Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Owl. Owl who?

Owl good things come to those who wait.

Well . . .

I waited and waited, for many months, and then, when I least expected it, on a blustery Thursday morning, opportunity came knocking. Early for an engagement, I parked my car and realized I was right across the street from a newer bookstore I’ve been wanting to visit. With forty minutes to spare and opportunity calling, I crossed the street, walked a few more steps and, I opened the door.

This is what I found this inside.


It looks like a kitchen. Well, it really IS a kitchen. It is a kitchen, inside a bookstore, which is inside a furniture store.There are often cooking classes at Prairie Path Books, with food authors come by, and there is a tasty collection of cookbooks and memoirs that are sure to tempt my palate.

Book clubs are invited inside for their discussions. There is even a nicely appointed room where food and drinks are welcome, not to mention a discount on the books they are reading and discussing.


Prairie Path Books is owned and operated  by women who have a vision for books and bookstores that align with what I always feel a bookstore should be. It sits inside Toms-Price, a long-established furniture store in downtown Wheaton. We own a cabinet from the store.


The poetry and humor section and a wall of greeting cards grabbed my attention as soon as I stepped inside. A tasteful array of books the store recommends, with seasonal home decorations take their place on a book table, some books with personal notes attached, or newspaper articles about an author cleverly tucked inside. I was amazed at the attention to detail and applaud the exquisite reading selections in all genres.

Can a bookstore have a sense of self? I think this one does. It knows what readers who answer the knocking of opportunity want to read.BookcoverCROPPED-198x300

The younger set? A cozy little room and an open larger reading area where several children were reading or imagining with parents nearby. The store offers an array of children’s bookish activities as well as a large selection of children’s books.

Prairie Path Books has the perfect chairs for sitting upon with a potential read, but, of course it would, it is housed in a furniture store!

My meeting time was nearing, so, I picked up the small volume that caught my eye when I first walked in, Marilynne Robinson’s  book of essays, “When I Was a Child I Read Books”. I made my purchase, and vowed to return to Prairie Path Books when I had a little more time for a closer ‘book look”.

Owl good things DO come to those who wait.


 http://www.jokes4us.com/knockknockjokes/knockknockanimaljokes.html *

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nightingaleI don’t know if it is my general busy-ness right now or one of those pockets in life sometimes experienced; times when books sit on the literary burner for a spell, simmering. Unlike many folks, summer is not generally a season where I have time for much reading. I’m often found outside pulling weeds, hunting caterpillars, photographing flower petals or visiting gardens and garden centers, botanical gardens and arboretums. My personal reading well has run dry, which will soon become a challenge as our book group will soon be discussing “The Goldfinch” and I,  have managed a mere 46 pages.

I have, however, recently finished an audio book that kept my attention and had me riding around the block in my car a few more times for just one more chapter.

“The Nightingale”, by Kristin Hannah, begins on the west coast, 1995. An elderly woman, whose voice is heard periodically in the story, will be moving into a senior living with the help of her son. She has a recurrence of cancer for which nothing more can be done. She harbors a secret.

We then meet Vianne, whose life is somewhat idyllic on the family farm about a mile outside of the French town of Carriveau. Her husband, Antoine, is quickly drafted into the French army as rumors of a German invasion spread. No one thinks the Germans will invade.

Isabelle, 18 and headstrong, has been dismissed from her current school. It is one of many schools where she was invited to leave. Isabelle returns home to her father, Julien, in Paris. He promptly sends her packing to her sister, Vianne. This is something he has done to Isabelle all her life. Isabelle learns quickly and first hand that, indeed, the Germans will stop at nothing and do invade France.

A German captain is soon billeted in Vianne’s home. She can either allow this to happen, or be thrown out with her young daughter, Sophie. When Isabelle arrives, a tenuous situation becomes even more precarious for Isabelle’s temper and defiance threaten the household’s safety. Isabelle soon leaves, compelled to do something about France’s occupation. She joins the French Resistance, eventually becoming the infamous Nightingale as she leads downed British and American pilots over the Pyrenees. Vianne is left to cope with the horrors of the Nazis in her village, coping as best she can, starving, witnessing the rounding up of Jews, including her best friend, leaving her baby boy, Ari, for Vianne to raise; a crime to the Nazis.

This is the story of resilience. It is of the plight of French women in World War II and of their often unsung wartime efforts. It is also the story of sisters, complicated and often volatile, but full of love and endurance. It is a historical journey of the horrors of war in France, but, I think could also be applied to any war. It is about courage; courage of different kinds, for Isabelle’s is of outward resistance and action, while Vianne’s is one of protector and hidden defiance.

There are many hard scenes in “The Nightingale”, especially those in concentration camps and what women do to save their children. In spite of this, I encourage you to read Kristin Hannah’s latest book, even if it means while driving your car.






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A few weeks ago, I mentioned a book we received in one of the private gardens during an Open Day for the Garden Conservancy. I meant to post on it sooner, but life, in the form of young grandchildren and lots of great family time, filled my days until now.

And do, once upon a time in a garden  . . .

When we approached to ticket table at Mettawa Manor, we were given a raffle stub, along with a map of the estate and some general directions. Our delightfully informative greeter invited us to return with the stub to the ticket table when we finished our garden visit and to return it in exchange for one of the many books the estate’s owners were giving away from their personal library.

What a generous gift – and a great idea to file in my revolving folder of a mind –  perhaps to use sometime in one of my activities.

There were still many lovely books about gardening, landscaping, cooking and such when we wandered back to the table. As soon as I saw the cover of “A Glorious Harvest”, I knew it was destined to follow me home. Poor Tom. He didn’t have a chance.

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“A Glorious Harvest: Robust Recipes from the Dairy, Pasture, Orchard, and Sea”, by Henrietta Green, is filled with enticing recipes, informed text from the author, a culinary writer, and the most delectable photographs.

From entries like Paper Bag Potatoes and Roulade with Asparagus, to Tarte Tatin and Whole-wheat Bread, I am putting on weight just browsing this engaging cookbook/reference book/instruction manual on all things gastronomical. As I sit here putting words to screen, a recipe, really quite simple, called Paper Bag Potatoes, is calling to me. Perhaps I will visit a farm stand tomorrow, dig up some new potatoes from one of the bins, pull out some parchment paper, and see what aromas and tastes issue forth.

Ah, the many wonders of visiting gardens on Open Days.

Have you eaten, I mean read, any good cookbooks lately?


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BraveCompanionsI was looking for something to read; a book to pick up with a stand-alone chapter to pass an hour or so on my Independence Day afternoon. David McCullough’s” 1776″ and “Truman” were standing at attention as I reached for his “Brave Companions: Portraits in History”.  A bookmark with early scenes of Boston rested inside. It reminded me of the charming bookstore, Toad Hall, where I purchased “Brave Companions ”  on a trip to Massachusetts several years ago. Just what I needed on a slow, holiday afternoon.

I enjoy reading David McCullough’s books. His conversational style of writing brings historical characters, events and places alive.His unique voice and storytelling style often make me want to learn more. Be it about Harry Truman or the first year of the Revolutionary War, I always come away from McCullough’s books feeling a wee bit more knowledgeable about subjects I love.

So it was on this Fourth of July that I opened “Brave Companions”, surveyed the chapters’ topics,  landed on Washington on the Potomac, and took a brisk stroll with Mr. McCullough. We walked past historic venues and notable spots, with bits and pieces of the people and places and occurrences that make Washington, D.C. a remarkable capital city.

I finished the chapter, a fitting essay to read on this day, then I rested my eyes for a spell, thinking about my favorite Fourth of July. It was the summer we took our girls to D.C. for a family vacation. We did the touristy things one does in D.C., but the memory that stands clearest was how we spent the Fourth of July.  We walked from our hotel across the Mall and heard a dramatic early morn reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the National Archives. We took the trolley to Arlington Cemetery, then to the Lincoln Memorial, several buildings of the Smithsonian, the Vietnam Wall . . . and walked and rode on and on, ending our day with fireworks on the Mall, the Washington monument looming above as if holding the colorful display for all to see.

It was nice to remember that Independence Day, appreciating Mr. McCullough’s words on the pages just read, and feeling grateful for what I have.

How about you? Have you read any history or historical fiction lately? Have you read anything by David McCullough?

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Ever since reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Secret Garden” as a child, I have been intrigued by garden doors, imagining myself as Mary Lennox, wondering what is beyond a locked door.

So it was upon entering the Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin that my imagination grew like Jack’s beanstalk and I squealed in girlish glee “oh, this is wonderful“. There I was, hopping around, opening and closing garden doors, peering into windows and otherwise embarrassing Tom who, after all these years, is used to my childish ways about these bookish gardening “things”.

There were doors opening on doors as groomsmen in gray – and senior citizens in greige -averted their eyes to the gleeful granny and her indulgent companion.

Isn’t it grand to discover something creative and open your imagination for a bit? Maybe it was because we had just spent several days with our darling grandchildren who love to pretend that images of Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy and Toto following a yellow brick road came to mind.


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Well, dear reader, when one door closes another opens, and so it did as something else caught my eye.

Can you see it? Click on the photo for a better look.


Scattered about the gardens were many of these boxes. They reminded me of the Little Free Libraries and were painted in all manner of whimsy and creativity.

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A volunteer in the gardens told us that the boxes were made by a group of men. They were sold at a nominal cost to be painted and appointed however the artist saw fit. They will be raffled off (or was it auctioned?) and I, of course, imagine them filled with gardening books and secret doors.

What would you fill them with?


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“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”

Ray Bradbury. Dandelion Wine. 

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I have started this post several times, never adequately expressing my thoughts . It is not that I did not enjoy Ian McEwan’s “The Children Act”. Enjoy it I did, however,  I have struggled with how to navigate my feelings over the intriguing plot and characters. This is not a “fun” read, nor a page turning thriller. It is not funny, though I have read a few reviews that imply parts of it are. “The Children Act” is a provocative novella that left me pondering the unexpected consequences of one’s decisions, even the most thoughtful ones. Yes or no? Right or left? The blur between the lines. The unfathomable outcomes.

I finished the audio of “The Children Act” several days ago. It sits in the car, patiently waiting its return to the library, where it needs to go today. There was this underlying feeling that if I held onto it, the words would come to me on what to say.

They didn’t.

Some words just seem to take longer to percolate in one’s memory grooves. A walk in the garden, even the mindless task of pulling weeds, always seem to help me harvest my thoughts, so I did just that. I took a walk about the acreage, hovering over this book-loving garden fairy. Lo and behold, the words started to perk into sentences, which I will try to express now.

Judge Fiona Maye is charged with finding a legal judgement regarding whether or not a boy, on the cusp of adulthood, should be allowed to die because of his faith or ordered to live. The case falls into Fiona’s hands just as her husband asks for permission – to have an affair.

Of course, it is not that simple a decision, the court decision, that is. Or is it?

Adam Henry, just months away from his 18th birthday, is being treated for leukemia. A Jehovah Witness, he has refused the blood transfusion he desperately needs, which is forbidden by his religion. Still legally a child, his parents concur, as do the elders of his church. Adam’s doctors are seeking a legal decision in favor of a transfusion in order to save his life. Both sides pose formidable arguments.

After listening to both positions, Fiona suspends court proceedings and goes to visit Adam in his hospital room. She finds a desperately ill boy who is bright, engaging, thoughtful and inquisitive. Adam writes poetry and is learning to play the violin even as he is dying. She also finds that Adam, who insists on referring to Fiona in the courtly “my lady”, is rooted in his belief system, quoting chapter and verse of the Bible and resolute in his refusal of a blood transfusion. He seems to know his own mind.

My Lady and Adam form a courtly bond of sorts, he playing the violin, she singing along and gently correcting him on wrong notes. She is also an accomplished pianist and it is through her own musical performance that revelations about her decisions are later shown. Both boy and judge are moved in profound ways by the hospital visit – and transformed by Fiona’s ruling in unanticipated ways.

I found “The Children Act” to be a story that lingers still and leaves me with more questions than answers. “The Children Act” is about making thoughtful decisions after much discernment for all the right reasons only to be faced with unfathomable consequences. There is a particularly revelatory moment when Adam expresses in writing his feelings at the ruling. It is so well-formed and executed that it lingers, rather like the audio that sits on the seat of my car, patiently waiting for me to do something with it, which I can’t for it would give away the storyline.

I’m not sure that this post expresses my thoughts as I wanted them to, but, I tried. I think it best that I leave my words here and take another stroll about the garden and ponder a bit more about “The Children Act” . Have you read “The Children Act” or any of Ian McEwan’s other works?


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