Thursday, July 30, 2009

Library Loot 8: A Sampling of Mysteries

I went for a browse at the library this evening and came home with a sampling of mysteries:

Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves: I've read a couple of Cleeves' Shetland mysteries, but this series, set in England and featuring Inspector Vera Stanhope, is new to me. I picked it up because I liked the sound of Vera. Here's a snippet about her from the author's website: "Hidden Depths is the third book to feature Inspector Vera Stanhope, yet Ann Cleeves told Shots Magazine that The Crow Trap (the first Vera Stanhope novel, now back in print) was originally intended as a standalone novel. But 'I liked Vera Stanhope so much that I brought her back, first in Telling Tales and now in Hidden Depths. She developed because I was so cross with even feminist writers writing female central characters who were young, fit and beautiful. Vera isn't any of those things. She's overweight and middle-aged.' – 'more Nero Wolfe than V.I. Warshawski', as Jake Kerridge put it in The Telegraph!"

Slaying is Such Sweet Sorrow by Patricia Harwin: This is the second in Harwin's Far Wychwood series. I read the first ages ago, liked it and planned to look out for the second, then promptly forgot the name of the author. So I was very happy to randomly stumble on it tonight. The premise of the series is a cozy standard — a middle aged American woman sleuthing about an English village. But as I recall it was well written and I liked the sleuth. She's a very spirited sixty-something former librarian making a new life for herself post-divorce. And from the back cover description it appears that this installment takes place in an academic setting, and my recent Amanda Cross reread has whetted my appetite for another academic mystery.

A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin: I've been rationing my Rebuses knowing that I'll soon run out (this one is third from the last in the series). But with a new Rankin novel due out in the Fall which may well be the beginning of a new series, perhaps it's time for me to finish the Rebuses and move on...

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers: I'm a great Sayers fan but there are still a few Peter Wimsey novels I haven't read and I'm pretty sure this is one of them.

Now which of these shall I start with? Police procedural or cozy? The seamy side of Edinburgh or a quaint English village? Old friend or new acquaintance? Choices, choices...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Religion in Children's Literature

For a most interesting article by Beth Davies-Stofka on religion in the Betsy-Tacy books and in children's literature more generally, click here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Betsy-Tacy Sites in Mankato, Part II

The Train Station

     "The speed of the train swallowed up the prairie. In no time at all the river came into sight. They passed a waterfall she recognized; then the train descended along the side of a bluff.
     The brakeman called, 'Deep Valley!' and at once the car was in confusion. Hats were pinned on; small bonnets tied; all traces of banana wiped away. Valises and suit cases were dragged down from the rack. The train slowed to a stop.
     Holding her valise in one hand and the package from Willard's Emporium in the other, Betsy found Mr. Thumbler's hack.
     'Good afternoon Mr. Thumbler,' she said. '333 Hill Street, please.'"
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

Carney Sibley's House and Side Lawn

"It was to develop later that the younger high school crowd had the most indoor fun at the Ray house and the most outdoor fun at the Sibleys ... on the wide, trampled side lawn, and the porch running across the front and around the side of the house. The porch was unscreened and shaded by vines, now turning red. It was broad enough to hold a hammock and some chairs and a table, but nothing too good, nothing rain would hurt."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

Christian Endeavor

     "The Presbyterian Church stood on a corner of Broad Street. It was built of white stone with a pointed steeple and a round stained glass window on one side. But no colored light flowed from this window in the early Sunday evening when Cab, Herbert and Betsy approached to attend Christian Endeavor.
     'Christian Endeavor’s held in the Sunday School room,' Cab explained, heading for the side door."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

Murmuring Lake

"... she loved this trip to Murmuring Lake. They took it in all seasons; the Inn was a favourite vacation ground. But the October anniversary trip was the nicest. [...] The Inn with its flock of cottages looked like a hen surrounded by chicks, and there was an excellent dinner in which a real hen was served with dumplings. For dessert there were two kinds of pie, ice cream and cake. You could have all four if you wished; and after they had eaten to contentment and beyond, and Mr. Ray had smoked a cigar and Old Mag had had a chance to eat and rest, they drove around the lake to Mrs. Ray's old home."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

The Bay Window

"'This is the bay window where we stood when we were married,' Mrs. Ray said as usual. 'There never was a happier marriage made.'"
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

The Oak Tree Under Which Mr. Ray Proposed

"'This is the oak tree she hooked me under,' Mr. Ray said, leading the way across the lawn, ankle deep in leaves, to an oak with leaves the color of Mrs. Ray’s hair."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

Mrs. Ray's Brass Bowl

     "It was joyful, as always, to walk with locked arms along a snowy Front Street, gay with its decorations of evergreen and holly boughs, and the merry jingle of sleigh bells. Betsy drew Tacy to a stop before Dodd and Storer's window.
     'Mamma has her heart set on that brass bowl,' she said.
     'It looks just like Mrs.Ray,' said Tacy.
     'That's what she says,' answered Betsy. 'I don't believe Papa's going to buy it for her though. He hasn't told us, but I believe he's bought the mink fur piece she was teasing for before she saw the bowl.'"
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

The Rays' Baptist Church

     "'Bettina,' she said. 'I love the Episcopal Church. I want to be an Episcopalian.'
     'Julia!' cried Betsy, hardly believing her ears.
     'I don't think I was ever cut out to be a Baptist,' Julia said.
     Betsy was genuinely shocked. It had not occurred to her that one could change one's church any more than one could change one's skin. She was silent, and Julia went on:
     'Just because Papa and Mamma are Baptists is no reason I should be a Baptist. People are different. I'm myself.'"
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

The Coffee Pot

"'Now,' said Mr. Ray. 'I'd better go put the coffee pot on.' For that was what the family always did in moments of stress. Margaret didn't drink coffee, of course, and Betsy's Sunday cup was mostly cream and sugar. Yet they understood what their father meant when he moved with a competent tread toward the kitchen."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Heaven to Betsy.)

Betsy-Tacy Sites in Mankato, Part I

Betsy's House and Tacy's House

"Hill Street was rightfully named. It ran straight up into a green hill and stopped. The name of the town was Deep Valley, and a town named Deep Valley naturally had plenty of hills. Betsy's house, a small yellow cottage, was the last house on her side of Hill Street, and the rambling white house opposite was the last house on that side."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy.)

The Ray Piano

"They marched around and around the house and in and out of the parlor and the back parlor. Betsy's mother loved to play the piano; she came down hard and joyously on the keys. Every once in a while Tacy would look at Betsy sideways through her curls. Her bright blue eyes were dancing in her little freckled face, as though to say, 'Isn't this fun?' They marched and they marched, and at last they were told to lead the way to the dining room. There the cake was shining with all its five candles, and a dish of ice cream was set out for every child."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy.)

The Bench

"That summer they started having picnics. At first the picnics were not real picnics, not the kind you take out in a basket. Betsy's father, serving the plates at the head of the table, would fill Betsy's plate with scrambled eggs and bread and butter and strawberries, or whatever they had for supper. Tacy's father would do the same. Holding the plate in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, each little girl would walk carefully out of her house and down the porch steps and out to the middle of the road. Than they would walk up the hill to that bench where Tacy had stood the first night she came. And there they would eat supper together."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy.)

Mrs. Chubbock's Store

     "They crossed the street and turned the corner and came to a little store.
     'That's Mrs. Chubbock's store,' Julia explained.'That's where you go to buy gum drops and chocolate men if anyone's given you a penny.'
     'I wish that someone had given me a penny. Don't you Tacy?' Betsy asked.
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy.)

Tib's Chocolate Colored House

     "'Tacy,' said Betsy, "I never yet saw anybody around this chocolate-colored house.'
     'Neither did I,' said Tacy.
     They looked at it a moment before they climbed to the door.
     It sat like a big plump chocolate drop on the big square corner lot. There weren't many trees around it; just a green lawn with flower beds on either side of the white cement walk which led to the porch steps.
     Betsy and Tacy walked up that walk and climbed the porch steps.
     They rang the bell and waited.
     While they were waiting they looked around. The tower jutted right out on the porch. It had windows in it, but all the shades were pulled down. The pane of colored glass over the front door shone ruby red in the sunlight."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy.)

Lincoln Park

     "'Well, I don’t want you to go too far away,' said Mrs. Ray. 'How far do you think they should be allowed to go, Bob?'
     'Not beyond Lincoln Park,' said Mr. Ray.
     Lincoln Park was a pie-shaped wedge of lawn with a giant elm tree and a fountain on it. Hill Street turned into Broad Street there. It was the end of the neighborhood."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill.)

The Carnegie Library

     "'But if you're going to be a writer,' he went on, 'you've go to read. Good books. Great books. The Classics. And fortunately ... that's what I'm driving at ... Deep Valley has a new Carnegie Library, almost ready to open. White marble building, sunny, spick and span, just full of books.'
     'I know,' Betsy said.
     'That library,' her father continued, 'is going to be just what you need. And your mother and I want you to get acquainted with it. Of course it's way downtown, but you're old enough now to go downtown alone.'"
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.)

The Children's Room

"The Children's Room was exactly right for children. The tables and chairs were low. Low bookshelves lined the walls, and tempting-looking books with plenty of illustrations were open on the tables. There was a big fireplace in the room, with a fire throwing up flames and making crackling noises. Above it was the painting of a rocky island with a temple on it, called The Isle of Delos."
(From Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Literary Pilgrimage to Mankato

I'm off on a pilgrimage to Mankato (aka Deep Valley), Minnesota to attend the Betsy-Tacy Convention. Perhaps I'll see some of you there? If you're not able to attend but are curious about the festivities, rest assured there will be much electronic communication from me and from other attendees. I'll be tweeting from the midst of it, and blogging about it afterward. I'm quite giddy at the prospect of seeing up close the places and spaces that Maud Hart Lovelace immortalized in her books, especially the Carnegie Library where Betsy learned to love the classics. It's still there, although it's no longer a library, and so too are Betsy's and Tacy's Hill Street houses, and Tib's chocolate colored house, and Carney's house complete with sleeping porch, and, well, you get the idea!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ibi Kaslik on Alexandra Leggat's Animal

There's a great review by Ibi Kaslik of Alexandra Leggat's brilliant new short story collection, Animal, in the Globe and Mail today. The final paragraphs sum it up nicely:

Troubling and deep, these quickly unfolding stories are elliptically drawn, tense with action and dark humour. Leggat is a shape-shifting writer: The styles and narrators in this collection are ever changing, yet the stories are connected by Leggat's quirky eye for viscerally striking detail. She provides just enough imagery to draw the reader inside these very individual worlds, while also preserving a carefully constructed sense of the absurd. It is as though the author never wants the reader to become too intimate or comfortable in the primal and transient world that is both grotesque and beautiful in its brutality. As one fisherman tells another in Mandible, "Nature's fucking frightening and it'll only let you in so far."

On the cover of Animal, there is a drawing of an opossum holding an amorphous animal in its hand; whether the animal is holding its own offspring or has stolen the fetus from another animal's nest is ambiguous; whether the animal is hunting or being hunted is also unclear. Deceptively simple, like Leggat's stories, it is an arresting and atavistic image, reminiscent of a picture from an ancient book of fables. The cover of Leggat's third story collection is significant on many levels, but mostly because it highlights the way this unique and gifted writer has taken an old form and made it new again.

To read the whole review, click here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

On Not Writing a Novel

I just came across a great New York Times article by Ann Patchett about avoiding writing her next novel. The article is from 2002, but brand new to me thanks to a mention by Trish on Twitter. No doubt Patchett has already written the novel of which she speaks in the article, and perhaps a few more besides, but what she says about the writing process continues to resonate. I particularly like this bit:

For a long time before I start to write a novel, anywhere from one year to two, I make it up. This is the happiest time I have with my books. The novel in my imagination travels with me like a small lavender moth making loopy circles around my head. It is a truly gorgeous thing, its unpredictable flight patterns, the amethyst light on its wings. I think of my characters as I wander through the grocery store. I write out their names like a teenage girl dreaming of marriage.

In these early pre-text days my story has more promise, more beauty, than I have ever seen in any novel ever written, because, sadly, this novel is not written. Then the time comes when I have to begin to translate ideas into words, a process akin to reaching into the air, grabbing my little friend (crushing its wings slightly in my thick hand), holding it down on a cork board and running it though with a pin. It is there that the lovely thing in my head dies.

Click here to read the whole of Patchett's article.