Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by  Michael Coren is a good introduction to the man behind Sherlock Holmes. It is a brief biography that is cogent, succinct, accessible, and complete.

The preface states this is not a literary biography, but he does an admirable job covering Doyle's literary achievements from conception to public response. We learn about the men who inspired his characters and how he came to write The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Doyle's life is more adventurous and passionate than one would have supposed. He was a vital man who enjoyed challenging sports. Bored with his medical studies he signed up on a whaling expedition to the Arctic before he'd completed his degree. He had trouble establishing his medical career and tried his hand at writing stories. He discovered a facility in story-telling that was salable. Coren notes Doyle's strengths and weaknesses as an author.

Doyle was a champion of causes. Although a conservative, some of his causes were remarkably forward thinking such as his work toward fair divorce laws for women. He himself never considered divorcing his own wife when he fell in love with another woman; Doyle gave his ailing wife constant and loyal support, marrying the woman he loved after her death. Raised Catholic he later rejected religion but became deeply interested in spiritualism.

It is interesting to learn that in his later life he himself was involved with solving several crime cases.

The biography is a nice introduction.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a a fair and unbiased review.

Endeavor Press is the U.K.'s largest digital publisher.

The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
by Michael Coren
Endeavor Press
Publication Date October 9, 2015
ISBN: 9780747526681

Read my blog post on The Immortal Sherlock Holmes here.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving with the Fairies

The Brownies' Thanksgiving Turkey

"Gobble, gobble," sang the turkey
Just before Thanksgiving Day,
Never did that turkey gobbler
Sing another gobbing lay.

"Goggle-Gobble, " sand the Brownies
As they viewed their vast repast
"This we know, that best they gobble
Who can gobble-gobble last."

The Chieftain's Song of Thanks

Ye rulers of the Year,
who do my tribe befriend,
To you, most plenteous givers,
my messengers I send.
Accept their songs of thanks,
their caroling of praise,
For summer and its aftermath,
the Indian summer days.

Our autumn crops are garnered,
our Indian corn is yellow,
Beneath the harvest moon
our harvest fruits are mellow;
With grains in plenty seasoning
in autumn's purple haze,
We have no dread foreboding
of winter's fearful days.

Jack Frost

Elfin pictures on the pane
Mean Jack Frost has come again;
Lace and fens and vines and flowers,
Snow-capped peaks and fairy bowers,

Castles gleaming opalescent,
Rivers flowing iridescent;
Jewels set in filigree,
All in crystal fantasy.

from A Year With the Fairies
Anna M. Scott

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Real Traviata and the Men Who Loved and Immortalized Her

Marie DuPlessis at the theater
"...a young woman of exquisite demeanor...chaste, oval features, her gorgeous dark eyes shadowed by long lashes, the purest arching eyebrows, a nose of the most exquisite and delicate curve, her aristocratic shape that marked her out as a duchess for those who did not know a wist of fate she was born a peasant girl in Normandy." from the obituary of Marie Duplessis written by Theophile Gautier

I became a Verdi fan in the 1980s. La Traviata was made into a movie in 1983 starring Placido Domingo and Theresa Stratas and directed by Franco Zeffirelli; the movie was my first encounter with the opera. Then I learned the Verdi Requiem while in the Mastersingers choir, the most exciting music I had ever sung.

I knew that La Traviata was connected to the Alexander Dumas fils book The Lady of the Camellias (La Dame aux camelias) but I didn't know there was a real woman behind the stories, Marie Duplessis, born Alphonse Plessis.

The Real Traviata: The Song of Marie Duplessis by Rene Weis reveals the woman and the men who loved her and presents a history of the transcendent art that has made her immortal. Alexander Dumas fils was one of her lovers; his novel inspired by Marie's short life arrived soon after her death. It became a play, and that play inspired Verdi to throw out his nearly completed project to write La Traviata--all within four years of Marie's death.

The book, play, and opera met with resistance getting past the censors. Marie was a courtesan, one with class and style and regal bearing whose lovers included men from the highest ranks of life. Marie's protector had her educated, paid for her housing, and availed himself of her love even while knowing she had at least one other lover on the side. Some courtesans of the day were quite wild and profane but Marie had the bearing, soul, heart and generosity of a high born lady. Dumas loved her but was too poor and had to give her up. Liszt was on concert tours and couldn't bring her with him; he left the first woman he ever loved behind in Paris.

Impoverished Girls Preyed On by Men

Weis takes us into the disturbing history of prostitution and child abuse in the early 19th c. Marie's childhood was tragic and horrifying. Her drunkard and abusive father forced Marie's mother into hiding for her life, leaving her two daughters with family. Marie's surrogate family could barely feed themselves and when Marie was ten she was told she had to find her own food. At some point she was trading sexual favors for food.

She was a beautiful girl with skin like Camellias, and with dark eyes and hair. Starved for food and love, Marie later confessed that she had enjoyed the attention of the men. After her father found and reclaimed his daughters he himself abused Marie and when she was thirteen sold her favors to a local pedophile. Shortly afterwards she had her first menses. Weis cites an 1857 study by Ambroise Tradieu who first revealed the pervasiveness of sexual child abuse and rape. Men from the highest classes picked up teenaged girls and indulged themselves without thought.

Marie as Pretty Woman

That Marie, like other young girls who were abused and raped, became a prostitute was ordained by such a childhood. She was smart; to avoid the dangers of the streets she sought a protector. At age 16 she found her protector in Morny, a Bonaparte. Just six years before she was starving; now had a home of her own, enough to eat, and lovely clothes to wear. Her lover paid for her education--reading and writing, piano, dancing, everything needed for her to move among the highest classes of society. (Think Pretty Woman or Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.) Her protector even fell in love with her. At age 17 Marie gave birth and was sent to her country hometown to recover; Morny took the baby, who died. Marie didn't learn of her baby's death until a year later.

Queen of the Night

Morny left Paris for a position with the government and his friend took his place keeping Marie. By then she was a real trophy mistress. She had a series of generous lovers, protectors who paid for her upkeep while seeing other men. Marie lived the high life abroad and at home, enjoying the opera and gambling and waltzing through life. Then Marie met Edouard de Perregaux, a serial womanizer, romantic and feckless. He became the man immortalized as Alfredo, Violetta's lover in Verdi's opera. Their affair had ups and downs, marriage and estrangement.

Edouard saw that Marie was a 'pearl lost in vice', a kind and romantic woman. He moved her out of Paris to keep her to himself for a while. He had his own checkered past and was involved with another courtesan and actress. They idyll didn't last.  Back in Paris Marie had to juggle the man paying for her keep and her lovers. She had to think of her future when her older protector would die; any of these lovers could be taking his place. Although Edouard may have loved Marie he was in debt and his family pressured him to give her up.

Marie was an exceptional woman, especially considering her profession and childhood. One day a woman and with her son struck up a conversation with Marie. The ladies hit it off but Marie felt the need to confess she was a courtesan. The woman had seen Marie's soul and remained a lifetime friend. Marie donated money for an orphanage and raised even more from her friends.

Marie eventually became involved with a 'manager' and had men lining up at her door.  She lived in splendor and it took a lot of money to keep up appearances. Her most notorious love affairs at this time included Alexander Dumas fils and Franz Liszt. Dumas was the first to note symptoms of T.B. in Marie.

Death and Transfiguration

Marie's tuberculosis claimed her life in 1847 when she was only 23 years old. She had been estranged from Edouard and wouldn't let him see her. She wouldn't ask for help from friends. She spent her last days sitting at the window in her empty suite. Her possessions were sold at auction. Dumas purchased back a necklace he had given Marie; his daughter wore it to her grave. She was buried in a temporary unsanctified grave until Edouard had her reburied with a tomb. He insisted on opening the coffin to be sure it was Marie. His last image would be her already decaying face.
Alexander Dumas, the son

Almost immediately the low-born courtesan was turned into an angelic soul, starting with her obituary. Dumas wrote The Lady of the Camellias; he revealed the seamy side of Parisian society, an unflinching look at the world of the prostitute and the men who frequented them. After getting past the censors he turned the book into a play. It too was unable to pass the censors until Marie's former lover and protector used his governmental power to approve its performance. And then Verdi attended the play and immediately starting writing the music of La Traviata, even before he had a libretto.Verdi was not married to his companion and understood social prejudice; they too had tried to hide in the country. Verdi had lost a wife and children and understood grief. The opera allowed him to deal with his personal losses.

The story of the abused child who inspired one of our most beloved operas is fascinating and disturbing. While reading the section about the opera's performance history I was able to find clips on YouTube and other online sites. The book is illustrated showing the people and places of Marie's history. It was a fascinating read.
[A] superbly readable and meticulously researched biography...It is hard to think of a more dramatic life, from a horrific childhood to the glamour of high society, and Weis tells it with operatic pathos. The Sunday Times
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Real Traviata: The Song of Marie Duplessis
by Rene Weis
Oxford University Press
Publication November 1, 2015
$39.95 hardcover, 38 B&W photos, 2 maps
ISBN: 9780198708544

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Learning to Conduct Life's Storms: All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher

On a dark and stormy night in Ocean City, New Jersey in 1985 Augusta gave batons to her daughters Esme, Liv, and Ru, and while playing the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique taught them how to conduct the storm. Augusta knew there were people who loved storms, people who feared them, and people who loved them because they feared them. Augusta wanted to teach the girls how to control the uncontrollable, for even the appearance of control can make one feel really in control.

All of Us and Everything is about a dysfunctional family of sisters who grow apart into lives they can't control, all believing the roots of their problem lie in growing up without knowing their father. Did their mother sleep with strangers? one questioned.

Augusta wanted to keep the girls safe, just the four of them, not needing anyone else. Liv wanted to find out for herself if being like other people was good. She grew up to be a profiteer though marriage. targeting rich engaged men she deemed desperate and feeling trapped. Esme couldn't wait to escape, desiring an Ivy League education. She marries safe Doug, who leaves her for a dentist he saw while in France. And Ru, the youngest, memorized the whole family drama that would someday inform her novel; she is also a perpetual runaway bride.

August had told the girls what they thought was a story: Your father is a spy.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy floods Augusta's home and the girls, all at impasses in their personal and professional lives, return home--together for the first time in years. Esme brings her troubled daughter Atty, who Tweets every minute of her life to thousands of strangers. Each is looking for something.

The storm has dredged up a packet of letters that are delivered to Augusta. The contents change her perception of the past and her understanding of the present. And the last member of the family is invited back, the father the girls have never known. The lost are found, the separated are reunited, things taken apart are put back together.

I loved everything about this novel. It is hilarious, wildly funny. It is unbelievable and it is real. It is humane, forgiving, and hopeful. I read it in twenty-four hours and wanted to read it again. It is rare to find a book so witty, a plot line so crazy, characters so eccentric, that is also well written, literary, and insightful.

I thank the publisher and NetGalley for a free ebook in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

“Charming, original, and impeccably written, All of Us and Everything is a spirited romp through the lives of an unusual family of women. When I wasn't laughing out loud or eagerly turning pages to see what happened next, I was marveling at Bridget Asher’s ability to tell a highly entertaining, fully engaging, and deeply insightful story.”—Cathi Hanauer, New York Times bestselling author of Gone

All of Us and Everything
Bridget Asher
Random House
Publication Date: Nov 24, 2015
$15 paperback

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Hexie Workshop with Mary Clark

Mary Clark's Class Sample
This past weekend I took a workshop with Mary Clark on a new way to make Hexies. Mary spoke to the CAMEO quilt guild last week. Her quilts are amazing! This past year she was a guest teacher at the Sauder Farm Quilt Show. Her first appliqué quilt won best of show at Sauder Farm! Mary's quilts have appeared in books and she has taught in the Toledo/Michigan area for many years. She was a wonderful teacher. She was methodical and precise in her descriptions and demos. Not every great quilter is a great teacher. Mary is both!

Mary's samples of hexagon quilts and the Superior Under Thread 
Mary had several secrets to making Hexagons. First she used Superior Bottom Line Thread, a very fine thread that really does not show. For templates Mary uses a water soluble fusible precut hexagon templates from Hugs N Kisses.

She fuses the template to the wrong side of the fabric, cuts the hexagon leaving a quarter inch seam allowance, and then uses a glue pen to iron the seam allowances to the back of the hexagon.

Mary also had a new way of knotting the thread that allowed continual sewing. A gal made a video of Mary's instructions so we wouldn't forget! I hope the insertion of the video works.

My work in progress in class. The print fabric is my new kitchen curtain fabric. I wanted to make a teapot hotpad.

My finished project
The class also learned how to make the folded Bow Ties seen in on the table
Sorry for the lousy photos but here are several of Mary's quilts from her presentation.
Lots of half square triangles make this quilt spectacular
Rework embroidery, piecing, and that lovely house
This was made for Anita Shakelsford's publication Coxcomb Variations
Mary loves dimensional appliqué'
I used up all the my Fons & Porter glue pen on this project. But I was able to compete the entire project in 24 hours.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Row By Row Completed

The 2015 row from Northern Hearth Quilt Shop in Cadillac, MI had a fisherman in the foreground. I found a Dover publication silhouette of a girl under a tree and used it instead. I machine quilted it and bound it off as a stand-alone wall hanging or table topper.

Must. Get. Sewing. It has snowed, Thanksgiving is next week, and I had planned on making row quilts as presents. It will be a busy December.

The apple trees still had green leaves when the snow came yesterday.

An Explorer of People: Knud Rasmussen's Arctic Journeys to Document Eskimo Culture

"Even before I knew what traveling meant I determined that one day I would go and find these people, whom my fancy pictured different from all others. I must go and see 'the New people' as the old story-teller called them." Knud Rasmussen

Enthralling. Thrilling.

Every time I picked up White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic  those words popped into my head. I had to put the book aside for a few weeks. I SO was eager to return to it.

Rasmussen endured treacherous journeys across the Arctic, driven by his need to discover and document people who had rarely, if ever, seen Europeans. He was fully aware that 'civilization' was already ending the Eskimo way of life.

Charismatic, with high social intelligence, ruggedly handsome and fun loving, Rasmussen could charm his way into any society. The Inuit called him the White Eskimo for he lived fully as one of them; he could drive a team of sled dogs, hunt, relish rotten meat and green liver, talk the language and walk the walk.

Rasmussen was born in Greenland in 1879. His father was a Danish missionary. His mother's people had lived in Greenland for over a century and she was one-fourth Inuit. Rasmussen loved the Arctic; there were great hardships but there was also great freedom.

When he was twelve the family returned to Denmark, a shocking transition for the boy. At boarding school he mourned the loss of his old life and was an indifferent student. He became a heart-breaker and the 'king' of social gatherings. He dropped out of university and considered acting and opera. He socialized with the intelligentsia. In 1900 he decided on a travel writing as a career.

Rasmussen charmed his way into expeditions to Iceland and Lapland, writing articles as a freelance journalist. The Danish Literary Expedition finally brought him back to his beloved Greenland. He was able to reach the Thule people who lived farther north than any other people on earth. Rasmussen had finally found a new people, with different customs, in an unknown land. Thule became his home base for most of his life, With Peter Freuchen he established a trading base there. He became part of the community listened to the stories, memorized them, then wrote them down. He loved the artistry of the Inuit poetry and folklore.

Rasmussen went on seven expeditions, journeys that took him from Greenland to cross Arctic Canada. Rasmussen endured what many other could not: starvation, frozen limbs, pushing himself past exhaustion. He noted the similarities of the cultures, language and mythology and developed a theory of their interconnectivity through migration eastward.

He accepted the Eskimo culture and peoples without European judgment. He knew their life was harsh and they did what they needed to do to survive. The killing of girl children or the voluntary suicide of the elderly prevented a community from growing bigger than their food sources could maintain. Cached meat spoiled in the summer warmth, but Rasmussen enjoyed mildewed blubber or green liver with the locals. Cannibalism happened in starvation times. Since men outnumbered women, husband sharing occurred.

Rasmussen's private life is not well documented. He never wrote about himself, never made himself into the hero of his own story. He had numerous lovers, and married and had children although his family rarely saw him. In later years he returned to his family to write. Promoting his books meant visiting populated cities like New York but he never felt at home anywhere but in the Arctic. His final journey to that hostile land, to film a movie that showed the true character of the Inuit, he became ill and never recovered.

Stephen R. Bown has written the first biography of the Danish Arctic explorer and ethnologist Rasmussen in English, which may be why few recognize his name. Since Rasmussen's extensive writings have not been translated into English, Bown was required to buy books, take them apart and tediously print them, scan them into a computer, then use software to translate them into English.

The book has charming black and white illustrations, maps, and photographs.
Read an excerpt from the book here.

I had never heard of Rasmussen before. I am thrilled by this book and now want to read his book The People of The Polar North.

I thank the publisher and NetGalley for a free ebook in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic 
by Stephen R. Bown
DeCapo Press
Publication Date November 10, 2015
$27.99 hard cover
ISBN: 9780306822827

1911 Handkerchief Depicting Walrus Hunt, from my blog post here

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mini-Book Reviews of Recent Reads, Including the Tragic, the Ridiculous, and the Sublime

The Peabody Sisters of Salem by Louisa Hall Tharp was a 1950s book I picked up after reading Erika Robuck's House of Hawthorne last year.

The Peabody sisters included Sophia, who married Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary who married Horace Mann, and Elizabeth who brought kindergarten to America. The women had great intellect and drive and allied themselves with the movers and shakers of their time. They hobnobbed with all the Transcendentalists--Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau.

All three sisters worked in education at some time, with Elizabeth involved with Alcott's school before starting her own. Mary made herself a pillar for the work of Horace Mann until he gave up and married her. Artistic Sophia was subject to migraines until her marriage to Hawthorne. Mary and Sophia both idolized their husbands, totally supporting their work. Elizabeth was also the first women publisher in America, and quite formidable in her work for her pet causes.

Tharp's writing shows great scholarship and knowledge. Yet the book is highly readable and sometimes funny as Tharp is not above witty jabs at the sisters' expense. We are left with an impressive view of these women in all their glory and foibles.

The Other Joseph by Skip Horack was a book I won in a give-a-way from The Quivering Pen blog. At age nineteen Roy Joseph's older brother was lost in Operation Desert Storm, his parents were killed in a car accident, when a neighbor girl befriended him and they fell into bed. It earned Roy a felony conviction. At twenty-nine he works on an oil rig with a dog his only friend. Then he hears from a teenage girl who claims to be his brother's child. He sets off on a quest to learn more about his brother and to claim the only family he has left. The story is sad but compelling as we root for Roy.

License to Quill by Jacopo della Quercia is a free e-book I received through NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. The book does not fit into any one category: William Shakespeare is asked to be a spy for the crown. He is to infiltrate the terrorist group led by Guy Fawkes while they are planning the Gunpowder Plot to bomb Parliament. He meets W and secretary Penny who equip Will with remarkable devices. Meantime Christopher Marlowe, whose death was staged, is living a proliferate life in Italy until he is sobered up to play his part. Zany, over-the-top, and yet infused with a knowledge of the life and times.

St. Martin's Press
paperback $16.99
Publication December 2015
ISBN: 9781250059659

The Luminaries by Elizabeth Catton was my new book club's choice. The Mann Booker Prize winning novel was not well accepted by the other readers who complained of a lack of clear plot, likable characters, or compelling story line. I liked it. Set in 1866 in New Zealand's gold fields, a place where men and women come to start new lives, hopefully as rich men, the book is a mystery and a love story--although that is not clear until near the end. I appreciated the exploration of the perception of truth, character, and justice as shifting according to personal view. Some day I will reread it with special attention made to the astrological structure of the novel. It is not a book for those who like light entertainment. You will think.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Geneva

I was invited to participate in a study that records reading responses. I received the novel Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice. and read it as usual except after every chapter I synced where I was. I hope the publisher Simon and Schuster and author learned something. I sure did.

The novel concerns a family who discovers they have the Huntington's disease gene. This is the disease that killed Woody Guthrie, leaving his son Arlo growing up and waiting to see if he carried the gene. There is a 50/50 percent chance of inheriting the disease.

Genova is a neuroscientist who specializes in Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury, and autism. She has become a best selling novelist whose books focus on families struggling with crisis involving brain related diseases. In this novel she introduces a Boston policeman and his family. Joe is ten years from retirement with full pension. His eldest son is newly married. He has a daughter who is a ballet dancer and another teaches yoga. His youngest son is 'finding himself'.  Joe exhibits strange behavior and tests reveal Huntington's disease.

Joe struggles with his failing body, his inability to provide a financially secure future for his wife, and the knowledge that several of his children will also die of this disease. Each child has to decide if they want to undergo testing to know if they have the gene. Which is worse? Knowing you will or won't die an early death from a debilitating disease, or ignorance while endeavoring to live a normal life?

We learn about the disease along with the family.

The beautiful part of the story is when Joe realizes his mother, who had suffered from undiagnosed Huntington's disease, had tried to die with dignity. Her example inspires him. His daughter reminds Joe that how he responds to what is happening to him will be an example to his children when their time comes.

Such stories can be relevant outside of the specifics. I thought of my own parents who each died of cancer. Mom showed acceptance. She called all her friends and without self-pity chatted and told them her prognosis. Dad held onto every thread of hope and battled to live for several months. I had resented Mom's desire to die peacefully although I knew she'd endured enough physical pain in her life and she saw death as a respite and an avoidance of a dependent old age. Then I saw Dad's long decline and the indignity of a slow death. Was that the better way?

We all know we will someday cease to live. Some of us know ahead of time that we have a disease that will inevitably kill us. There is no right or wrong way to handle the knowledge. But our choices are an example to those who love us.

I received a free ebook from the publisher. The review is my choice.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Pumpkin Runner Just in Time

I planned to make this table topper several months ago. It was delayed. I finished the hand appliqué a few weeks ago. Thanksgiving is around the corner, then it will be time to bring out the Christmas quilts. Time was running out. So I did what I never do: I machine quilted it.
Now it is where it was meant to be, just in time for Thanksgiving.
 I goes on the desk/table under Pumpkin Pie by Bunny Hill.

The pattern can be found in Better Homes and Gardens Easy Appliqué. The original had pretty pieced borders.

Reimagining King David: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Here is a man who is both great and flawed, just like those tragic heroes Oedipus and King Lear. Meredith Jaffe, The Guardian

When I read Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders:A Novel of the Plague   it changed my mind about historical fiction. I read every one of her novels as they came out: March which won the Pulitzer Prize, The People of the Book, and Caleb's Crossing. I was thrilled to get an ARC through NetGalley of her new book The Secret Chord.

The Secret Chord is a novelization about the life of King David, informed by the Bible and re-imagined from a 21st century understanding. It is narrated by the prophet Natan (Nathan) who channels the Name (Yahweh).

The book begins in the middle of David's life. Natan wants to write the story of David's life and David sends Natan to interview people from his past. With Natan we hear long pages of  David's back story, intermixed with his own memories. We learn about David through other's eyes.

The book skips through time before following a consistent chronology starting with David's rape of Batsheva and murder of her husband. The Name requires a fourfold atonement and King David suffers a series of  devastating losses. His son rapes and disfigures his half-sister, his favorite son Avshalom (Absolom )prepares an army to takeover kingship and is killed. Because of his warfare David is not allowed to build a tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant, but Natan prophesies that David is to make his youngest son Slomo (Solomon) king, and he will build the temple and lead their people into peace.

The Old Testament, or New for that matter, is a record of faith (mythos, stories with meaning), not a scientific, verifiable history. I will warn that this a novel, story telling, a re-imagining for entertainment. Brooks has a great story to work with: there is jealousy, warfare and takeovers of cities; there is rape and lust and abandonment of women; there is fratricide and incest and every kind of dysfunctional family problem. Brooks makes Jonathan and David sexual lovers and allows the women to tell of the brutality men inflicted on them. The rape and disfigurement of Tamar and the rape of Batsheva are particularly disturbing, especially as we are aware women still are victims to this day. This isn't your Sunday School David. Even Brooks says the story is "very Game of Thrones."

I didn't enjoy reading this novel. The vividly described carnage of battle, the disjointed narrative, the layering of 21st century sensibilities (such as David's bisexuality), the raw sexual and emotional abuse of the women, left me struggling to continue reading it. Then, I am not a Game of Thrones fan.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Secret Chord
Geraldine Brooks
Publication October 6, 2015
$27.95 hard cover
ISBN: 9780670025770

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Trip To The Franklin Cider Mill

It was a beautiful September day today....I mean November...The sun was shining, it was sweater weather, and I got the wanderlust. So we went to the Franklin Cider Mill in Bloomfield Hills, MI to get some cider before they shut down for the season.

The apples were HUGE this year. We have had hundreds of apples from our two trees but we had to bring some of these monsters home!

They make Apple Cider Vinegar and have maple syrup, honey, jams, condiments, cheese, sausage, and baked goods galore!
 The mill dates back to 1837 so it is as old as the state of Michigan!

We brought home Honeycrisp Apple Cider, made with handpicked apples and unpasteurized.

 The river is full of Mallard ducks. The kids like to feed them.

We also picked up Apple Butter and Pumpkin Butter made with sugar, not corn syrup. My hubby enjoyed a Cider Dog and I had Blueberry pie from the food stand. 

What a nice way to spend a warm November day. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The History Behind American Ballads

Telling a story in song is one of our oldest human traditions. For hundreds of years people have sung ballads that told stories about murders, outlaws, romances, wars, tragedies, and hardships. During four visits between 1916 and 1918 British musicologist Cecil Sharp collected over 1500 American songs in the southern Appalachians.

At the same time Sharp collected old ballads new ones were being created as a response to events of the time. These new songs included responses to modern calamities involving railroad accidents, shipwrecks, and the treatment of workers and prisoners. 

Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales that Inspired "Stagolee," "John Henry," and Other Traditional American Folk Songs by Richard Polenberg explores American ballads based on historical people and events, explaining the events and persons who inspired them, and covering their first known performances, recordings, and publication. 

The songs in their categories include:
  • St Louis (St. Louis Blues, Stagolee, Frankie and Johnny, Duncan and Brady)
  • Lying Cold on the Ground (Omi Wise, Ballad of Frankie Silver, Tom Dooley, Poor Ellen Smith, Pearl Bryan, Delia's Gone)
  • Bold Highwaymen and Outlaws (Cole younger, Jesse James, John Hardy, Railroad Bill, Betty and Dupree)
  • Railroads (John Henry, Engine 143, Casey Jones, Wreck of the Old 97)
  • Workers (Cotton Mill Blues, Chain Gang Blues, Only a Miner, House of the Rising Sun)
  • Disasters (The Titanic, The Boll Weevil)
  • Martyrs (Joe Hill, Sacco and Vanzetti)
Persons interested in folk music and its performers, American history, or music recordings will find this book informative and interesting. 

Here is a summary of the history of one song included in the book.
Tom Dooley as recorded by the Kingston Trio was all over the radio when I was a girl, selling over a million copies in a few months. It won the Grammy for Best Country and Western Recording. Everyone knew the words.

Tom Dooley was first recorded in 1929 with these words:

"Tom Dooley"
As recorded by Grayson & Whitter (1929)
Hang your head, Tom Dooley,
Hang your head and cry;
Killed poor Laura Foster,
You know you're bound to die.

You took her on the hillside,
As God almighty knows;
You took her on the hillside,
And there you hid her clothes.

You took her by the roadside,
Where you begged to be excused;
You took her by the roadside,
Where there you hid her shoes.

Took her on the hillside,
To make her your wife;
Took her on the hillside
Where there you took her life. (CHO.)

Take down my old violin,
Play it all you please;
This time tomorrow,
It'll be no use to me. (CHO.)

I dug a grave four feet long,
I dug it three feet deep;
Throwed the cold clay over her,
And tromped it with my feet. (CHO.)

This world and one more,
Then where you reckon I'll be?
Hadn't a-been for Grayson,
I'd a-been in Tennessee. (CHO.)

How many of us know that Tom Dooley was a real person, Thomas Caleb Dula, a handsome lady killer and Confederate soldier? After bedding two cousins, Ann (an old flame, now married) and Laura Foster, Tom discovered he had syphilis. So did Ann. But Tom blamed the disease on Laura. Ann blamed Tom. 
Tom Dula
Tom paid Laura several visits. Then Laura was found missing. Laura's father believed she was murdered and a warrant for Tom's arrest was issued. Tom had taken off. He turned up at a farm owned by Union veteran Lt. Colonel Grayson who hired him as a field hand. The posse tracked Tom down, but he'd high tailed it again...wearing new boots that hurt his feet. 

Tom was cooling his blistered feet when Grayson found him and brought him in. When Laura's body was found, Tom was indicted for murder, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. An appeal was made, improper handling of evidence was proved, and Tom faced a second trial. He was again found guilty and his execution set for May 1, 1868.

Tom spent his jail time trying to cut his chain with a piece of glass--and getting baptized. Neither delayed his execution. On the fatal day a cheerful Tom insisted he was innocent and quipped, "I would have washed my neck if I had known you were using such a nice clean rope." He spoke for an hour to the crowd, maintaining his innocence and accusing witnesses of false testimony. The crowd wasn't buying it. The day before he'd written a note declaring "I am the only person that had any hand to the murder of Laura Foster."

By 1867 a song was being sung about the murder. An early folklore scholar noted the song was sung all over Watauga County. The first recording of Tom Dooley was made in 1929 by Grayson's nephew, Gilliam Banmon Grayson. Folklorists Anne and Frank Warner sang the song and recorded it in 1940. They sang Tom Dooley in every lecture and program. In 1948 Alan Lomax included the song in Folk Song:USA. Then in 1958 the Kingston Trio made the song a national sensation. NPR choose Tom Dooley as one of the most important songs of the twentieth century.

Hear My Sad Story was an enjoyable and informative read.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales that Inspired "Stagolee," "John Henry," and Other Traditional American Folk Songs
by Richard Polenberg
Cornell University Press
Publication Date November 17, 2015
ISBN: 9781501700026
$26.00 hard cover

Friday, November 13, 2015

Swiss Air Hanky

i finally bought this city scene handkerchief from SwissAir. I have wanted one for a long time!

A Quilt Leaves the Closet

I came from a long line of pickers. We just can't resist. When we see something 'good' alongside the road we just have to rescue it from oblivion. I remember walking to elementary school and crying over the good things sticking out of the trash cans on garbage day. My dad had a big ole' pickup truck and brought home chair sets and outboard motors, bicycles and lawn mowers, and trunks. He would fix them up and sell them in a garage sale, not to make a little money, but for the fun of it.
Dad picked up a trunk and when he got it home found a quilt inside. He gave the quilt to me.

It is a Carolina Lily pattern. The stitching is primitive, so is the quilting. But it has an exuberance and joy.

I shared it recently on Facebook and a collector asked to buy it. She believes it is a Southern quilt. And yesterday I shipped it. One more quilt out of the closet.