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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

They find me in all sorts of places; libraries, bookstores, antique shops, used bookshops, through friends and family, and from you, dear readers, which is how I learned about a Letters from Skye_finaltender novel I just finished.

When a book recommendation comes my way, especially through blogs and emails and comments here on the Cutoff, I pen them to paper; on a TBR list, where they sit in patient abeyance for just the right moment to present themselves. Most eventually they see the whites of my eyes.

So it was with a recent review of “Letters From Skye,” by Jessica Brockmole, which I read on Cath’s blog over at Read_Warbler.  An epistolary novel, “Letters from Skye” spans two world wars.. The letters begin in 1912. Elspeth Dunn, a published writer of poetry, lives on the remote Scottish Isle of Skye. She receives her first fan letter from David Graham, a student from Urbana, Illinois. Elspeth writes back, a long correspondence begins, as does a journey of heart and soul and eventually love in the midst of WWI.

It is not just Elspeth’s and David’s letters that tell this story, however. When bombing rocks Edinburg in WWII, Margaret finds her mother clutching letters from a gaping hole in a wall that a bomb exposes. Margaret sees one letter, addressing Sue, and soon begins an adventure, via letters of her own, as another world war tilts the British Isles. Who is Sue? Where did the letters come from? Why were they hidden in the wall?

Cath’s well written review of the book immediately caught my attention. It was the location of Urbana, Illinois, however, that piqued my curiosity.  I mentioned to Cath that I almost went to college there many moons ago – and yes, there really is an Urbana in Illinois. It is, in fact, now a very big  and quite prestigious school, the University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana, with an equally prominent extension in Chicago. In fact, the U 0f I Chicago extension sits on land where I spent the first four years of my life. I digress. It was a bit of fun reading about Davey, as he is quickly addressed by Elspeth, and his antics while in school in Urbana.

It was equally interesting reading about Elspeth’s secluded life in her crofter’s cottage on Skye, awaiting the return of her husband, first from the sea, then from the war. The fact that she has already published poetry while living on a remote island immediately shadows her independent character, even though she has never been on a ferry to cross over to Scotland.

“Letters from Skye” is a sensitive story that opens slowly and reveals more of the characters as the letters crisscross the Atlantic. Reading it brought to mind “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” as well as “84 Charring Cross Road”. Whether true, as Helene Hannf’s book is, or imagined, as “Letters from Skye” and “The Guernsey Literary . .. ” are, there is something that draws a reader into story telling through letters.  At the same time, “Letters from Skye” evokes Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”, for Davey does eventually cross the ocean and becomes an ambulance driver with the American Field Service in France before the United States entered World War I.

While this novel opens slowly, it does so in the most compelling of ways. I was almost as anxious for the next letter to arrive as the characters of the book seemed to be. In fact, there were times I simply but “Letters from Skye” down and walked away for a spell,  as if to absorb the anticipation of waiting for the next post. Through what is written, and what is not, there is a palpable sense of time and place, actions and consequences, anxiety and resolve.  What surprised me as this epistle came to a close were the tears that welled in my eyes as the last of the letters were read. I had not realized, until almost the very end, how much Brockmole’s characters meant to me.

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I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.
Willa Cather

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I call it “my tree”;  a stately copper beech, it holds court just east of the visitor center It is an anchor of the shade garden at the Morton Arboretum.

It isn’t really mine, of course. It is everyone’s, but, I call it mine as it is truly my favorite tree. I look for it each time I wander the Morton. It’s copper leaves, smooth bark, sturdy limbs and strength of character call to me.  It is a prescient presence, whatever the season. This copper beech is so wide of girth that I could never hug it completely. I know. I’ve tried to. Standing beneath its comfort and shade, however, seems to be all the beech I need.

Sir Author Conan Doyle knighted one of his stories  The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. Maeve Binchy gave Copper Beech  title to a book. Poets and troubadours have caught its essence in verse and in song.

Soon, very soon, “my tree” will turn  toward another season. It will shed its leaves, resigned to the way it must live, but, its strong trunk and encompassing limbs will still hold court in the shade garden.

Do you have a favorite tree?

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CoverCBAdvertJust after WWII ends in Europe, in the Eugannean Hills near Venice, Graziella waits for her husband to come home.  Ugo has been engaged in the Italian Resistance.  Although now at war’s end, he has not returned home, while most of his compatriots have. He is presumed to be dead, though no word has yet come.

Caring for her ill father-in-law, Giovanni, and dealing with Ugo’s large Italian family, Graziella (aka Grace), is weary of war, misses her life in Venice, and yearns for Ugo’s return – or, to at least know if he is, indeed, alive. The foreign wife of a member of the resistance, Grazielle is sent to the family orchards for safety. Ugo’s many sisters, all with the first name of Maria, their husbands, children, animals and extended family, as well as the other villagers, all of whom are suspicious of the beautiful Grazzielle, are a challenge to live among. All are barely surviving, in  poverty, near starvation, and living amid the devastation and horrors of war.

One day, a handsome American soldier happens by. Graziella, as well as most everyone else in the hills, hears the rumble of his motorcycle before seeing him. In an area often subjected to air raids, there is still a palpable fear of bombings, even though the war has officially ended.

Frank’s appearance is at first frightening, then a curiosity – and a cause for gossip. He befriends the men and boys, first, then the suspicious women, some of whom scheme for marriages of their daughters. Frank also endears himself to Giovanni, who thinks him his son Ugo, returned.  Frank takes refuge in Giovanni’s barn, repairing things on the farm, chopping wood, sharing cigarettes with men and chocolate with the children. It is his attention and feelings toward Grazziella, whom he calls by her given name, Grace, however, that is the heart of “Ciao Bella”.

A little slow in the beginning, Gina Guonaguro and Janice Kirk’s story gains momentum and is full of as much humor as dismay, with several unexpected surprises. It is at once a gentle read and a reminder of the horrors of war, the choices one makes and the consequences of those choices. It is sometimes sad and horrifying, other times  humorous and speaks to the human spirit and the will to go on. It also awakened me to yet another region, plagued by war and how people survive, move on, learn to live again in an intimate portrait of family, fears, and faith in the future.

In the end, I was quite pleased that I rescued this book, with its beautifully evocative cover, from the overflowing shelves at a local charity shop. Someone needed to bring  it home; might as well have been me. As I opened the cover, it appeared to have not been read. How sad, I thought. In excellent shape and hardbound to boot,  I merely had to reach deep into my pockets and pull our six quarters for this quiet portrait of life after war.

 

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Little Free Library

DSCN5440These cute little boxes on posts seem to be sprouting up around here like daisies in sunshine. In the past week or so, I have noticed four. I finally just had to park my car, get out, and see what they were all about.

Sure glad I did!

I turned off the car, crossed the street, and peeked into the box; a box of books!  There was a little hook to lift and a door opened, with an invitation inside  to take a book, return it with another. Adult books and children’s  books, there for the taking. I was as giddy as Charlie Bucket holding his golden ticket.

Leapt. I leapt across the street and opened my trunk, where a bag sat, bursting, with books I was planning to donate to Goodwill. I rummaged around and took out a Miss Dimple I was going to pass on, deciding, on the spot to donate it instead to this Little Free Library. I leapt back across the street, where I perused the selection. A few cars passed, unfettered by my leaping on this bookish corner as I once again opened the door, took out my selection, an as yet unread Maisie Dobbs, and replacing it with Miss Dimple. DSCN5441

Home again, I did some online investigating, finding the Little Free Library website, which you can visit here.

What a fabulous idea and a way to not only enjoy books, but, to foster literacy. There is a quaintness about this idea of sharing books in a clever and attractive way with your neighbors and passers-by. Of course, you can buy plans and kits to make your own little library, and you can officially register it and get one of these very nice markers – or, you can make one on your own.  The Little Free Library is an interesting enterprise that seems to be growing.

I wonder if Tom can build one to look like the arbor. Have you seen one?

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DT4972One of my summertime reads has been “Clara and Mr. Tiffany” by Susan Vreeland.  It is our book discussion group’s choice for the September meeting and has been a pleasant diversion for me on these August afternoons as I follow Clara Driscoll, recently  acknowledged as one of the designers for Louis Comfort Tiffany. While this is a fictional account, the reader meets historical figures as well as a colorful array of imagined characters along with amazing details surrounding the inception of Tiffany stained glass, and the process of working with stained glass; from the male glass blowers to the cadre of single women, many immigrant daughters of New York City at the turn of the century, who artfully assemble the glass.

In a delightful passage,  Clara describes a scene beginning at the beach while on a brief holiday with friends in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. The women “put on our scanty bathing costumes” with “nothing around our calves but air!” as they wade in the ocean then take a walk, discovering Queen Anne’s lace.  Clara describes the flowers as “Cluster of tiny white flowers grew out from a single point on the stalk like a burst of fireworks”. The wild carrots remind one woman of lace, another of dandelions, and seeds of ideas sprout in Clara’s mind for Tiffany candlesticks.

I read a bit more, then put down the book, life calling me to some household chore. The scene, however, lingered in my thoughts as my day wore on. Later, I employed Mr. Google and found, in the verdant pasture of the internet, this most extraordinary piece of jewelry pictured here – Queen Anne’s Lace by Tiffany. It is a “hair ornament”, a fitting accessory for the start of a century that would prove to be as turbulent at it was innovative and exciting.

The source of this image can be found here, with some written detail as to the gems used. You MUST click on the cluster of gems for a closer look at not only the jewels, but the enameling as well, and to see the little flowers and the garnets of bursting “fireworks” in the center.

At 3 1/2 inches, I cannot imagine wearing this as a hair ornament, but, as a lover of brooches and pins, I am sure I could find the perfect place to adorn a jacket or dress with this plucking of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Isn’t it amazing how these small pleasures in life often emerge via literature  – Call on a summer’s day?

 

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0688155847Sometimes, the best summer read doesn’t mean the latest best seller. It isn’t the glossy beach read at the checkout aisle of the grocer’s or the week’s  best picks from the Sunday paper. Sometimes, the best summer read is hiding in the library’s stacks, featured on a special shelf in a library, or on your own bookshelf – just waiting to be discovered.

I have been meaning to read something of Mary Stewart’s since learning of her recent passing in May. Although I have seen some of the movies that were made from her books, especially The Moon-spinners (did you go through a Hayley Mill’s phase when you were young?), I am sorry to say that I had never read anything by Mary Stewart – until now, that is.

“Rose Cottage” was displayed with a few other Mary Stewart books on top of a shelf highlighting recently deceased authors at the La Grange library. I already had four books, three magazines and an audiobook in my arms, but, how could I resist this cover? Of course, I couldn’t, and it came home with me, where it languished on my bedside table until one day last week.

I was “down for the count” with a bit of an upper respiratory bug, had just finished “Those Who Save Us”, by Jenna Blum, and I needed something a little lighter to read. It was obviously time to visit Rose Cottage.

From the very first paragraph, I was quietly drawn in to the post WWII English countryside. This is a gentle mystery as Kathy Welland, now the war widow Kate Herrick, goes home to Rose Cottage to clear out a few of her grandmother’s things from the home Kathy grew up in. Specifically, Gran wants the contents of small box in the hidey spot, papered over near the fireplace.

Kathy is welcomed back to the village with open arms and is instantly surrounded by warm comforts of home. She quickly realizes, however, that someone has been inside the cottage when she finds the box, but not the key. Once pried open, the box is empty. The ladies from the “Witches Corner” have their own opinions on what has occurred, and Kathy gets help from Davey, a childhood friend.  Long held secrets of Kathy’s missing mother are eventually revealed as the story unfolds much like the petals on the old rambling roses in the quiet English countryside.

“Rose Cottage” was a soothing balm for my weary, cough-wracked body and just what I needed to while away the time spent on the couch, looking out at the last of the summer rose blooms. I have learned that this was written later in Mary Stewart’s life. Not considered her best, it was the best one for me at this juncture.

Have you read Mary Stewart? Do you have a favorite to suggest?

 

 

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002008There I was, walking around Jackson Square Mall in downtown La Grange with three of my very dear friends;  antique sleuths, each and every one. We were talking and teasing, “Penny, you really need to have this” or “my mother had one of these” in the companionable way of old friends.

As we walked toward my favorite booth crammed with used books, nestled in a nook that was probably a closet in a previous life, I squeezed in and I glanced up at the cookbooks. in the far corner.  What should be staring back?  “The Stillmeadow Cookbook” by Gladys Taber. Well, dear reader, Gladys’ book jumped into my greedy little hands like a puppy who’s been left home alone all afternoon. Squeaking like a mouse, I gingerly opened the pages of this well-preserved, hard bound edition – and promptly declared it was mine, all mine!

You may recall that I adore Gladys Taber and her writings about Stillmeadow Farm. My introduction to her was at the very same Jackson Square Mall where this cookbook emerged, on the same shelf where my first introduction to Gladys Taber’s words was.  When I wrote that first post, I quickly learned through generous comments of others that there were more than 50 books written by Gladys Taber and that there was well-establish organization of Taber fans;  aptly called the Friends of Gladys Taber. I keep meaning to sign up for their newsletter, which I understand is quite wonderful.

Since that first discovery of Gladys Taber and her common sense wisdom and wit and words that are filled with the simpler things in life and country living, I have acquired a baker’s dozen worth of her homespun books, filled with stories and articles that were published in the likes of Good Housekeeping Magazine and other periodicals. How I miss those days of short story installments and serial essays that used to be in women’s magazines. Ah well, dear friend, those days are past, but, we can still find words in books, some of which sit patiently on shelves in used book stores and booths, just waiting to be discovered.

 

 

 

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