Tag Archives: Jeanne Powers

The Monday Book: TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis

We return to our friend  Jeanne Powers for this week’s Monday Book….

to say nothingWhen Lady Schrapnell agrees to endow the time travel project, it seems like a dream come true for the researchers at Oxford University. They didn’t count on their benefactor deciding to use the project to re-create Coventry Cathedral, sending travelers back to umpteen different time periods to locate objects. Time lagged and exhausted, Ned Henry is sent back to Victorian England to recuperate away from the demanding patron. Unfortunately, he’s sent so hastily that he arrives unprepared to fit into an era of séances, village fetes, and penwipes. He lands at a railway station in 1888 where he meets a dreamy college student who spouts poetry and tends to fall in love suddenly, an eccentric Oxford professor, a bulldog named Cyril and a whole host of characters who could have walked out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. Ned is infatuated with Verity, a fellow time traveler, but he isn’t sure if it’s true love or time-lag. Whatever, they need to resolve a little problem caused by Verity’s accidental removal of an item that needs to be returned to its rightful place or else. . . well, they’re not quite certain what may happen but that might mean the downfall of civilization. At the very least they might be stuck in the past.

As you may have gathered, this is a difficult book to explain properly. I can tell you that it’s an entertaining adventure with science fiction, a bit of romance, some farce and a comedy of manners. I think it’s a delightful tale that should appear to a wide variety of readers, including those who don’t usually like science fiction or fantasy. One of my favorite scenes has a weary 1940 time traveler telling a colleague that a native asked about the Queen. “I told him she was wearing a hat. She did, didn’t she? I can never remember which one wore the hats.” They all did, is the response, except for Victoria. And Camilla. (It’s worth noting that this book was written in 1997.)

By the way, the title comes from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, but you don’t need to have read that to enjoy some of the in-jokes and brushes with history.

I’ve read it twice now, and enjoyed both times.  It’s part of a series which includes The Doomsday Book—a book that is considered a bit of a classic as it won both the Hugo and Nebula awards when first published—and the more recent WW II book, Blackout /All Clear. However, each is a standalone book.  While Dog is a much more light-hearted book than others in the series, Willis is using it to put forth her vision of time and time travel but wrapped up in an entertaining package.

I’ll admit the book drags a bit in the middle, but all the seeming side-trips play a role in the grand dénouement, making for a most satisfactory ending.

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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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Jeanne Powers’ Monday Book

 

041389b2caf661540eb4ebe445ddcf5dd96a288dThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent by his firm to a rather secluded English village in order to tie up the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow, a recently deceased elderly client. The villagers don’t seem inclined to discuss Mrs. Drablow, or anything else for that matter, though they do make Arthur welcome. At the funeral service, Arthur catches a glimpse of a woman in black lurking around the churchyard, but his inquiries are brushed aside. Resolutely, he prepares to go to Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow’s residence, which is in a marshy area accessible only at certain times due to the tides. Once there, he will be cut off from the outside world until such a time as the pony cart can cross the causeway to fetch him.

He’s going to wish he had taken a tide chart with him.

The subtitle of the book is “A Ghost Story” and that’s exactly what this is, in the best sense of the phrase. The old fashioned setting, the formal narration, even the nature of the story itself harkens back to those wonderful early ghost tales where the chills and thrills came from the mind and not blood spatter. Hill has perfectly captured the flavor of these Victorian tales . It’s beautifully written; Arthur, the narrator, is looking back at an event which shaped his life and he tells his tale without hyperbole or exaggeration. It has the ring of authenticity.

The book is just so wonderfully atmospheric. I could practically smell the sea air and shivered a bit in the dampness. While there were definitely warning signs, the book wasn’t over laden with signs and portents. The villagers may not have been over communicative, but there was nary a pitchfork nor cackling crone in sight. Arthur enjoys a hearty meal at the inn, a warm fire and a comfortable bed. The skies are blue and largely clear but cold. No air of menace hangs overhead.

The haunted aspects come later.

The ending is abrupt and I was taken aback at first, but it is the perfect ending. He has told his tale; there’s no analyzing or rationalization that this might have been just his imagination. This is what happened and, like the villagers, he has no wish to discuss it further.

There is a theatrical production of the book and there has been at least two movie versions but I don’t think either could ever capture the book, especially not the ending.

 

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Jeanne Powers’ Monday Book

Billy Feather BrainedFeather Brained:  My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder & Find a Rare Bird on My Own by Bob Tarte

Let me start out by saying I am a not a birder.  I can identify cardinals, robins, blue jays, and woodpeckers—providing the latter are pecking on wood when I see them.  That’s about it.  I thought birders must be born, not made.

Then I read Bob Tarte’s book Feather Brained. Bob was not a natural birder.  At the tender age of nine in an effort to be cool, he set out for the park armed with a second-hand book on birds and a set of opera glasses. Let’s just say that first foray was less than successful.

A mere twenty five years later, Bob was ready to strike out again.  This time the impetus was due to an even rarer find: a red haired lady named Linda with a love of life in general and nature in particular.  He gets identification books, listens to recordings of bird song, and joins online birding groups where alerts are posted so members can rush to an area and maybe, just maybe, spot a bird for their life list. It becomes Bob’s mission in life to spot such a bird so he can alert the group and be the hero for once.

The phrase “easier said than done” springs to mind at this juncture.

As with his earlier books (Enslaved by Ducks; Fowl Weather; Kitty Cornered), Bob writes with a self-deprecating humor.  Comparisons to Charlie Brown and his little red haired girl will not go amiss, although Bob also has to deal with Churchill’s black dog of depression.  His eye for detail and description is as keen as ever, even when prowling around a sewage pond for rare birds.  He’s accompanied on many of his expeditions by Bill Holm who, as Bob explains, “didn’t particularly like birds, but he liked them more than he liked people.” Bob’s strength as a birder is to identify birds by their songs, so he depends on Bill to spot the birds, point out his errors, and make unmerciful fun of him for being so wrong.  Even though some of the episodes border on slapstick in Bob’s recounting—I laughed out loud as he and Linda risk life and limb to check out an osprey’s nest built on a train trestle—the book was a wonderful look at how birders can indeed be made, not born.  I found it reassuring as Bob misidentified wrens, grew frustrated at distinguishing calls, and sulked at birds that wouldn’t show up where they were supposed to be.

But above all else, Feather Brained is a romance. Oh, sure, Bob learns to love birds and birding, but it is his love for Linda that shines through the pages.  They would seem to be polar opposites:  Linda is the free spirit who lived happily in a small trailer in the woods while Bob enjoys creature comforts like electricity and running water. Where Linda sees rainbows, Bob sees dark clouds with tornado potential.  Love conquers all, however, and throughout the book Bob’s devotion never waivers, not through feeding mealworms to orphaned starlings, chipping away ice for the ducks, or being pelted with soggy monkey chow by a cantankerous parrot.  It must be true love.

And, hey—maybe I’ll take another look at that bird book I have in the basement.

 

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