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The Monday Book: Race to the Pole – Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Jack is the guest reviewer this week –

This is the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the south pole in 1912.

Scottgroup

I started reading this and almost immediately thought I wouldn’t like it!

Fiennes is clearly an upper crust member of the British establishment with an inflated sense of his own importance. All through the book he compares himself to Scott and a goodly part of it is about his own travels to the south and north poles.

But despite all that he managed to suck me in!

Fiennes really did do good research and approaches the more contentious issues very fairly. He also goes outside of the central story to get different points of view. This was also where I had some questions, though. Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian, beat Scott by a month to the pole and is presented here as somewhat devious and a bit of a cheat. I see here Fiennes buying into the old story of the ‘above board’ British against those dastardly foreigners.

What is also well explained is the context of Scott’s doomed attempt – British exceptionalism, Government under-funding, class divisions, civilian/service divisions, limited meteorological knowledge etc. What also comes through clearly, though, is Scott’s abilities as a leader. He made difficult decisions, led by example and persuaded his team to incredible feats of endurance!

So my take away from this book is that Scott really was a doomed hero and Fiennes is a bit of a narcissist!

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Unner ablow the Grund

Jack gets comfortably under the wire for a change –

So, here I am working in the front yard regularly as we get into spring and summer and I keep seeing this odd circular grey cover of some kind in the ground. It looks like it might be over a valve or a meter for water or gas or maybe something electrical.

pot1

I look at it from time to time and puzzle over it. It has four small holes that might be for screws holding it down. But they’d be full of dirt so not much chance of unscrewing it. Maybe I could get a lever under the edge to see if it would come up? But what if it really is containing something important that I might break?

It sits right next to one of our inherited ‘Narnia’ style lampposts and I wondered if there was some kind of connection. But the power cable to the lamppost, which had run along the side of a now departed fence, completely bypassed the mysterious cover.

I continued to step gingerly round it over the weeks, puzzling and debating.

As I dug a trench to bury the lamppost cable I kept pondering but couldn’t confidently come to any conclusion.

Examining the object I was able to decipher a manufacturer’s name – time for Dr Google! All I could find was that they were best known for making garden pots, planters and hanging baskets. Now it was time to post pictures on Facebook to see if anyone else could help. The suggestions ranged from a pot stand to a cover for a water quality analyzer!

Still nervous I decided to see if I could gently raise it enough to see if there was anything underneath. Grabbing my trusty spade I set to! Yes – it did extend quite a few inches down into the ground. I was able to finally get a grip under the edge and lever it up and out. What emerged was a shallow dish that what I think must be a water receptacle in which to sit a planter. Why it had been turned upside down and pressed down into the ground I have no idea. There was nothing except the ground under it!

pot2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My takeaway from this?

Google and Facebook sure make life complicated at times –

But congratulations to our friend Annie Jane for getting it right!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

This week’s review comes from crowd favorite Paul Garrett –

anne tyler

Dr. Battista, an obscure researcher of autoimmune disorders, has been slaving away in obscurity, almost forgotten by his employer, Johns Hopkins University. Now he feels he is on the verge of the breakthrough he has been searching for all his professional life. There is only one problem: Pyotr, his research assistant and right arm is about to lose his visa and be forced to return to the Eastern European country of his birth. Dr. Battista is terrified that all his work will go down the tubes (pun intended? Maybe, maybe not.) without Pyotr there. He hatches a plan to save his project and his lab assistant. All that has to happen is for Pyotr to marry Dr. Battista’s daughter.

Nobody thought to ask his daughter.

Kate Battista is a tall lanky girl approaching what used to quaintly be called spinsterhood. Almost thirty with no love interest and no prospects, she spends her days gardening, working as a teaching assistant at a preschool and looking after her widowed father and younger sister. She is awkward socially and has a habit of saying exactly what is on her mind, to the detriment of her relationships with just about everybody, especially the parents of the little crumb crunchers who are entrusted to her care.

Anne Tyler’s novel Vinegar Girl (Hogarth, 2016) Is a nod to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as the poor and equally awkward Pyotr, along with the help of his boss try to woo the standoffish Kate.

Tyler is one of the few authors (along with Kurt Vonnegut) who can make me laugh out loud.  Her tragicomic style is on full display as the characters careen from one mishap and plot twist to the next.  The rehearsal dinner scene alone makes the book worthwhile.

Unlike in T.C. Boyle’s preachy Tortilla Curtain, Tyler avoids the controversies of the American immigration system, preferring to stick to the Shakespearian template and leave the intellectual heavy lifting to others.

This is a small volume for Tyler, but she manages to pack it full of her normal cadre of oddballs, miscues and mishaps. The story ends with an odd (for today’s audience) soliloquy on the plight of men in society.

The book’s brevity may be the only drawback, as Tyler felt the need to add an extensive epilogue. Brief or not, Tyler fans won’t be disappointed.

 

 

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Money, Money, Money – – –

Jack gets over the line with time to spare – –

caveat

I’m a real curmudgeon right now! Because we moved house we have also changed banks and that meant carefully checking that all automatic payments got changed over. That proved very difficult as some were obvious but many weren’t! Being paranoid about such things I ran both accounts on the overlap and kept checking the old one in case I’d missed anything.

Lo and behold –

We had a problem in the new house with our thermostat so I googled to find advice which took me to a website called ‘Just Answer’. For just five dollars they would fix the problem. They didn’t fix the problem but what they did do was lock me into a monthly twenty-eight-dollar subscription whether I had any other questions or not!

The only reason I discovered Just Answer’s cunning ruse was because I was checking the old account.

Because I was in that mode I asked Wendy about a medical bill we had for six hundred dollars, so she phoned her insurers and found it was a ‘mistake’.

But there’s more – –

Wendy has been selling stuff on E-Bay and was surprised by her latest bill from them. She checked her account and found that if your item doesn’t sell, they automatically re-list it and charge you for both. Worse still they continue re-listing and charging unless you cancel.

I’m still not convinced I’ve caught everything on our old bank account –

Then there’s Verizon, who sent us bills that included third party services we neither needed nor asked for!

There’s some sneaky folk out there that have probably gotten a big bonus for their sneaky ideas, folks. Caveat emptor.

Sometimes, even when you don’t caveat, you still have to emptor!

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: A FORGOTTEN PLACE by Charles Todd

The last of our Todd reviews – we hope you’ve discovered some new series ideas!

A FORGOTTEN PLACE: Unforgettable!Forgotten place

 

Looking at the cover of this book, if you are an avid follower of Bess Crawford (British WW1 nurse who has been to the front line in France many times), you have to wonder what sort of post-war trouble the heroine will encounter.  You can tell she is in a desolate place, a surprise since the story picks up after the Armistice in 1918 and her return to England.  Bess is looking away from the reader, and you expect her to turn her head and ask you where you’ve been and what took you so long to arrive. It isn’t your fault it takes so long to get your hands on the book that follows A Casualty of War (2017, Harper Collins/Wm Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-267878-2), but you cannot tell her that.  You just go with her into the depths of a forgotten Welsh village named Caudle, located on the Gower Peninsula.  And I promise, you will not sleep a wink until you get to the end of this book because the darkness of it seems far worse than the Great War itself.

Bess Crawford’s work in France is done when Matron sends her back to England with a Welsh unit commanded by Captain Williams.  Every man is an amputee, and as they are miners, they have no future in their coal mine village. Bess is worried about her charges and goes to Wales to check on them—without informing her parents or friends of her intentions. By the time she arrives in the village where Captain Williams said he’d be, almost everyone in the Welsh unit is deceased, and she hurries to Caudle to check on the Captain when she finds out he left to help his widowed sister-in-law with her meager sheep farm.

From the moment of her arrival, you realize that every word you read moves Bess, the Captain, and Rachel (his sister-in-law) closer to danger, closer to death.  But you cannot help yourself because the story is so compelling, and the characters of the village make life dark and dangerous.  There is jealousy, greed, several brutal murders, and neighbors who watch Bess’s every move.  She is stranded in Caudle, a guest in Rachel’s home, and each day she digs for the truth about the village, the residents, and the dark secret they have kept through many generations.

The storms and murders, and the residents’ unwillingness to let Bess leave the village or settle with her lot because her parents and Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon do not know her whereabouts, make you stakeholder in her resolve to get to the bottom of a mystery and survive.  You, the passive participant in this adventure, cannot stop puzzling over the characters, the clues, and the desire to find a murderer before Bess, the Captain, and Rachel come to any great harm or end up buried in an unmarked grave near the Rectory or tossed into the angry sea to wash ashore weeks later.

The village has a secret it protects. Newcomers are not welcome. No stranger leaves alive, and you set your jaw and resolve to make sure Bess Crawford gets away before the killer gets away with murder. Hers.  When Simon discovers her whereabouts, you want to relax and see how it all falls into place, but you cannot—because he has to leave temporarily, and it is up to you to stand watch as you read.  Before he returns, Bess has to figure out a way to protect the villagers and their dark secrets without letting the killer get away.

As it is with all Bess Crawford novels, you marvel at A Forgotten Place because the last pages are a reveal that leaves you in awe.  Even if you think you know it all, you discover you do not!  When Bess leaves Caudle and heads home, you wonder if you stand to live the year in your time while she moves within a few weeks of hers. You want her to settle down and stay out of harm’s way, but you cannot resist counting the days until the next Bess Crawford mystery is in your hands.

 

 

 

About the Reviewer:

Liz Phillips is a middle school educator and writer living in Southwest Virginia, another forgotten place. Contact her at lizphillips.author@gmail.com.

 

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Wendy and the Furries

big bad wolfThe National Rural Health Association held its annual conference in Atlanta (that most rural of American localities) this year. On Tuesday we started lamenting the state of rural health infrastructure and planning our dire futures.

On Wednesday, two giant skunks appeared in the lobby of the hotel. Whispers rippled around the place: the furries were coming.

The 800 attendees of the health conference divided: a third of them googled furries, a third fled to their rooms, and the rest staked out seats at the bar and watched the luggage parade.

More than 6,000 furries descended. The number of sparkly unicorn heads on luggage carts, the inflatables trapped inside plastic, eyes always looking out with pleading expressions, and the unflappable Atlanta red cap bellmen, pushing carts with dignity as leopard tails fell over the sides, moving little pink fuzzy claws just before they got trapped in the wheels. Oh, the photo opps.

 

 

That was nothing compared to Thursday night in the bar–and the lobby, and the restaurant, and the main plaza, and the escalators…

 

Turns out, furries are really nice, ehm, people? If you ask they generally enjoy having their photos taken, or saying a few words to friends back home who love their particular species. Witness Mr. March Hare, who waved to my friend Willie, the first woman I know to decorate her kitchen using an Alice in Wonderland theme.

Friends back home who know me as that nice buttoned-up author who crochets and rescues cats, and doesn’t make trouble for the neighbors, sent polite private messages when I began posting Furries on my FB feed. A fellow musician and Rennaissance Faire enthusiast summed up the gist of these, “Umm, Wendy, did you go there on purpose?”

 

 

 

 

 

toucansFalling into the furry convention also coincided with my birthday. Friends had promised to take me to the Atlanta aquarium, but we just parked ourselves ringside and watched the lobby fill with fur–and scales, and a trio of inflatable toucans (maybe?) who stole the show. From Facebook, friends flung advice: Give them cookies! They love cookies! Don’t step on their tails, they get surly. Don’t worry, they only bite if you ask nicely.cookie furry

 

 

And the furry jokes, which we will gloss over. These came down to a bunch of friends asking, “But what is the point of this” with others more in the know sending some iteration of “cosplay with benefits.”

I knew about furries peripherally, because Jack and I play Celtic music, because of being at book festivals where cosplay might come into view, and because some of the crocheting I do has been, I think, bought by a furry or two who didn’t self-identify.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I never got to meet any before this weekend. We had the time of our lives, my friends and I, watching the furries walk past the erstwhile posters intended to save the world with their statistics and dire warnings of hospital closure. Which will save the world first, do you think, people trying to get stuff done, or people trying to make sure everyone has a good time?

A partnership would have formed if we could have found him in time: one furry was dressed as a large mammal (authorities differed as to lion, wolf, or dog) in a doctor’s coat, complete with stethoscope. The Virginia delegation hunted him after our awards ceremony for a photo opp, but alas it was not meant to be.

Gracias, furries, for reminding us that having fun is healthy. And, well, fun. We had the time of our lives, watching y’all possess and enjoy that hotel. Thanks! Have a cookie.60197676_2540615052616210_5072177147590737920_n

 

 

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The Monday Book: THE GATE KEEPER by Charles Todd

THE GATE KEEPER                                            

by Charles Todd

(Feb. 2018, Harper Collins/Wm Morrow)

320 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0062678713

 

 

 

 

 

            When Stephen Wentworth climbs down from his motorcar to talk to the person standing in the country road that leads to the village of Wolf Pit, he has no idea that he is not going to see Christmas 1920.  Nor does his companion, Miss McRae, expect to see him shot through the heart at close range.  Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge, whose sister Frances has just been married, takes leave from Scotland Yard to sort his feelings. Restless, he decides to take a drive (longer than he expects) and discovers he is on his way to Ipswich.  He shrugs it off and continues until he has to put on the brakes to avoid the car in the road and the woman with bloodied hands standing over a man’s lifeless body.  The deceased is a well-liked bookstore owner, and Rutledge tells the Yard he’s on the case.

And what a case it is!  Rutledge finds there is nothing routine about the murder, and no real suspect emerges as he digs into the Wentworth family’s cold treatment of the victim. The villagers and monied residents alike have no dark tales to tell, and when a second murder victim is discovered, the sinister mystery intensifies.  Rutledge has to piece the puzzle together by investigating people who appear to be strangers or mere acquaintances.  A third murder in Sussex gets his attention, and even though Stevenson is on that case, he tracks down a man who started the catastrophic events in Wolf Pit.  The problem is, he’s been murdered as well.  Even so, Rutledge has enough to go on, so when he returns to Wolf Pit, he works his detection to a solution that stuns the reader to no end.

It is fortunate Rutledge was driving to Ipswich that night.  The murder victims would have been buried after inquests that stated the murderer was unknown.  This novel has the reader speculating from the start, and as usual with any Todd novel, the reader is taken aback by all the interwoven plot elements that are tied together in the end.  concerned will never be the same.  Certainly not Ian Rutledge’s life as he confronts another difficult case.

 

 

About the Reviewer:

Liz Phillips is a middle school educator and writer living in Southwest Virginia, a forgotten place in the Appalachian Mountains. Contact her at lizphillips.author@gmail.com.

 

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