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Book Review: The Treasury of Flowers…

July 11th, 2012

This afternoon I stopped off at my favorite charity shop to see if there were any interesting books and I found one called ‘The Treasury of Flowers’ by Alice M Coats (published 1975). I’ve had a fearful fascination of plants and flowers since I was a small child. When I was about 4 and a half we moved out of town to this small farm. One morning I was out in the fields with my mother when she pointed at foxglove and said, “That’s foxglove! Don’t touch it or you’ll die!” The big red mushrooms with pretty white spots in the surrounding forest were similarly pointed out along with black widow spiders. “You see that black spider with the red spot? If it bites you, you’ll die!” Needless to say, along with a fear of imminent death I developed a fascination for flowers. Obviously I didn’t grow into a botanist, but thankfully one doesn’t have to be a scientist to enjoy flowers or even go near flowers. One can look at pictures.

As long as there have been books there have been books on flowers. Coats’ book is a presentation of 118 prints by various artists over the centuries that have been overlooked because they’re small (some of them very small). I didn’t really understand what exactly the book was when I bought it. I just noticed it had prints of flowers starting from the early printing press using woodcuts through to the mid 1800’s and I thought it might be interesting. It is! Coats unearths all sorts of interesting facts and vignettes about the artists and plants in the prints. Plate 32 alone makes this book a treasure. Read more…

Book Reviews, History Notes, I've been taking photographs, Regency Notes

A death at le Château de Orthez…

June 19th, 2012

This last week I needed a treat so I ordered “Ghosthunter A Journey Through Haunted France” by Simon Marsden. For some reason I thought it was going to be a real ghost story book with photos, but it turned out to be more a photo-journal of purportedly haunted places with a few notes of ghostly happenings and or the author’s feelings as he walked around taking photos. If I’d understood what I was buying I’d still have bought the book (and loved it), I just wouldn’t have felt disappointed that I wasn’t getting a proper “story” for each site. That is my only negative comment. If you love France, black and white atmospheric photos of ruins and the macabre, notes of ghostly happenings, grisly histories and a list of  magical looking locations you’ll have to visit to see for yourself if they are haunted…I highly recommend this book!

Marsden visits quite a few ruins that were once important French Castles/fortified dwellings. Unsurprisingly, most of these places in the distant past were often owned by power-crazed psychos who caused mayhem and misery. One of my favorite site is entitled “Eternal Damnation” at the Château de Orthez (in the Pyrenees). All that remains of this chateau is the Moncade Tower and a few ramparts. Read more…

Book Reviews, Ghost stories, History Notes

Book Review: The Night Side of Nature…

May 20th, 2012

I don’t know if it’s a Vitamin deficiency, a lack of decent sleep or a morbid fascination for the weird and bizarre, but out of the blue I can be struck by an insane craving for real ghost stories. The craving demands stories I’ve never heard before; preferably weird ones that make me shiver and feel glad to live in my boring unhaunted house. (How do I know it’s unhaunted? That! is another story.) This last year I had the ghost story craving hit hard and I ended up having to buy (and borrow from the library) quite a few books before it was satiated. In my quest for stories I accidentally discovered ghost story treasure. The title, ‘The Night Side of Nature’ doesn’t sound like treasure. It makes one think of worms gasping for air on drenched sidewalks glistening in the moonlight. Treasure comes in all shapes and sizes! The author, Catherine Crowe, was not only a woman, she was the first person to attempt to scientific study (and then publish a book) on ghostly phenomenon. There had been earlier books on ghosts, but as she notes they were all written by men who’d already made up their mind that there was no such thing as ghosts. She felt such a well documented phenomenon found in every culture and every age deserved closer inspection.

Born in 1800, Crowe was an educated English woman fluent in German and German philosophy. A very logical person, she had an open curious mind. Published in 1848, this book is much more than a collection of 18th and 19th century ghost stories. Because Crowe is retelling stories that have been recounted as taking place in ordinary life the reader gets a detailed glimpse into the past one rarely finds in biographies or personal letters. As a social history this book is solid gold. As story-fodder (stuff that feeds the story factory in any writer’s brain) it is platinum. As a collection of ghost stories it is an Aladdin’s Cave! I loved this book and highly recommend it. The author’s introduction and the first chapter or two are rather thick going, but once she starts sharing ghost stories I found it hard to put down. I highly recommend it. I can’t believe I’d never come across it before I bought it though maybe I wasn’t ready for it… To give you a sample of what I mean I have to share my favorite ghost story from the book…

From page 232 using Crowe’s spelling and punctuation: Read more…

Book Reviews, Ghost stories, History Notes, Regency Notes

Remembering Lummox…

October 5th, 2011

Collective memory is such a strange thing. Living in the moment we often take for granted that movie stars, pop stars, world renown authors, earth shattering historical happenings will never be forgotten. Sadly (or gladly depending on one’s point of view) this isn’t the case. The societies we live in whether nations or extended tribes, make choices as to what we will and won’t remember collectively. That which is replayed or repeated most often will be the winner whether it deserves a place in history or not. The English have this saying, ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November.’ Nearly four hundred years old, this childhood chant (that all English people know) calls the people to remember Guy Fawkes (and his associates) who nearly managed to blow up parliament with kegs of gun powder in 1605. Every November 5th the English build bonfires and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. This is an excellent example of collective remembering. Whether some individuals getting drunk and setting off fireworks can remember anything specific about Guy Fawkes is irrelevant. They remember collectively! Read more…

A Companion for Life, Book Reviews, Dancing the Maypole, I've been thinking

Book Review: Maybe Next Time…

February 2nd, 2011

Last week I finally spent part of my Christmas Amazon gift certificate. After a month of changing my basket every few days (failing to decide what I most wanted) I impulsively bought a modern romance, something I haven’t done in years. I’d read an interview with the author, Jennifer Crusie, about her latest novel ‘Maybe Next Time’ and went off to Amazon to see if I’d like it. In the first few free pages she’d made me laugh and empathize so I bought it before I changed my basket-mind again. Read more…

Book Reviews, I've been thinking

Book review: Gateway…Cari’s reading sci-fi?

January 25th, 2011

If I hadn’t had a headache, I would have been working on Dancing the Maypole not lounging around with my snotty nose pressed into a 1970’s Science Fiction book. But I was ill, so yesterday I ignored my computer and got lost in the future. Gateway by Frederik Pohl is a story told backwards. It starts out with the hero (the term hero is a stretch), Robinette Broadhead, who is having a therapy session with his robotic shrink he calls Sigfried. Robinette, or Bob as he’s usually known, has some deep emotional problems, some of which stem back to his childhood and his non-demonstrative mother. We don’t know what’s happened to bring him to the sofa, but we know he’s super rich. Somehow he’s gone from subsisting as a food miner to being someone who can afford Full Medical (as in he can get any limb or organ (other than his head) replaced with no further cost and unless he dies in an accident he’s guaranteed to live an extra long life). Read more…

Book Reviews, I've been thinking

Regency Note: Mrs Hurst Dancing…

January 21st, 2011

I traditionally buy myself a Christmas present (or ten). The cold winter day I popped into my favorite second hand bookstore in the town I didn’t expect to find anything. I was out taking photos; I needed to thaw out my hands (any excuse). While combing the history section for Medieval knights I caught sight of the words “Mrs Hurst Dancing”. My brain didn’t even compute the smaller print on the spine. The size of the book suggested it contained lots of pictures. Being a curious wench I wanted to know why someone would write a book about some married woman who danced. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the cover. There in my hands was a book I’d never heard of called (now that my brain bothered to read the subtitle) ‘Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes From Regency Life 1812-1823 Watercolours by Diana Sperling… I held my breath as I opened the cover to find the penciled price. It was only £6. I clutched it to my chest and laughed as I resisted dancing in the confined space. I flipped through a few pages and was enchanted. I quickly closed the book and decided it would be one of my Christmas presents which means I didn’t look at more than five of the 70 plates till Christmas day. If you love the Regency era, and you’ve never seen this book, you will want your own copy. Diana Sperling, the young woman painting scenes from her life, had a great sense of humor and clearly a love of the absurd. I had to share a few of the pictures. These aren’t even the best ones (though I include my single favorite). These few give a flavor of the rest. Diana was part of a wealthy family (her father was Lord of the Manor) who were happy and content regardless of what was going on outside their little world. The first painting introduces most of the main people in her paintings… Read more…

Book Reviews, Regency Notes

Lucky Lovers…

January 4th, 2011

There are a number of on line libraries, but my favorite is  Project Gutenberg. For anyone who loves reading or writing Regency romances they have a fantastic Regency reference book. 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose This was published in 1811 and marketed at young men who wished to speak about vulgar things in front of the ladies without the ladies understanding. It could also be called A Dictionary of Cant for the year 1811. The snippets explaining the meaning of the words are more interesting than the words. They create this snapshot of the time. You can read it on line or download an e-book copy for free! How lucky is that? Read more…

Book Reviews

Book review: A Very Merry Chase…

December 22nd, 2010

If you’re dying for a funny regency romance and you love Georgette Heyer, you’ll love A Very Merry Chase by Teresa Bohannon. The author sums it up, “Set in early 19th century Regency England, and harking back in style to the heyday of Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland, A Very Merry Chase is a comedy of manners and errors that boasts empire fashions, dashing characters, verbal sparring matches and witty repartee mingled with just a hint of mystery, danger and intrigue.”

It’s a classic Regency Romance and I give it four shiny big stars! When I started reading it was nearly bed time. I told myself I’d just read the first chapter. Ha! By four in the morning I had to force myself to stop and go to bed. After about two hours sleep I got up to see my Goblin off to work and then after waving him away with bloodshot eyes, I finished the book. It was that good! I loved all the main characters including the bad guy (who isn’t very lovable, but there’s something about him that makes me hope he has a happy end somewhere). I wish my characters could have dinner with Bohannan’s characters or meet them at a house party. I’ve never had that reaction to a regency romance before. After the short excerpt there’s a link to download a free pdf file of the first chapter (which I think is one of the funniest first chapters I’ve ever read!). Read more…

Book Reviews

Winner of the Telegraph ghost story competition is…

December 4th, 2010

The winner of the Telegraph ghost story competition will not be me because I wasn’t chosen as one of the six finalists, but after reading all six I thought three were brilliant ghost stories and very well written.
A Hollow Cause by Craig Drew/Gimme Shelter by Pat Black/Friends by Richard Crompton
As this was a ghost story competition, for creepy factor alone that made me go stiff as I held my breath to read the ending…I hope that Pat Black wins (I think it was better than mine), but all three of my favorite winners were well written and creepy. Mine isn’t really creepy, it’s…shock horror…a romance!

In Darkness Let me Dwell Read more…

A Short Story, Book Reviews, I've been thinking