Tag Archives: Goodreads

The Monday Book: GNOMELAND by Margaret Egleton

Many thanks to Jeanne Powers for this review!

gnomelandGnomeland:  An Introduction to the Little People

 

First off, this is not a sequel to Gnomes by Wil Huygen, the marvelous and charming “natural history” of the shy Holland gnomes.  No, this is a book about garden gnomes.

 

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, garden gnomes seem to pop up everywhere.  Travelocity even has a spokesgnome, possibly inspired by a rash of gnome-nappings a few years back, in which a person or persons would swipe a garden gnome and take photos of it in various settings, sometimes sending postcards back to the owner from the gnome to illustrate its travels.

Egleton devotes the first few pages of the book to a very brief overview of gnomes in general, noting that there are several variations and tracing the origin both gnomes and their appearance. Then she delves specifically into the evolution of the classic garden gnome.

The earliest statues of the “classic” garden gnome apparently were created in the late 19th century when a large ceramic industry met an enthusiasm for garden decoration. The early figures were more of the bearded and wizened little old man variety before morphing into bright and merry little figures, which Egleton attributes to Disney’s cute little dwarf characters from Snow White.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was about the early creators of garden gnomes. Philipp Griebel added the figure to his factory shortly after opening in 1874, causing Grafenroda, Germany to lay claim to being the birthplace of the modern gnome, though there are those who would challenge this.  August Heissner apparently began creating hand-painted clay gnomes for sale around 1870.

But all of this pales beside the glorious photos of gnomes of all sorts. There are bathing beauties, politicians (there are several versions of George W. Bush), athletes, naughty gnomes, and smoking and drinking gnomes.  “Mobile Joe” is a gnome with a cell phone who crashed the Chelsea Flower Show, despite the “no gnomes” rule.  There are some astounding photos of “gnome gardens” with large collections.  One woman took inspiration from George Harrison, who had posed with the Friar Park gnomes for two albums, and created a gnome garden in tribute to the Beatle.

Gnomes are a world-wide phenomenon: they can be found all over Europe, North and South America, and even Antarctica.  Australia seems to be particularly fond of gnomes, harboring several large gnome gardens and organizations dedicated to preservation and proliferation of gnomes. “Gnomesville” in Australia has become quite the tourist attraction, despite a lack of parking and toilets.

Even if you think gnomes are tackiness personified (the book says they’ve “been restored to their rightful place of kitsch honor”) you’ll smile at some of the creative ways people have used gnomes.  It may just inspire you to add a gnome or two to your own garden. Or not.

 

Note:  this review is written by a person who has pink flamingos in the garden

 

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GINA DUNCAN’S MONDAY BOOK

“The Secret to Hummingbird Cake” by Celeste Fletcher McHale

 

26893373For over two years, I have been reading mostly historical fiction and suspense/thriller mystery books.  Not wanting to get “burned out” or “stuck” on the same types of books, I thought I’d try reading a contemporary Christian or southern women’s fiction book.  By making a change in my reading genres, I discovered a new author and her first book. (As an avid reader, I am open to reading new or “new to me” authors’ books.)  Celeste Fletcher McHale’s book “Secret to Hummingbird Cake” was such a wonderful change for me.

In case you didn’t know, the South is not only famous for good manners, great football, juicy gossip, but also delicious food. Most of the time food and maybe the recipe is shared with extended family and/or true friends. Since Hummingbird Cake is one of my favorite cakes and one that I make for my family’s dinner every Christmas Eve, I was drawn to this book by its title and the cover of the book, a Hummingbird Cake.
It’s been a long time that I’ve read such an emotional book which made me laugh and cry, sometimes close together or maybe simultaneously. (And yes, women can cry and laugh at the same time!) While reading “Secrets to Hummingbird Cake,” there were times when I wanted to even scream out loud and shake some sense into the characters. But when three truly devoted, life-long friends with such different personalities get together, you never know what can happen. Sure, I didn’t agree with some of the language or choices made, but this book is a wonderful story about friendship, forgiveness, and faithfulness.

I won’t spoil the ending of this book.  But I can’t remember reading a book that kept me so enthralled that I not only read it in one sitting, but I also stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it.  “Secrets to Hummingbird Cake,” is one of my all-time favorite books, and I am looking forward to reading more books by Ms. Hale.

 

Gina Duncan

 

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LIZBETH PHILLIPS’ MONDAY BOOK

It has been just over twenty-MC Beaton The Witches' Tree Book Jacketfive years since Marion Chesney, under the name  M. C. Beaton, penned the first Agatha Raisin detective mystery. Her most recent in the twenty-eight novel series, The Witches’ Tree (Minotaur Books, October 2017, 277 pages), is by design a not-so-cozy cozy mystery.

The Witches’ Tree takes place in the Cotswold village of Sumpton Harcourt, not far from Agatha Raisin’s cottage in Carsley. The novel begins at the home of bumbling Sir Edward Chumble with a disastrous dinner party to welcome the new vicar and his wife to the village.  It is a foggy night, but the dense mist thins enough for Rory and Mollie Devere to discover an elderly woman’s body hanging from a gnarled witches’ tree on the edge of the village.  Later two more bodies show up, and Agatha Raisin feels pressured to find the murderer so her Mircester detective agency benefits from positive press coverage.

People who live in Cotswold cottages do not lead squeaky-clean lives, so Agatha enlists the help of her ex-husband James and potential love interest Sir Charles Fraith to dig up dirt on the neighbors and ferret out the killer. A coven of witches in Sumpton Harcourt complicates the plot, and Agatha soon becomes a target because she does not scare off easily.  In the end, though, she gets her man—the villain, not a love interest.

One of the driving forces through the entire cozy series is Agatha’s desire to be successful, settled down, and madly in love with her husband.  She is successful (retired public relations executive, owner of a respected detective agency) owns a lovely thatched cottage in the Cotswolds (instead of a luxury London flat), and—whoops—no husband yet.  Time and again, Agatha’s pursuit of eligible bachelors sets her up for grave disappointment, which keeps her life far from perfect. By the end of this particular novel, Agatha has an epiphany, and diehard fans can appreciate the poignant moment when she finally sees her knight.  For once she doesn’t mess things up, and readers feel her pain and disillusionment when her love interest recognizes the moment of truth and blows it.  The chaotic pace of Agatha’s life is reflected in the book, and in the end, readers are desperate for a twenty-ninth Agatha Raisin novel so their heroine can take another stab at happiness.  Hopefully, the next murder weapon is not a knife.

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Jean Spradlin-Miller’s Monday Book

Jean Spradlin-Miller, an animal lover from Birmingham, Alabama brings us the Monday Book this week!

w204The Truest Pleasure, by Robert Morgan, has become one of my favorite books. I stumbled over it several years ago when browsing through the bookstore in search of a new book to read. What attracted me to Morgan’s novel are the time and the location. I’ve always loved books, such as Cataloochee and Cold Mountain, which are about the people in the southern Appalachian Mountains, since many of my ancestors came from this area.

The Truest Pleasure tells the story of the marriage of Ginny and Tom Powell, who marry near the turn of the last century. There is much that they have in common. They both love the land, both had fathers who fought in the Civil War, and both have a powerful attraction to each other. Ginny’s father survived the War, returning to cultivate his land in western North Carolina and create a secure home for his family. Tom’s father, however, died in a prison camp, and Tom has had to struggle most of his life to provide for his mother and siblings. Ginny and Tom’s marriage, they know, is also an advantageous one for them both – security and peace of mind for Tom, and a proper husband for Ginny.

But there are things that cause a rift in their marriage. Because of the poverty of his youth, Tom is consumed with work and the accumulation of money, which haven’t really brought him the peace of mind he seeks. On the other hand, Ginny is passionate about her Pentecostal beliefs and is swept up in the fervent spirit of the brush arbor meetings, where she “speaks in tongues” and becomes filled with the Holy Spirit. Tom is horrified by what he sees as her loss of dignity and self-control, but Ginny sees it as a blessing from God for her spiritual well-being. Over time, Ginny becomes jealous and impatient with Tom’s preoccupation with work and money. These obsessions cause a deep division between Tom and Ginny, where they no longer speak, nor are they even physical with one another.

Ginny and Tom’s marriage ultimately reaches a major crisis. Ginny finally realizes that her truest pleasure is not her love of God, but that through her love and personal sacrifice for her husband Tom, she shows her love for God. This is a beautifully written novel, giving you a real understanding of the time, and the place and its people, without ridicule or condescension. Morgan personally knows this place, and shows it through his respect for the characters and their way of life.

I met Robert Morgan several years ago at a book signing, shortly after the release of his biography of Daniel Boone. For years, I had been praising his work to anyone who would listen, and I was excited about meeting him. I had the good fortune in being able to speak to Mr. Morgan alone for more than a few seconds. He was very generous with his time; we spoke at length about writing and character development, and his personal method of working. He was such a gentleman, and I will always be grateful to him for sharing with me.

 

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The Monday Book: ENTERING THE SILENCE by Thomas Merton

capI picked this up in Philly at Neighborhood Books, run by the kind colorful local character Curtis. I didn’t know at the time it was a near-famous book; I was writing about silence and thought it would be interesting as research. But it’s actually the second volume of Thomas Merton’s surprising bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton became a Cistercian (Trappist) monk and wrote a lot about his spiritual journey. In Silence, he wrote about visiting two other orders, and how he decided to join.

The book is in three sections, each dealing with an order. One is the hardworking Trappists, who Merton says pretty much consider prayer, work, and hardship as all under the umbrella of prayer. When he asks one of the monks what it feels like to be part of such an order, the monk asks, “Have you ever been in love?” When Merton affirms, the monk says, “Well, like that.”

The first description will speak to writers, because it’s as much about Merton–who has come to the silence of the monks to get away from distractions and allow himself to write–discovering he is distracted by the silence. He needs to fill it up, get away from it, silence it. He almost fears it. And it doesn’t help him write, not until he gets to a new idea of time and commitment and passion (which is very eloquently described).

The next two descriptions are more just depictions of the living Trappists and the deceased Capadocians, where he visits the little caves that used to be their homes and pretty much comes out of that description thanking God it isn’t a choice anymore, or he might have felt compelled to make it. (That’s them in the photo at the top.) This isn’t a book with a story, more like getting inside someone’s head for an hour. If you’ve ever read A Grief Observed, it kinda reads like that – completely different subject matter, but just “here, and that’s all I have to say.” Yet said with such thoughtful eloquence.

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The Monday Book: ISTANBUL PASSAGE by Joseph Karon

We apologize for recent glitches in the blog timing. We were experimenting with presetting, and it’s not been going well. We’re going back to manual settings and will be good for Monday, Wednesday and Friday regular blogs henceforth. Technology wins again…. :] and now, Jack’s review of ISTANBUL PASSAGE
I’m a sucker for spy novels, and Wendy and I recently spent two weeks in Istanbul, so this screamed at me when it came into the shop.
I wasn’t disappointed!
Karon is often compared to Le Carre and Greene and my first observation to Wendy was “this is a cross between ‘The Third Man’ and ‘Smiley’s People’”.
The plot is both dense and enthralling – I was continually sucked in and drawn along. To begin with I was confused (actually, after finishing the book I had to go back and re-read the first few chapters). Wendy and I had not only visited Istanbul, but also Romania (not to mention Rumania and Roumania), so all the settings meant a great deal to me. Did being familiar with the places make the book more meaningful? I really don’t know!
Having said that, I definitely got an extra jolt from knowing the settings of the story.
Briefly this is a tale set in Istanbul just after the 2nd World War and as the Cold War is getting going. I had either forgotten or never realized that Turkey was neutral during that war. It was, therefore, one of those strange places like Switzerland and Portugal where the spies, diplomats or black-marketeers could mingle and play out their dramas. One of the main characters is an American businessman who’s become a ‘semi-detached’ spy and another is a Romanian double-agent. In the end the story ends up being about their relationship as much as anything else.
The descriptions of Istanbul rang very true. The book is set in 1946, but all the descriptions of streets and landmarks are just familiar enough to take me back there. Not just that, but the atmosphere as well!
When Wendy and I were flying home from Istanbul after our 15th anniversary vacation last year, one of the movies on the plane was the latest James Bond, which started with a scene in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar – we’d just been there and one of the settings in Karon’s book is also there. Not just that, but Wendy had almost been pick-pocketed there as well.
In the end the book is about choices. Who you owe most to and where your loyalties lie.
There’s an interesting interview with Karon at the end of the edition we have where he says that the best spy novels are not about spying but more about moral dilemmas. I wonder whether all the best books, no matter what the genre, are about those?

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These are a Few of my Favorite (Internet) Things

sheepWe all have a few go-to things we use to cheer up, like Old King Cole who “called for his fiddlers three.” Over and over again, I find myself returning to three quick online videos, when the Tree of Life shakes in The Winds of Adversity, and tumbles me out of my Happy Place.

The shocking thing about this list is that only one of them is a cat video…..

Here’s the Cats with Thumbs video (be sure you watch to the very last second):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6CcxJQq1x8

Here’s the Singing Duck, for difficult days. (Jack says when he hears this coming from my computer, he’s the one who ducks.):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRFoiD6Pptc

And here is The Goat, which you can pretty much pop like a happy pill before doing something you dread:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=793433460668309&set=vb.207933782551616&type=2&theater

And then, just when I thought the Internet couldn’t get any better, someone sent me a link to the Stephen Colbert report on A***on’s new lawsuit. A handful of Little Bookstore Goodreads reviews have said things like “unnecessarily harsh to A***on, which is a great service for self-publishing authors to get their works out there, not to mention great prices.” (BTW did you know that A***on owns Goodreads?)

Mhmm. Dream on, children, that Big Daddy loves you. Meanwhile, watch this. We small business owners are–over, and over, and over, smiling like the evil bad putters-down of the Big A that we are:

http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/t1nxwu/amazon-vs–hachette—sherman-alexie

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