Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blood, Toil, Tears, & Sweat

I recently enjoyed seeing the movie The King’s Speech and am looking forward to reading the book by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi on which it was based. In thinking about the period in which the movie takes place, I realized that lately I have been enjoying many fictional accounts of people and places in Britain during the war years.

In the wonderful DVD collection Foyle’s War, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle works to maintain law and order in wartime Britain. Because many of the episodes are based on actual events, viewers have a picture of the local constabulary coming up against not only criminals but also the power and intrigue of the military hierarchy.

The story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands is fictionalized in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Don’t be put off by the title; this is a well-written tale that both men and women have enjoyed. As the story is told in a series of letters, try listening to the CD version which has a number of wonderful readers taking the various roles.

For fictional accounts of the experiences of British citizens overseas during the war try The Information Officer by Mark Mills which is set on Malta, or A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, the story of British women held as prisoners of war in Malaya.

Two more novels that deal with personal relationships during the war in Britain are Penelope Lively’s Consequences and The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. Even mystery writers have felt compelled to explore this time period in their long-standing series.

Working from notes left by Dorothy Sayers, author Jill Paton Walsh tells the story of Lord Peter Wimsey’s contribution to the war effort in A Presumption of Death. In The Blue Last by Martha Grimes' Inspector Richard Jury tries to solve the mystery of who really died when the title pub was bombed during the Blitz, all the while trying to sort out his own childhood memories of that terrible time.

As Winston Churchill knew, the British people endured years of blood, toil, tears and sweat during World War II. As we know, their stories are still inspiring writers and readers today.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Good Reads from Library Knitting Circle

During the cold winter months, a group of knitters have been gathering at the Marshall Library to share their love of needlework and books. The “Book ‘n Stitchers” group is made up of novices and "pros" and, on any given afternoon, you can find them helping each other with projects and enjoying their new friendships. This is what a knitting circle is all about!

There has been a growing interest in needlework crafts, and most specifically knitting. Libraries and book stores now reflect that interest, as they feature many titles highlighting knitting and the bonds that it fosters.

Knitting by Anne Bartlett was one of the earliest of these published works. This book tells the story of two women who are drawn together by their love of knitting as they help each other overcome grief and loss. Knitters often describe the spirituality of the knitting process and the sisterhood that it inspires.

A series that continues to be very popular is The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. In these three books, a group of friends gather for their weekly knitting club at a small yarn shop in Manhattan and share challenges such as raising children and issues with careers and relationships.

The Jo Mackenzie series by Gil McNeil is set in England. Jo Mackenzie leaves London after a personal tragedy and moves, with her two boys, to her seaside hometown. She takes over her grandmother’s knitting shop and gathers with a group of quirky, lively women who soon become known as the “Stitch and Bitch” group. This is a light, and fun filled series.

The ever popular Blossom Street series by Debbie Macomber begins with
The Shop on Blossom Street. When a cancer survivor, and owner of A Good Yarn
starts a knitting class for her patrons, she begins a series of friendships and bonds with some very special people.

For those of you who like a good mystery, you might try the Knitting Mystery series by Maggie Sefton. Set in Colorado, these are mysteries solved with the help of the regulars at House of Lambspun. And while speaking of mysteries, remember that Agatha Christie’s, Miss Marple, knits her way through every one of her cases.

Some of the books that have been mentioned are available on CD. Listening to books has become increasingly popular for commuters and travelers. Our knitters have found CDs an enjoyable way to “read” while they are knitting. One highly recommended CD is Knitting Memories: Reflections on the Knitters Life. This is a collection of moving stories on the importance of knitting in our lives. Knitters have commented that this is a delightful audio book that has enriched their knitting experience.

The “Book ‘n Stitchers” group meets at the John Marshall Library on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Stitchers are invited to bring their knitting and crochet projects to share tips, tricks and ideas. All ages are invited and novice stitchers are welcome. Call or e-mail Deborah Cosby, (540) 422-8525, for more information.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Family Jewels

There is a mysterious new book in the library. Its title is The Attenbury Emeralds and the main character is the aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey.

“But how can this be?” you say. “Lord Peter’s creator, Dorothy L. Sayers, died in 1957.”

"Ah,” I respond, “this venerable and prolific lady left pages and pages of material upon her death, ready to be compiled into novels.”

And the mystery of how this came to be a new book in the library …? In their wisdom, the trustees of Dorothy Sayers’ estate decided to do just that. They selected Jill Paton Walsh, a respected author and passionate Sayers fan, to do the work. Besides writing contemporary fiction such as Knowledge of Angels and A Desert in Bohemia, Paton Walsh is the author of the Imogen Quy (rhymes with “why”) mystery series: The Wyndham Case, A Piece of Justice, The Debts of Dishonor, and The Bad Quarto.

Her first task was to complete Sayers’ nearly finished novel which includes not only a mystery but also the marriage of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. This she did admirably in Thrones, Dominations. Paton Walsh next tackled a series of letters that Sayers wrote as contributions to The Spectator Magazine during World War II telling what Lord Peter, Harriet and the other characters were doing during the war. These were compiled into the novel A Presumption of Death.

With the permission of the Sayers estate, Paton Walsh continues their story in The Attenbury Emeralds. Here we find Lord Peter and Harriet, his wife of nearly 20 years, involved in a mystery which actually began 30 years in the past. In 1921, Lord Peter had helped the Earl of Attenbury to discreetly sort out a question of missing jewels. Thirty years later, Edward Abcock, grandson and heir of the now-deceased Earl, again asks for Peter’s help when it is found that the large emerald in the family’s bank safe is not actually the one that belongs to them.

With this book and her two previous collaborative efforts, Paton Walsh gives Wimsey fans a satisfying answer to our most vexing question: What happened next? But in telling the story of Peter and Harriet’s life together, Paton Walsh lets us know that it was not just about sleuthing. Over the years we see them grapple with questions of aristocratic responsibility, changes in class and economic status over time, justice versus duty, and the definition of family which is not limited to ties of blood and marriage.

The characters in the books themselves divide the Wimsey canon into distinct halves: “Peter before Harriet” and “Peter after Harriet”. Peter before Harriet will require another blog. For now, I hope you will enjoy these titles from the Peter with Harriet half:

Strong Poison (Sayers), available in book, CD and DVD

Have His Carcase (Sayers), book, DVD

Gaudy Night (Sayers), book, CD, DVD

Thrones, Dominations (Sayers and Paton Walsh), book, cassette

Busman’s Honeymoon (Sayers), book, CD

A Presumption of Death (Paton Walsh and Sayers), book, CD

The Attenbury Emeralds (Paton Walsh), book


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Clive Cussler Read-Alikes

Clive Cussler's adventure novels (sometimes billed as techno-thrillers) are action packed and come with larger than life characters. Here are a few more authors who write along the same vein.

Stephen Coonts

Nelson DeMille

Ian Fleming

Brian Freemantle

Alistair Maclean

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

That's Ancient History

I’ve always enjoyed reading historical fiction, and some of the best historical fiction books I’ve read are children’s books.

One of the first ones I remember reading is Detectives in Togas, written by Henry Winterfeld in 1956. Although the story is set in Rome, the author drew his inspiration from an inscription found on a wall during the excavations in Pompeii that translated means “Caius is a dumbbell.” That was just funny enough to make me curious!

The fictional Caius in the book may not be very smart, but he plays a crucial role in the story. Mr. Winterfeld also wrote one sequel, Mystery of the Roman Ransom. He had a way of making history entertaining to read about, and these books, among others, inspired me to study Roman history in college.

The Roman Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence is a newer addition to the genre. The 17 books in this series follow the adventures of Flavia Gemina, daughter of a Roman sea captain, and her friends Jonathan, Nubia, and Lupus as they solve mysteries. The author uses vivid, but sometimes grim, imagery which makes readers feel like they are truly a part of the story. I found the description of the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in the second book, The Secrets of Vesuvius, particularly riveting. The books are full of historical details, and many of them include maps and glossaries to help in understanding ancient Roman times.

Another good read is The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky, which is set in Pompeii in AD 79 at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius. It’s the story of Julia, a daughter from a wealthy and powerful family, and her slave girl Sura. Julia was born with a withered arm, so her family considers her a disgrace. They plan to put her in the service of the Temple of Damia, and sell Sura. The eruption of Vesuvius gives the girls a chance to create new lives for themselves.

Check out these and other historical fiction books at the library!

Vicky @ Warrenton