calves’ Head Club was founded in “ridicule of the memory of Charles I” in the late 1600’s.  Street Clubs were formed in the early part of the 1700’s and were made up “of inhabitants of the same street ; so that a man had but to stir a few houses from his own door to enjoy his Club and the society of his neighbors….the streets were then so unsafe that the nearer home a man’s club lay the better for his clothes and purse.”

Mug-house Club, a political club, was formed in the early 18th century  by gentlemen lawyers and statesmen. This account comes from “A Journey through England” in 1722: “They have a grave old Gentleman, in his own gray hairs, now within a few months of ninety years old, who is their President and sits in an arm’d chair some steps higher than the rest of the company to keep the whole room in order. Here is nothing drunk, but ale, and every Gentleman hath his separate mug, which he chalks on the table where he sits as it is brought in…..the room is always so diverted with songs, and drinking from one table to another to one another’s health, that there is no room for politicks, or anything that can sow’r conversation.”

The Roxburghe Club (1812) was founded from the sale of the library of John, Duke of Roxburghe. The object of the 21 member club was the reprinting of rare and ancient literature, although my book suggests that their dinners were more important to the members than literature. They were known for consuming large quantities of food and drink and partying until the wee hours of the morning. There is a list of “Tostes” (toasts) from their first dinner and by far my favorite is, to “The Cause of Bibliomania all over the World”. I might have to try that one the next time I’m making a toast!

There are so many interesting tidbits in this book that I love to pull it off the shelf from time to time and dip into it. I’m so glad that Mr. Timbs had the foresight to record these facts and anecdotes before they were lost to history.

History and running DO mix!

For the last few years I’ve tried to train my mind and body to like running. It all started when  our entire family signed up to run in a 5k last February to support breast cancer research. I’ve never liked to run, even when I was a 20 something and in to Jazzercise. I found it boring, it gave me a stitch in my side and it was just plain difficult. But something changed in me when I had this important goal in front of me — I had to finish this 5k!

The thing that changed everything for me was to realize I didn’t have to run the whole darn thing without stopping! What a revelation. It was the game changer that got me motivated and made me think I might really be able to do this!  I took to it once I figured out that the only one judging me was myself and that I shouldn’t beat myself up if I wasn’t the fastest or the most athletic one out there! And I did finish!

Since then I’ve run in a few more 5k’s and even enjoyed a little jogging when I was on vacation. I NEVER would have thought I’d say that! But I think the most fun experience I’ve had in my very short life as a snail paced runner was a run my hubby and I participated in while in Boston.

I found out about The Freedom Trail Run on Tripadvisor when I was looking for things to do in Boston. It combines a 5k run while visiting a slew of historical landmarks pertaining to the American Revolution. On Saturday and Sunday mornings year round the run starts in Boston Commons, then winds it way through the streets of Boston ending up at the Charleston Navy Yard where you take a ferry back to Boston’s Long Wharf. I signed us up before I could change my mind hoping that their claim that runners of every ability could participate was true. Gosh I was hoping they were right!

The Massachusetts State-house in Boston, Massa...

It was so much fun!  Our tour guide, Eddie, started out quickly, climbing up the hill from the Commons to the Massachusetts State House then back down the hill to The Granary Burying Ground where Sam Adams, Paul Revere among others are buried.  We went past Ben Franklin’s birthplace, Paul Revere’s House, Bunker Hill, the sight of the Boston Massacre and across the Charles River.

Paul Revere House, side view.

At each of the 16 landmarks our tour guide stopped and told us facts and stories about  what we were seeing and even managed to snap some photos. Most of the time I managed to stay up with the rest of the 15 runners just fine. There were enough stops that I never felt too tired or out of breath. I have to say that I was probably one of the slower runners and there were definitely some “ringers” in the group with lots of running experience. Show offs!! But everyone was so nice and two hours of running together kind of forms a bit of a bond.

I honestly wouldn’t be ready to run through the streets of Boston right now! Living in a cold climate and not having a gym membership I have NOT been running at all this winter.  Just the fact that I’m writing a post about running makes me think this couch potato may be getting ready to lace up those tennies!!

Celebrated Mysteries

Midnight in Paris

Yesterday I finally got a chance to watch the Oscar nominated movie, Midnight in Paris. Let me start off by saying that I’m not really much of a Woody Allen fan, but the premise of this movie intrigued me. It’s set in modern-day Paris but has the main character Gil, played by Owen Wilson, traveling to 1920’s Paris every evening at midnight. Gil is a script writer in Hollywood, but wistfully longs to be a novelist. His writer’s fantasy is fulfilled when on his nightly travels back to the 20’s he is befriended by  F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso amongst others.

This movie made me think of two of my favorite mystery series both featuring Hollywood celebrities from bygone eras.

Stuart Kaminsky was a prolific author with three separate mystery series, but my favorite featured private detective Toby Peters, the hard on his luck, wise cracking gumshoe. This laugh out loud series, set in 1940’s Hollywood is full of characters right out of a B movie. Each book features a movie star that needs Toby’s help out of a jam. Judy Garland, Gary Cooper, Mae West, Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford – Toby helps them all!  There are a total of 24 books in the series and every one a gem. You can’t go wrong picking up any one of them.

The Rat Pack mysteries is the second series I love. Written by Robert J. Randisi, this series is set in 1960’s Las Vegas and features Eddie Gianelli aka Eddie G., a pit boss at the Sands casino. The first book is set during the filming of Oceans 11 and Eddie gets involved when Dean Martin starts receiving anonymous threatening letters. Joey Bishop sets up a meeting between Eddie and Frank Sinatra, where Frank asks Eddie to help him and Dean out as a favor. How can Eddie say no?  There are only 6 books in this fairly new series. Each one featuring Frank and the rest of the pack in Vegas needing a favor from Eddie. Great fun!

Destiny of the Republic

When I was growing up in Ohio one of my family’s favorite things to do was to visit museums and historic homes across the state. Lawnfield, the home of James A. Garfield, was a place that we visited numerous times. In fact I believe my obsession with collecting old books started right there in the barn on the property. I remember there was a book sale being held there on one of our visits and I purchased a U.S. History book from the late 1800’s. I’m sure it’s around here somewhere.

I have to admit though that at the time I was more interested in the house itself and the pictures of the family and not so much about Garfield and his political career. I knew that President Garfield had been assassinated, but I knew none of the details of his death. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, filled a large hole in my knowledge of Garfield, his life, his presidency and his horrible ending.

James A. Garfield did not desire to be President he was thrust in the role by a public clamoring for someone to guide them through their lingering divisions after the Civil War. He was an honest man, respected and committed to healing the nation. But only four months into his presidency a madman would change everything.

Charles Guiteau, a clearly insane individual, shot Garfield at close range in a Washington D. C. railway station on July 2, 1881. At that time in the United States the President had no secret service agents or any kind of protection, so he was an easy target. With chaos breaking out in the station, the President was moved to an upstairs room and Dr. D. Willard Bliss was called in to attend the President by Robert Todd Lincoln, Garfield’s secretary of war. The actions of Dr. Bliss in that railway station would seal the fate of Garfield. The bullets fired into the President would not have killed him, but the medical treatment he received would be fatal.

It’s fascinating and sad that the stubbornness and lack of medical knowledge by Dr. Bliss caused undo suffering and ultimately death to President Garfield. This book was so interesting and really made me think about our 20th President in a whole new light.

The Detour

The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax,  is part adventure novel and part history lesson. It takes place in 1938 when the Germans began to acquire great works of art from around the world. Hitler, dubbed The Collector, has set up the Third Reich’s Sonderprojekte where the main character, Ernst Vogler works as an art cataloger. Ernst is a mild-mannered man in his early 20’s, He is the kind of fellow that wants to stay behind the scenes and not stand out. He just wants to enjoy his work and his love of classical art. But of course his life takes a slight detour and everything changes.

Hitler has acquired the famous Roman sculpture, The Discus Thrower, and Ernst is given the assignment of traveling to Italy and bringing the statue back to Germany. Ernst is not much of a traveler and he isn’t very excited about being responsible for this great sculpture although he is very excited to see The Discus Thrower in person.

But as soon as he gets to Italy things start to go terribly wrong. Through a miscommunication Ernst misses the crating of the sculpture and his chance to see it up close. He is then thrown for a loop when he finds that two Italian brothers have been given the task of driving Ernst and the sculpture to the German border, which is not what the original plan entailed. He feels like he’s lost control of the assignment and he is right.

The journey to get The Discus Thrower to the German border becomes a series of misadventures and detours that Ernst could never have predicted when he left Germany for this assignment. Once Ernst gives himself over to the adventure he finally begins to live his life and come out of the shadows. The author has really written a most enjoyable novel filled with danger, intrigue and even a little romance. I recommend it highly.

I’ve got mail!

My copy of The Somnambulist by Essie Fox arrived in the mail today!

I had heard about this book on the podcast, The Readers a few weeks ago and I was very anxious to read it. But then I was sad to learn that it wasn’t going to be published in the states, so I splurged and ordered it online from the UK.

I might have to move it to the top of the TBR pile!!