Browsing Books: In the Big City Edition

Some time ago I spent a year that I wasn’t planning to alongside a large L48 metropolis, in one of the suburbs’ own cities. Because I was dirt poor and many, many were having a hard time finding a job, let alone an outsider, book purchases were a pipe dream and I developed a serious library addiction.

I was super excited about it, thinking this would be my chance to see a larger library’s awesome collection, what books and DVDs they had that my own didn’t. I expected a rich supply of literary fiction and non-fiction, foreign films and maybe even luscious cookbooks. What I found was a rundown library, many of whose books were in poor condition and a not-very-wide selection of materials, including DVDs that you had to pay $2.00 each to borrow–I think you got to keep it for two days at least.

This was really shocking to me because people in this area acted like Alaska was a backwoods hole populated by illiterates. In fact, because we do have a lot of far-flung bush communities, we’d been a bit ahead of many other regions in utilizing technology, and our library’s programs and acquisitions operated in similar manner. We’re a little out of the way, so we tend to keep ahead when we can to ensure we aren’t left behind what others are doing. Sure, the library had a ridiculous outdoor staircase completely unsuited to our climate, but the building housed our assembly chambers and a magnificent collection of books, audio and video, even a sizable section devoted to Alaskana. Patrons’ cards linked to the university library, the acquisitions department of which employed talented buyers with keen eyes for fantastic materials.

So what was the deal with this place? You have to pay to borrow video materials? Seriously? The staff were not all that friendly though, to be fair, times were rough and the entire region was dealing with the major emotional fallout of 9-11. Still, this treatment was the rule, not the exception, and I learned quickly to just figure things out for myself, which was OK because once more I came upon an opportunity: having to figure it all out for myself I would surely come across treasures I might not otherwise.

This is my favorite of all this book's various editions' covers.
This is my favorite of all the editions’ covers.

It was in these days I discovered Alexander McCall Smith, specifically The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, not realizing at the time there was a whole series to go with it. To this day I still gobble up his books, including other lineups, wonderful reads that are unsatisfying in the sense that you always want more–and he typically delivers, as he is an amazingly prolific writer. So I wasn’t terribly impressed with this library, but I’ll always remember it as the place that birthed my love for Mma Ramotswe. Even nowadays my son and I still say “Koko!” when looking to see if someone is home and talk about how much pula we might need to buy something. He says he’s not terribly interested in the DVD series, but when I watch it he comments about scenes, predicting events and displaying his keen detective eye!

I did occasionally make my way to the book shops, though until I had been in this city almost a full year I was never able to afford to purchase books. At that time I’d finally gotten some temporary work and though money was still tight, very tight, I decided I could make one celebratory purchase–and it had better be good. Before then I’d always purchased books like they were going out of style but now … I had to seriously justify this one.

The most widely read Persian novel, originally titled Savushun, by the first major Iranian women novelist

In the end I chose a book about Iran that I won’t specifically name, because I don’t have a lot good to say about it. Well, to be honest, I no longer remember much about it except my criticism, one major portion of which was that the author came off as incredibly condescending and pompous. He also wrote about an Iranian author, so graciously telling us plebes that he would go into more detail than he usually might (completely paraphrased; I forget his exact phrases), since the book he was discussing had not been translated into English.

As I read his words, the story seemed so very familiar, yet I couldn’t place it. It bothered me for weeks because though I tried to tell myself I’d probably read of it in another book, it still nagged at me. I no longer recall how I figured it out, but figure it I did and was even more appalled at the author’s patronizing attitude. The book he’d written about was A Persian Requiem by Simin Daneshvar; I recall grabbing it off the shelf at our local bookstore once I’d spotted the design. While I’m certainly no authority–not even close–I’d been reading books about Iran and Iranians since some time and frequently sought out new (and old) titles. So if a novice like me could figure this out, how did this author not know the book was published in English since about 1992? I was irritated by his snootiness, and disappointed because I felt I’d wasted my money, but even more so a sort of event. It was the first book I’d purchased in nearly a year. Bah.

Dakhmeh, by Naveed Noori. An outstanding book that I nevertheless am unsure I could read again. It is haunting in its brilliance--too haunting.
Dakhmeh, by Naveed Noori. An outstanding book that I nevertheless am unsure I could read again. It is haunting in its brilliance–too haunting.

Another novel I came across, though didn’t purchase until later was the haunting tale of an Iranian-born American who returns to his country only to find himself up against a system corrupted, and a society to which he cannot contribute in a positive manner. In desperation he commits an act of defiance that in the U.S. would attract no notice but in Iran sets the forces of the secret police upon him. I was so amazed that such expenditure of resources could be allowed to investigate the character, marveling in horror as the anxiety-provoking pursuit leapt up from the pages and into my own aura. When author Naveed Noori describes an illness Arash suffers, I felt oppressed by the heat of fever, as if I myself were sweating, my clothes layered with the weight of the humidity bearing down on me, the closeness of the air wrapping itself around, suffocating in its terrible embrace. It was an amazing read, but that power of words was quite overwhelming. The Zoroastrian tower of silence implicit in the title and manipulated by the current regime to deliver a slow living death to society and individual alike, with only silence as response, is devastating.

In the end I came back to Alaska, bringing with me some habits I’d picked up or utilized when in the big city, such as book browsing. It took me a long time to begin buying books again because even after I had money again, I’d been too deeply ingrained into that need to justify buying any. Our library system links with libraries all over Alaska and the interlibrary loan (ILL) program is fairly massive. So if a book isn’t owned by the Juneau library, for example, but is by Nome’s, you can still borrow it–and that’s just the ordinary checkout. ILL has gotten books for me from far-flung corners of the U.S., though I rarely have to use it.

Nowadays I do purchase, but also browse books a lot. For a bibliophile, no salary ever pays enough to be able to afford books (!), but my son and I have embraced the habit also for the slowness, the deliberate nature of it. Sometimes we make an afternoon jaunt of it, packing lunches and strolling through the new fiction and non-fiction, Teen Underground (him), DVDs (he’s a film aficionado) and other sections just to see what’s out there. So what developed out of necessity now is a way to share the love of books with my child, spending some cool time together.

Some “browsies” are longer or shorter than others, and somehow they always seem to have some theme, perhaps linked to what’s on my mind at the time. Because it’s also a fun way to share books, and memories of them, with people apart from doing book reviews, I’ve decided to keep this “Browsing Books” going, for the time being at least, as a series. As with all other entries, I would so love you to share–as I say to my little boy, it’s more fun that way.

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What’s in a Book?

 

crystal cave
This is the cover of the copy I had as a teenager. Together with the image on The Hollow Hills, Merlin and his time sang out for me.

As you have likely figured, I love books. Since childhood I have reveled in the feel of a book in my hands and been drawn by the stories within. The Crystal Cave was one such force. Having grown up hearing my mother tell tales from King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, I thought I’d had enough, at least at that point, and stowed the trilogy she’d purchased (anyway) on the shelf in my night table. When dusting one day the book did what you hear about in films: it called to me. I tried to clean around it but the world within was relentless, beckoning, pulling, whispering my fate. I remember still being crouched on the floor next to my bed as I reached the fourth of fifth chapter.

For my money, this is what a book should do–get a hold on you and resist letting go. One author remarked that one of the greatest compliments he can get is when someone says they lost sleep reading his work. Dinner burns; you hang onto the strap in the Metro with one hand, open book in the other; errands fall by the wayside; or you keep thinking about what happened last and when a free moment comes once more, you head for that book. There are a lot of ways to feel the pull and I know many of you share the sentiment when I say it is a wonderfully delicious sensation.

Hollow Hills
The cover I knew way back when. It was as if I recognized the place I was from, and longed to return.

Later, in university, I was so fortunate to enter the classroom of an amazing professor whose classroom style, wealth of information and sheer love of literature–you could feel it in the air and settling on your being–was so infectious that she practically had followers. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but I was delighted to discover I was not the only one who had found one day that something was different about our love of reading. It had reached a whole new level. Perhaps we understood about the key she had just handed us, that she was teaching us how to unlock the door to yet more worlds. There’s no way to teach anybody everything there is to know about literature in four years, and I do admit to having been a bit burnt out toward the end, but what I learned about it, what else I can see and gather from what is present in any story–and not–made it all the more rich and rewarding. Many others know more than I do, and so the learning process continues, and will, until I am no more. She gave that to me, to us.

It’s a great honor for me to be able to perform even a fraction of what this gifted professor did. Reading is so important in life, the earlier the better, for practical as well as “leisurely” reasons, and if I am able to open up this world to anyone, even lead them to a fantabulous story they remember for life, I consider that a great success. It reminds me of a poem a friend once gifted me inside a greeting:

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.–Ralph Waldo Emerson

So it starts with practicality: great recommendations toward books worthy of the time, money and energy readers invest in them. I only review works that meet this criteria.

That said, what exactly does it take to meet this criteria? Any given reviewer, myself or anyone else, has his or her own tastes, some of which may overlap with others’. Ultimately it comes down to the question Would you tell others they should read this? with a breakdown to the following points:

  • The blurb describes a plot that captures my attention and develops within the book in a well-written, logical and authentic style. It is researched well.
  • The work maintains a reasonable balance between being reader- and writer-friendly. That is to say it doesn’t spoon feed me information or isn’t dumbed down, but also doesn’t rely on referential material the author is withholding or unreasonably expecting me to know already.
  • Characters are developed and meaningful; I grow to care for and remember them long after the book is finished.
  • The language is lovely—the words needn’t be posh or expensive, but they are more than mere vehicles for the transit of information. Instead they touch me in a way that draws me in and makes me think. I also appreciate words that flow like water off my tongue as I read them aloud.
  • I become so invested with the book I don’t want to put it down.
  • Economy: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” As short as Hemingway’s six-word short story is, it tells a tale that even can be interpreted in more ways than one, and that impresses me. It’s a somewhat extreme example of how someone can say a lot with very few words, but it gets the point across rather well, no? I very much admire authors who can do this.
  • Literary techniques are utilized so seamlessly the links they create seem part of the natural landscape

While this is not an exhaustive listing, it covers the major areas where I look for quality. Of course, some books touch each of us on different levels, which is one reason I enjoy reading reviews as well as writing them. This enables me to get a glimpse through the eyes of another onto the world we share, the same books we may experience. Some books find their way to a special spot in my reader’s heart, such as The Crystal Cave and the rest of The Merlin Trilogy. No matter how often I read them, I am transported and the world outside pauses as I join this one, as happened to me first during that long-ago teenage day.

thelastenchantment02.png
By the time I reached this volume in the series, I was losing that feeling of knowing there was still so much more ahead to read. It triggered a quest in me: to find and read every book about Merlin and King Arthur I could find. My mother watched knowingly, willingly chauffeuring me from library to library, bookstore to bookstore. 

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Storm

In the Shadow of the Storm (Book I in The King’s Greatest Enemy series)

by Anna Belfrage

Prior to reading In the Shadow of the Storm I had devoured Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga series in its entirety—more than once. I think I may have read the first, A Rip in the Veil, perhaps four or five times. They just never grow old. Her writing is fluid, the characters likable and events dramatic and keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your seat thrilling.

shadowHowever, I wondered. Belfrage herself had said she didn’t think this new series would be my cup of tea and indeed I don’t know 1321 England, where the novel is set, all that well. It wasn’t difficult for me to take the plunge, however, because my previous experience with her work is of being immersed in reader-friendly writing. That is to say she doesn’t withhold information, expecting you to know every reference or nuance in order to enjoy the book. Nor does she spoon feed readers information as if we were not to be trusted handling history.

The story opens as Kit de Courcy is abducted with intent of dropping her in place of her half—and legitimate—sister, Katherine de Monmouth, who is scheduled to marry Adam de Guirande, vassal to Roger, Baron Mortimer. Forced into “replacing” her runaway sister, whose appearance she mirrors, Kit goes through with the wedding, followed by constant tension tempered by Mabel, Katherine’s servant, whose own history with the family is long.

In this time of Edward II, who allows his favorites to unduly and dangerously influence him, despite their own personal ambitions, awaiting fate has a chilling feel. Hugh Despenser the Younger scatters his own supporters amongst the king’s officers, is an unyielding gatekeeper and demands bribes before he will allow baronial access to Edward, a set of circumstances that lends him the opportunity to force relinquishment and confiscation of lands and lordships, rapidly accumulating his own real estate kingdom.

Baron Mortimer, whose family holds a long-standing feud with that of Despenser—owing to the battlefield death of the latter’s grandfather committed by the former’s—watches in horror as Despenser’s power grows and frightening fate comes closer to reality. The Marcher barons initially succeed in having Despenser exiled, though the king protects his favorite, even seizing Welsh lands with the intent to grant them to Despenser. His alliance with Despenser and refusal to stop the violation of his own barons’ privileges put all involved on a clear path to war.

Belfrage succinctly opens up and lays this all out with a narrative that is accessible, polished and enticing. History is never dull with this author, and even an era unknown opens wide, beckoning for readers to step within as she guides us, not only fearlessly on her part, but also while putting us at ease. Once you get rolling, you won’t want to put this book down.

Owing fealty to Mortimer, de Guirande is required to follow his lord, even while he fears he has overreached. After all, this is a time when some officials outright refuse to be in Edward’s presence if Despenser is with him, for fear of being murdered. These concerns overlap his domestic anxieties, what with the rumors concerning his new wife and the baron, his brother reminding him at every turn and Katherine’s bizarre behavior. Slowly, however, the pair begin truly to grow as a couple and their bond sets Katherine—Kit—on a path closer to war as well.

It occurred to me that some readers may balk at what they see as a stereotypical forced marriage of the demure woman to a boisterous and aggressive man, whom she later falls in love with, fights others for and so on. However, it also remains viable that we seem so familiar with these alliances because, unlike weddings followed by years of drudgery and dull existence, even if those were far more common, the former received much more press. To begin with, these pairs were historically more likely to be literate, therefore capable of expressing themselves and recording their experiences. Moreover, even amongst our ancestors, stories of women acting outside the standards of behavior, provided they advanced only to certain spots outside, were far more entertaining than long narratives about women who duly washed dishes for the lengths of their lives. And, of course, our female kin were more likely to enjoy stories in which their sisters, at least to some extent, won what so many wanted: the happiness of having secured a spot in which a woman mattered beyond her ability to reproduce.

So while Adam and Kit falling for one another might not come as a surprise, what happens within all that is to Belfrage’s credit. Her characters are multi dimensional and their lives do not play out according to script. They are complex people with a variety of perspectives on the complicated affairs in their country, which they are required to respond to not only to inform their lives but also to protect them.

Kit having to work through her abduction—it being perpetrated by a woman is the first step in Belfrage’s defiance of the bad caricature of Vedic-like wife stealing—and deal with how to move forward in light of her own experience, principles, fears and, let’s face it, reality of politics, affect her relationships with Adam and Mabel as they weave through each interaction. There are no easy outs, and the author remains true to historical reality by remaining within its confines.

Ever since Adam rode away, Kit seemed to spend her days in endless vigil. Not that she stood on the curtain wall all the time—Lady Joan would not have allowed it—but her mind was always with him, wondering if he was cold, if he was well and alive. Outwardly she maintained a rigid calm, submerging herself in her sewing to allow her thoughts to wander, unimpaired, to him.

 “In God’s hands,” Mabel sighed. “Best you pray, my lady.”

 So Kit did, becoming a recurring visitor to the little chapel.

 “I did not expect such a devout sister-in-law,” William said with a little smile, when yet again he came upon her on her knees at the alter.

 “I did not expect to live through the fear of losing my man in warfare,” she retorted.

 “You didn’t?” He sounded surprised. “Men of noble birth have always ridden to war with depressing regularity.”

The author moves forward, taking Kit and the others beyond this, geographically as well as within the plot line. We see Kit settle in to who she is, gaining self confidence and growing close to her husband. It is classic Belfrage in the sense that her writing is so wonderfully sinuous, graceful or gritty when called for and one with our reading selves. However, Adam and Kit are their own people within a whole new story, and the events of their lives and perilous, changing times are brought to life with a force that informs and entertains with a staying power as strong as their will to claim their lives for themselves.

Inspired in large part by Ian Mortimer’s The Greatest Traitor, Belfrage not only delves into a period in history unfamiliar to many (including myself), but also does so with aplomb and expertise. Having woven a fictional story within historical events, both containing links back and forth to other political allies and enemies, kin and neighbor, events and consequences, it is one clearly articulated and recounted by a professional. Belfrage’s storytelling, so assured and captivating, is one of the reasons why humans innately love to hear a tale told.

The King’s Greatest Enemy continues in Days of Sun and Glory , most definitely a continuation I shall not like to miss, nor should you.

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From Anna Belfrage’s website

annaI was always going to be a writer – well in between being an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart’s favourite page (no double entendre intended – I was far too innocent at the time). Anyway, not for me the world of nine to five, of mortgages and salary checks. Oh no; I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room.

Life happened. (It does, doesn’t it?) I found myself the bemused holder of a degree in Business Admin, and a couple of years later I was juggling a challenging career, four kids, a husband (or was he juggling me?) a jungle of a garden, a dog, a house …. Not much time for writing there, let me tell you. At most, I stole a moment here or there.

Fortunately, kids grow up. My stolen moments became hours, became days, weeks, months …. It is an obsession, this writing thing. It is a joy and a miracle, a constant itch and an inroad to new people, new places, new times.

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Follow and learn more about Anna Belfrage and her work at her websiteTwitter and Facebook. Also stay tuned for an upcoming interview wit Belfrage and more book reviews of her fantabulous stories!

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A copy of In the Shadow of the Storm was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

Images courtesy Anna Belfrage.

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Author Interview: Carol Edgerley (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner)

Stay tuned for my reviews of Claire and the upcoming Susanna: The Early Years, books II and III in The Merencourt Saga.

Today I am honored to welcome Carol Edgerley, author of the B.R.A.G. Medallionmarg-winning Marguerite, the story of her French great grandmother’s adventurous life and times. Born to privilege, Marguerite de Merencourt defies her parents’ ambition and chooses her own path. Her travels take her to British India where she learns and begins to pay the price for the independence she claims.

Edgerley follows the saga up with Claire, which focuses on Marguerite’s firstborn daughter, and currently is working on a third book, Susanna. While all these women are strong characters determined to find success, they are very much their own people and the directions their lives take are as varied and unpredictable as anything fictional tales might serve up.

Interestingly, when reading Claire, by which time I had already read and reviewed its predecessor, I broke periodically, tablet at my side, to engage in chat with Miss Edgerley. She was first to “see” my reactions to what I had been reading and we discussed families, ambition, children—all kinds of topics. It was a great experience and, unplanned as it was, provided a real opportunity for both of us to unpack some of our thoughts, ideas, responses to life events, coming from different perspectives as they do, and contemplate it all in a thoughtful fashion. It was amazing to experience alongside my reading, and I shall treasure the memory always.

claireI, too, enjoyed the unexpected dialogue about Claire with you, Lisl!  It’s not every day that I have the opportunity of “seeing” somebody’s reaction to a book I have written. I was also impressed that you did not immediately condemn Claire for being a double-dyed bitch: she was a complex character, had a difficult childhood, was sometimes stupidly impulsive, but capable of deep love and loyalty. Claire was so like her mother in temperament…but without her innate courage.

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Carol Edgerley! It’s so wonderful to get to chat to you again! How have you been doing these days? Hopefully the sun has been shining strongly in your neck of the woods.

So this is probably a question you frequently get: You were meant—on orders of your mother, who was not pleased with your math scores—to be learning from an auntie handpicked to tutor you. Instead the pair of you got into conversations about her family. As you write in your foreword, once you asked, she was off and running. So it took no cajoling or persuasion to get her going? Did she try to tell a little but then get back to math? Did you have to ask a few times? Or did she pretty much abandon that project? (giggles) Did your math grades improve at all? 

My great-aunt Christina was a real sweetie as well as being a mathematician and teacher. Faced with the (undoubtedly) sulky face of her niece, maybe it wasn’t altogether surprising she was easily distracted from the onerous task in hand? Did my grades improve? Er…no. I can add, subtract, multiply and divide and still know my multiplication tables!

How long after hearing these details and stories did you begin to write down the bits and pieces? Before you began to seriously work on the first book, had you any idea you would become a writer?

I never did write anything down. The story seemed to be branded on my mind, occasionally trotted out in conversation when appropriate (discussing one’s unusual relatives for instance). I was a dedicated teacher with no thought of becoming a writer.

Marguerite was a formidable woman who overcame a lot. She escaped an arranged marriage, but alienated her family. What if she had gone ahead with the marriage? Do you think her strong will could have seen her through it to be as ambitious and productive as she proved to be apart from it?

From my own standpoint, I think Marguerite would have carried the mantle of Countess magnificently, despite her young age! Her strong will might well have clashed with her older and possibly more conventional husband’s family, but I am sure Marguerite would have brushed all that aside. And she would always have had the support of her father and grandparents.

Are there any other books, authors or styles that influenced how you wrote Marguerite’s story?

Not for Marguerite. I wrote about her in longhand from the heart (subsequently investigating the mysteries of a computer, Mac Word and email) and later transcribed the manuscript to a computer, editing chunks with lots of swear words as I went. I don’t think I ever thought about style per se…I merely liked the way Rosamund Pilcher wrote her books for instance. Also Judith Kranz’s writing appealed to me.

Have you met Marguerite de Merencourt? If so, what was your impression of her? Did she give any clues as to her impression of you?

I believe Marguerite saw me as an infant, and apparently declared me to be on the scrawny side and needed feeding up! I would have loved to meet her when she was a girl…so much fun in spite the constraints of a difficult youth.

horserace
Sadly, no pictures of Marguerite are now known to exist; she was not very keen to be photographed. From childhood Minette, as she was affectionately called, drew great comfort from and loved horses dearly. Above: Calcutta Racecourse

What traits do you think you inherited from your great grandmother? My guess would be the animal lover in you. (I must show you that magazine spread about the donkey sanctuary in Ireland, by the way!) What else?

Yes, a love of animals of course, especially horses. I suppose I also inherited a core of steel that has enabled me to cope with life’s difficulties…if not always correctly! Other than that, I have dark curly hair like she had…and I regard France as the country where I have roots….

What is your favorite part of writing?

I love relating amusing incidents, also vignettes that are exciting or adventurous. I hated writing about the negative aspects of my girls…but that’s how it was after all.

Do you have other ideas banging around for future projects?

There is still the second half of Susanna’s life (volume 2) to come, after which there is the fascinating story of Olivia…all supposing I can pin her down to garner all the pertinent points of her life and factual events!!  Not an easy task as Olivia is a great traveller….

Do you have an all-time favorite book (or series)?

I adore all David Starkey’s historical books as well as Simon Schama’s. Alison Weir is also a favourite author of mine. At the opposite end of the scale I enjoy Mary Higgins Clark’s novels, also Martina Cole and Lynda le Plante’s thrillers.

Apart from your relatives and ancestors, are there any historical figures you would like to spend a day with if you had the chance? Or an historical event you would want to witness?

I would have loved to be around during Edward VIII’s scandalously salacious affair with Wallis Simpson! The woman actually referred to Queen Elizabeth as “Cookie”! As for spending the day, I guarantee there would be no boredom on a visit to the Tower of London and Hampton Court with David Starkey or Simon Schama!  My two heroes of all time!

Here are a few different kind of questions I thought might be fun…

Could you go a week without the Internet?

swimming pool
I’d wake up early for that pool!

I have gone five weeks without telephone or Internet, thanks to the local telephone guys’ incompetent messing up the line with “works”! GRRR!  It was like being “Confined to Barracks”!

 Are you an early or late riser?

Early. With children and animals…no chance of snoring till midday! After which it became habitual…and even if the opportunity presents itself, I simply can’t!

 What jokes make you really laugh out loud?

Silly caricatures or videos of animal antics that I post on my Facebook timeline, and the occasional bit of smut…provided it’s funny!

garden oneDo you buy flowers often?

Yes, I do…in winter!  I love my garden that is a mass of flowers from May onward…nothing arranged, just a profusion of colour and scents. In winter I buy bunches from the local supermarket!

What was your latest discovery?

An unwelcome one!  With increasing age I find I can no longer play with my weight…put on a kilo or two…lose them just as easily. Strong genes in the family condemn me to taking care of what I put in my mouth all the time!  Being a vegetarian doesn’t help much…but I believe I have finally found my personal answer to a reasonable weight and good health to boot!

What would you like to mention—book related or not—that we haven’t yet talked about?

garden twoI dread what the future holds regarding the overwhelming migrant problem Europe is facing.  All those who rant about “lack of humanity” and that all should be accepted into whatever country they wish…cannot have thought about clash of culture, school places, medical availability and housing, not to mention a lack of desire to integrate with the country’s own population.

Ability and willingness to integrate is so crucial, especially as concerns the country’s heritage. That’s why it’s so important that writers such as yourself record the lives of those who came before, and I am so grateful for this. Not just for the amazing reads, although there is that. From our ancestors we have also learned a great deal about our past and how to be better people. However, everyone must engage in this type of self reflection and bring the best to wherever they go.

Carol, thanks so much for taking the time to sit with me for a few and being such a great sport! I always enjoy our chats and am looking forward to more in the future. And as for that chat when reading Susanna–you’ve got it!

Me too, Lisl!  Keep smiling and in regular contact!  xxx

You bet!!!

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Carol Edgerley tells us in her own words a bit about her amazing life…

Born in Calcutta, Carol spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands. Educated first at a French convent, she then attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

carol edgerleyThroughout her long life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and Hong Kong.

A qualified teacher, Carol ran a successful tutorial in Hong Kong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of Marguerite in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears, Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, Mac Word and email…finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of Marguerite on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile,” Carol ventured into the world of self publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of Marguerite in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write Claire, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is Susanna: The Early Years (Volume 1), soon to be published, this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

Susanna: A Tale of Passion and Betrayal (Volume 2) will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Breakfast time!

Her two well-travelled horses now gone to heaven, she keeps five gorgeous, Baudet de Poitou donkeys. Adding to the animal family, there are two small bunnies living in their “château” and very large cage, a sweet barn cat, and an elderly cockatiel that can colourfully swear…when in the mood!

During summer months, Carol receives visitors at her bed & breakfast, helping to finance her large animal family and maintain her home.

You can follow Carol Edgerley and learn more about her work at her Facebook page for Marguerite as well as her own timelinewebsite and Twitter. And remember to pick up Susanna, latest addition in The Merencourt Saga.

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All images courtesy Carol Edgerley.

Book Review: Shaman’s Blues

Shaman’s Blues (Book II in the Mae Martin Mysteries series)

by Amber Foxx

A B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree

shamanSecond in Amber Foxx’s Mae Martin Mysteries series, Shaman’s Blues gives us a sneak peak into a dire moment in Jamie Ellerbee’s life, then re-opens with Mae Martin as she prepares to leave her Virginia practice where, until now, she offered energy healing and psychic services. A year since discovering her psychic ability, Mae is now in the midst of a divorce and about to embark on a journey to New Mexico, where she will attend university and re-unite with her father, who came out and separated from his family when Mae was a teenager.

Before leaving, her soon-to-be-former supervisor, Deborah, gifts a CD of healing music to Mae, with an “ulterior motive,” as Deborah playfully calls it. The musician, Jangerrai, seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, or at least from Santa Fe and all known Internet, and Mae is tasked with finding him.

It doesn’t take Mae long to encounter a variety of personalities: her father and his peevish partner, Niall; Kenny, her new neighbor; even Muffie Blanchette, owner of a local restaurant that caters to what Neill refers to as “spiritual tourism.” Dada Café, called after an art style later linked to theater, utilizes customers in a similar way as the stage movement, with the philosophy that the “audience is as much a part of the show as the actors.”

Muffie, who typically circulates, advising patrons on colors, food intake and the state of their auras, disappears following an encounter with pragmatic Mae, who is then informed by the manger, Roseanne, of Muffie’s stated intent to ascend. She thinks Muffie is a whackjob, and shows the psychic Muffie’s website:

Sri Rama Kriya teaches us how to choose our time and leave our bodies without pain or death, how to channel our spirits directly to the upper realms of energy and light. When you study Ascended Bliss, you are freed from the cycle of karma and rebirth, and from your body.

At this point Roseanne enlists Mae to find Muffie, steering her two searches together and leading the healer toward a path inhabited by a series of quirky characters of many temperaments. Foxx even sets the story in a place with a cautionary moniker: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, pertinent not only for being an unusual designation, but also the city’s acquisition of it whereby the inhabitants became part of the television show it gets its name from.

As I was getting started, I’d wondered if the book would read like a New Age novel, but Foxx keeps it diverse, with doubt even from Mae re: the veracity of some individuals’ beliefs, and includes the added bonus of treating vulnerable characters with dignity. Shaman’s Blues is also a smooth read with an intriguing landscape to match the sense of place infused within:

Openness to the odd fit with the character of the land: vast empty spaces of juniper-stubbled pink-beige dirt, dramatic wind-carved cliffs, narrow hoodoo towers, broad mesas, blood red arroyos, black volcanic teeth jutting from brown earth. Anything seemed possible here.

 Fortunately, Mae is open to these possibilities, and as she encounters answers new questions arise, leading her to be a detective of sorts in the life’s mysteries referred to in the series’ tagline, “Every life hides a secret.” What secrets are these two people hiding? As she makes considerable strides in her searches while also trying to live her life, Mae begins to recognize the realities of hiding behind created identities, to become someone more fascinating as well as more ordinary, to hide from others and from one’s own self.

As Mae locates Jangerrai and begins to unravel some of the mystery behind a semi exchange of roles involving the two missing persons, she becomes familiar with the world of the shaman, part of his world whereby an individual in aboriginal Australian society is chosen by the spirits to learn to utilize the elements and act as a go-between for the human and spiritual dimensions. It is a heady realm to be investigating and the skittish singer only slowly and reluctantly reveals to Mae the events that brought him to the place he now inhabits.

The journey is one that Foxx maps out with expertise and finesse, playing knowingly to reader expectations and drawing back at just the right moments. We feel Mae’s frustrations, sometimes groan at her enduring patience, and always eagerly read on to see what she is coming to know, whether it be more recounting of events or details that link her closer to understanding the past. It is a topographic exploration of the psyche to learn the lay of the land, and she must walk it to determine the features and their limitations, as well as which direction to move from there.

Few of us have the gifts Mae is given, but we have in common with her our own limitations, such as with a likeable but needy person who holds on too much, too long.

It was going to be a long, long night. Mae hoped she could get through it still liking him. He had the potential to either entertain her or get on her nerves, and it was a fifty-fifty which way things would go.

The author also tosses in the familiar in a new way—  “Whoop – missed the street – chuck a yewy”—and humor we can relate to—“a van that looked old enough to vote”— to create a balance of the fresh and familiar. In so doing, she also tells us a story with a potentially heavy framework, but in a manner that keeps us from having to perform the heavy lifting.

As she begins to wind down, Foxx also gives us a thrilling few moments, within the plot as well as where it all will take those involved, including readers. I personally was pleased to see that certain events do and do not transpire, and how the author takes us back to Mae’s beginnings while also showing the resultant links amongst various players. These are sure to spur readers to seek out number one in the series and learn the events in Mae’s own life, her marriage, the discovery of her gifts, everything that leads her to the moment she herself now inhabits, where we as readers first came together.

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AmberAmber Foxx has worked professionally in theater, dance, fitness, and academia. Her training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, including energy healing, bring authenticity to her work. She has researched psi phenomena through the scientific literature and by talking with seers and healers. A college professor and yoga teacher, she divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, living in Truth or Consequences during her New Mexico months.

The fifth book in the Mae Martin Series, set in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and the Mescalero Apache reservation, is well underway and should be out later in 2016.

You can learn more about and follow Amber Foxx at her website. Shaman’s Blues and other books are available for purchase at a variety of outlets and can be accessed here.

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A copy of Shaman’s Blues was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

Images courtesy Amber Foxx.

The Dust Bunnies Were Growling at Me

Spring cleaning commences!

Well, it starts, usually, with the innocent wiping down of cabinets, inside and out, the job that typically takes the longest because I despise it so much. It’s just not really fun. Washing dishes is soothing. Folding laundry can be relaxing. Wiping cabinets is about as inspirational as picking hair clogs out of bathtub drains. Fortunately I can usually get start-of-summer and spring cleaning knocked out in a weekend.

This time it started in the bedroom–and at least two days before I began the cleaning. My 12-year-old boy suggested moving the furniture to a newer setup and though I’d dismissed it, I didn’t really. Later in the week I found myself surveying the room, doing the chin rubbing thing. Was I really about to do this to myself? Imagine the size of the dust bunnies under there.

I had to. It’s a little known fact that Alaska can be quite dusty, and those things are alive down there. But getting under the bed is impossible as I have a wooden bed frame that connects to the head- and footboard and if you drop anything down behind it, good luck getting it back. At the very least I had to heave up the box spring and mattress and have at the dust below. I ended up taking the whole thing apart, storing, purchasing a metal bed frame and setting up on the other side of the room. I wanted something different.

“I guess so,” wee man said as his eyes later roamed over the disaster that was my sleeping chamber. Hey, he has been spared the frequent moves I experienced in life–moves I didn’t love but am still so used to that whenever I feel like that time should be about now, I re-arrange furniture.

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This bottom shelf was filled to the brim with DVDs. Now it houses games brought from Turtle’s closet, which in turn gives him more space in his room.

Since then he’s been inspired and I am proud to say that despite his hoarding ways–he is extremely sentimental, but at least he doesn’t buy things just to be able to pile them up in corners–he has selected a boatload of DVDs, books, games and toys to part with. This is a big deal for him as every time I’ve ever tried to do the one-in-one-out plan, he wouldn’t part with anything. He is very happy with his decision and tells me there’s more to come.

This was during our discussion regarding how serious we are to be with future buying habits: being extremely discriminating about what we spend our hard-earned money upon, how much use we truly can anticipate getting out of it, and what will happen when we decide the item no longer enriches our lives. Will it end up in a plastic graveyard? Is it likely to be difficult to clean and something few would want because of that?

Ridding oneself of a lot of material possessions really is relieving and, for me at least, helps me think more clearly because there’s less clutter in my house. It also enables me to re-arrange things more efficiently, or to be closer to certain centers. For example, the games are now in the living room armoire, closer to where we as a family tend to spend together time: we can play more and plug in less.

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Walls and floor behind this behemoth are now super clean

It’s been over a week since I started this process, but I guess sorting takes longer than I’d realized. Well, to be honest, I’m not trying to rush it this time. It’s hard work and I’m taking breaks. This goes along with the slow-down mode I’m still trying to adopt, though I really feel it this time. In my mind I’m telling myself to slow down, but I also actually want it now. Not that it takes me three hours to wipe a cabinet, but if I don’t finish the kitchen in one day I won’t fuss about it. It is what it is. Productivity is necessary, but there’s something to be said for release from the “I must finish this list today” mentality.

Speaking of the kitchen. I’m not anticipating being relieved of many items from here, though I may surprise myself. The cabinets take a long time because they have to fan dry and so I sort through and re-arrange the stuff that goes in it. I also have pulled out the Kühlschrank (I love this word) to get behind it and wow! There was so much dust I thought I might be able to knit together a sweater or two.

“There wasn’t nearly this much under the bed,” I muttered to myself. Walking out to the carpeted area again I found a dust bunny the size of a small dog, and that thing didn’t want to let me by. What have these things been eating all winter? Is that where all the snow went?

Back behind the fridge were many more and every time I went there to obliterate they knew what was coming and began a low growling that ended only when I squeezed out the sponge.

Some of my listening material for when I clean

Funny, the kitchen is my favorite room but I avoid it like the plague when it comes to bi-annual cleaning. Well, inevitably I get there, and now I’m here. Things are sort of spread out all over my house but I can see it all coming together as I load things into the car to get rid of or put other stuff into its new place. And it sure as heck has taken me longer than a weekend, but it’s a trade off I’m willing to accept because I can do other things–more important things.

Last night my boy came home really exhausted (we’d both had very poor sleep night before) and he went for a nap on mama’s bed. On mama’s newly moved, fluffy, yummy, wonderful bed that has so many warm fuzzies about it, but not just because it’s clean and dressed in new clothes (Egyptian cotton!). I stretched out next to him, reading, occasionally rubbing his hair as he slept, thinking about how napping on top of the covers with another blanket tossed over yourself is the resting version of comfort food. It’s different to the usual sleeping arrangement, you sort of feel the shift from the way things are usually done and it’s rather comforting, especially when the lights are dim and you have someone vested in your well being keeping watch over you.

I sang to him a little bit, low, to match the soothing of the light:

I love the way that my baby boy smiles

For that I’d walk over 100 miles

I could go out in the fields and then bring

All of the sunshine right back in for him

(A song I’d been singing to him since he was a very tiny baby, to the tune of “My Favorite Things”)

Who cares about a clean house at moments like this?