Monday, December 28, 2020

Act One by Moss Hart, an autobiography


 Still celebrating Christmas with Carols.
I hope you all had a merry little Christmas.  My sister and her family came over from Dallas and spent the day with us.  More specifically, Shawna, my nephew Andreas and I spent the day trying to coax Hercule out of a tree.  My back door was propped open, which I didn't realize, and he flew out.
I'm sure passers by thought we were nutty tree worshippers with our arms raised up to trees as we begged Hercule to come down.
He didn't and I sadly went to bed figuring that was the last of him.  He'd never survive the cold night or owls.
The next morning I got up early and took Shawna's lab, Bella, out to walk.  Our condo is surrounded by field and forest, but Bella thoughtfully pooped in our neighbors driveway.  While I was trying to clean that up, I heard a "Squawk!"
Could it be?
I called "Hercule!" 
I ran to the tree where he was the night before.  He was on the very edge of a branch fluttering his wings.  After much coaxing, he finally flapped down into a bush, where I grabbed him and hugged him close to my heart.
Talk about a wonderful Christmas present!!
Here's that rotten little bird.  Does he look sorry?  Nope.


This is one of the best autobiographies I have read that I can remember.

Hart is not only a brilliant playwright, he's an entertaining and highly engaging writer.

We vicariously live his journey from belonging to a dirt poor Jewish immigrant family living in a boarding house in the Bronx, and the various jobs he took as a teenager to contribute to the family funds (he took a job stacking animal skins, guaranteeing him plenty of space on the subway).

We are the invisible audience as we watch the risks he took (quitting said job without another prospect lined up), and bluffing his way into a Broadway theater house and getting hired as an office boy. We also watch and sympathize as he gets conned into taking crummy summer camp jobs as a social director. The worst in every way was the one where he had to sleep in a tool shed, with deplorable food and no budget by which to produce the social activities, only to discover at the end, he wasn't getting paid a dime because the owner of the camp absconded with all the money.

He worked those camps for six years, finally getting better and better camps and also better jobs during the year as director of small theater plays with volunteer actors. He spent his day time hours writing plays on the Beach at Coney Island (his family had moved to Brooklyn by then).

After the six years, he submitted a play, first to Theater Director Jed Harris who gave him the runaround, and finally to George S. Kaufman who ran with it.

As interesting as those harsh year, the best part was reading about the process of writing a play as Kaufman and Hart spent hours and hours of each day writing, shredding, writing again.

I assume that Hart must have learned how to write through Kaufman, and also from just doing it. And maybe watching all the countless plays on Broadway his aunt took him to. I say that because he dropped out of school at a young age. So this magnificent writer figured it out without a college or even a high school degree.

Certainly he was a genius, but let's not forget those six years of writing for hours each day on the beach. Also, I think Kaufman must have provided invaluable tutoring.

Also fascinating was the process and transformation a play must go through in order to succeed. Act One provides a rare insight into the nail biting hazards of making a play fly with the audiences. His first play, the one with Kaufman, titled Once in a Lifetime, almost bit the dust before it even launched. The efforts to change and revise and finally succeed should be required reading for any aspiring writer, playwright or not.

Really, the whole book should be required reading for anyone who loves to write for any reason. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Travel and Trade in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman


 I hope you will enjoy these Christmas Carols sung by a German Boys Choir.



This is an excellent record of how people traded and traveled in side their countries and to other countries. I think that this book concisely and yet thoroughly covers every topic.

Newman starts off with the various sorts of people who traveled, from royalty to peasant to the rising merchant class and their reasons for traveling and their various modes of transportation. In the process we get a good history of the different classes, cultures and religious beliefs of Medieval Europe.

He records the development of charity houses, hospices, hospitals by nuns and monks and the later rise of secular inns. We learn that staying in an inn was far different than now. Privacy wasn't available, at least for anyone not rich.

Newman also records the dangers from bandits to wild animals and also disease.

We learn the different modes of transportation from horses, every kind of horse, as well as other animals and man made constructs. Newman describes the different ways roads were constructed. He often hearkens back to Roman times and how Roman roads affected the medieval form of travel.

The last part of this section deals with the problem of language barriers and how this barrier was overcome. Even then they had phrase books of essential forms of communication. It is interesting to note that the clergy and educated spoke and read Latin and were the two groups of people who could communicate with similarly educated people across Europe and often served as translators for others.

What interests me is that I know the translating of the Bible in English and in German standardized those languages for the British Isles and the German Kingdoms, enabling greater communication and consequently travel for the average person. Ironically, Latin was originally that universal language starting in Roman times and devolved into an "elite" or even "secret, mystical" language for the educated few. I guess illiterate, isolated people were easier to keep under a leader's thumb.

The second section is about traveling by sea from the different sort of ships and boats available to land marks, such as lighthouses, to the use of both astronomy and astrology.

I found this book to be highly engaging and informative. Even though I checked it out of the library, I may buy my own copy to keep as a reference source. 
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Countertenor Wore Garlic: A Litergical Mystery by Mark Schweizer

 Here is Classical Piano Music.  I find it helps to listen to a nice collection like this, because it gives a nice sampling of so many composers and it makes a nice background while I write.

Toot and Puddle take over my water bottle.  In the background, Percy, my cockatiel, is making laser gun sounds.  All to the accompaniment of soothing classical music.






 The Countertenor Wore Garlic (The Liturgical Mystery #9)

What a happy surprise to find this book on the library shelves. I was looking for mysteries to read and happened upon this. I didn't know the author from Adam, but found the cover appealing.

There is a murder that happens in the small town of St. Germaine up in the hills of North Carolina. But it seems almost peripheral to the overall arc of the story.

 Some stories are plot driven, some character driven, this story was definitely character driven. What made this book a delight to read was the funny dialogue and the relationships between the main characters.

St. Germaine is a small town. So small that the sheriff Hayden Konig is also the local Episcopal church's Organist and Choir director. The Deputy Sheriff and Mayor also seem to have side jobs. 

Schweizer intertwines life at church with life at the local cafe with Halloween, Zombie flash dances, Vampires lining up to get their book signed at the local book store and, what was the other thing?....oh yeah...someone gets murdered that night as well. At first it seems like a scarecrow in the corn maze, but nope; it's a body.

Whose body? And who murdered them? And why? All of this Sheriff Konig (who narrates) must find out and in the meantime, suffer through an interim priest who preaches only fire and brimstone, getting the choir ready for All Saints (which is the day after Halloween) and, last but not least, write his own hard boiled mystery a la Raymond Chandler, whose typewriter he procured. 

In addition to the humor and lively characters, as a classical musician, I really enjoyed all the music references. So rare and yet so much fun for someone like me.

I am happy to see that there are many more mysteries in the series and found a set of five on eBay which I have snapped up.




Sunday, November 29, 2020

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

 Listening to Cesaria Evora Live d'Amour.

 Painting this year's Christmas cards:

Pachinko is the story of a family of Koreans during the Japanese occupation of their country, how they struggled to survive and eventually got through to the other side of the war (although not everyone did).  It is a profound and powerful record of history from a little regarded perspective, the Korean.

While Westerners may lump Asians together, they have distinctive cultures, languages and their own opinions about each other.  

It is a popular opinion to vilify Americans for their role in WWII by devastating Japanese cities with the H Bomb.  It is not so popular to consider that the Chinese and Koreans do not view the Japanese as innocent victims and were actually grateful to Americans for ending a war that killed far more people in their countries than were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki together.

 Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – PBS Books




This book started out strong. As a Christian, I wondered if this book was written by a Christian because she was unusually respectful to the Christian characters in her book.

But the got worse halfway through the book. According to the author, the Koreans and Japanese went from morally conservative people in the 1940s to foul mouthed participants of casual sex by 1960.

The first generation of characters were admirable in their courage and grit, getting through grinding poverty and oppression during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 40s. I felt their suffering, rooted for their success and was profoundly relieved when their lot against all odds improved. The author colorfully describes the plight of the Koreans under Japanese rule, something that seems to be overshadowed in the U.S. by the plethora of documentaries about Japanese internment camps. People seem to forget who started that war.

When we get to the third generation, we see how both Korea and Japan have recovered from war torn countries to robust business people. They did this by their own effort and ingenuity. These people, who were truly victims, did not try to self-identify as victims or expect a free ride. People who are part of the victim identity politics of today might learn something by generations past.


by the time the children have grown up and started college or work, the moral standards have sunk into decrepitude. This generation, according to the author, cannot express themselves without using the "F" word and sex with your girlfriend was a matter of course.

I wonder at this because even in the west using the F word wasn't common until the eighties when it was in all the movies and as a consequence became a part of the population's vocabulary.

When the moral standard sunk, so did my interest in the book. It deteriorated into a kind of soap opera with characters I could not care less about.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

How I came Into My Inheritance by Dorothy Gallgher

 Here are Albinoni's Oboe Concertos.




 This highly engaging read is the story of the author's family and their history. She starts with her parents at the end of their lives. They are old and irascible. Living in New York City, Dorothy Gallagher finds herself driving back and forth from her home to upstate New York to care for her parents. They live in filthy conditions and refuse to take care of themselves. She can't get them to move nearer to her or even in with her. Social Services inform her that they can do nothing against their will.

They eventually die and that is the first chapter. The rest of the book is going back in time to when her parents immigrated from the Ukraine to America before WWI, worked hard and succeeded and stayed devout Communists. Even when news of Stalin's atrocities were undeniable, they waved it away. OK, people starved to death by the millions. You have to break a few eggs to make omelets.

Ms. Gallagher is not impressed and she deftly exposes the irrationality of clinging to an ideal when the consequences are fleshed out into reality and come crashing down around it.

The author was raised on the edge of Harlem and saw it change from predominantly Irish, Scottish, and Italian families to mostly black (she says negro, but that seems a bit dated). Being the only Jewish girl at school, in addition to being the only white student, she got beat up regularly but was told by her parents that the bullies were the victims because of their color, not her.

She rode that precarious edge where anything you said or did was considered racist or oppressive. Not by black people, mind you, but by her parents and their fellow Jewish communists. It's hard to believe this was back in the forties. It sounds like today.

Ms. Gallagher does not sugarcoat her parents or their family members. They are presented in all the lively, colorful glory from their lives back in the Ukraine to the rest of the lives in New York and eventually Florida and California.

Her writing is reminiscent of Isaac Bashivis Singer with wry humor and charismatic characters, except she is writing a biography of her family, not fiction.

The last couple of vignettes are of her attempts and finally success at becoming a professional writer.

I read this book in two sittings on the same day, that's how readable it is.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Secrets and Stained Glass by S.E. Drake

 I'm listening to Schumann's piano works.

I had the great honor to edit this book for a cousin of Josh.  Shiloh Drake is 16 years old and wrote a really good mystery.  Shiloh is homeschooled and did some missionary work in Haiti.  While there she met another girl who told her life story to her.  This book is inspired from this girl's story.

It has a blatant Christian worldview so I understand it's not what everyone would be interested in, but I do hope the home school community with teenage children will give the book a try.  I'll leave a link at the end of the review.

Sorry about the inconsistent formatting.  I don't know what I did to make the paragraphs like that.

A young girl, Stacie Alwin has lived a life without love or affection. Her mother abandoned her at a young age. Her stepmother wants her out and her father is too passive or indifferent to take any action on Stacie's behalf.

Upon graduation from high school, Stacie decides to begin a new life away from her home town where she grew up and away from her stepmother and father.

Her stepmom and father muster up as much concern about her leaving as they are capable, which isn't much, and soon wave her car goodbye as it leaves the driveway.

On to the southern part of Illinois Stacie drives and arrives at a small town called Fauna, where everyone knows everyone and she soon finds herself a part of a huge church family filled with people who welcome her into their lives.

Her job is to be church secretary, which she finds satisfaction in and also enjoys a friendship with Rose, the choir director, with whom she shares the parsonage.

But soon, things go awry. Stacie hears and sees things in the rooms and hallways of the church that shouldn't be there. Are there such things as ghosts? If so, why are they here? If not, who is trying to scare her?

Thus begins a personal investigation into a church that has an odd past and perhaps a terrifying present.

This book is written for Junior High and High School level readers, although I think adults can enjoy this book as well. I certainly did. I thought the mystery was intriguing and the storyline well-developed. The characters were interesting and believable. I am glad to know that this is the first of a series S.E. Drake plans on publishing, because I already want to get to know Stacie, Rose and the townspeople of Fauna better.

Link on Amazon:

Sunday, November 8, 2020

A Dirty Death by Rebecca Tope

Here is Bill Evans, my favorite jazz pianist.

A Dirty Death (Den Cooper, #1)A Dirty Death by Rebecca Tope

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read four of Tope's Cotswold Mysteries and this is my first of the Den Cooper series. Actually I'm a little surprised to see that it's called a Den Cooper series, because Cooper doesn't seem to play a large or effective role in this particularly mystery.

As other reviewers have said. The mystery takes place on a farm where the farmer is found dead in a slurry. Being American, at first I thought this was a sort of bog, but I'm pretty sure now it's where they pile all the cow poop. Yuck. I suppose there's worst ways to die, but not many.

We get to know the victim through the inner narration of many of the characters. I found this to be an interesting and skillful way of developing the characters as well as the story line.

None of the characters seem to understand the others. Their primary attitude toward each other is annoyance and impatience. Everyone has their inner angst that seems to obstruct a clear view of who the other people really are. I found this interesting, because I found myself despising a certain character when another character related to them, but then we get inside that character's mind and realize they've got their own problems and reasons for acting the way they do.

The Farmer, his name is Guy by the way, turns out to be someone no one except his daughter liked. His daughter liked him because he treated her well, like a little girl, even though she was in her twenties. It was hard to imagine her as a grown woman, because she seemed so adolescent.

No one liked Guy with good reason. He was emotionally and psychologically abusive to his wife. He was verbally abusive to Sam, his hired man. In fact, he was a plain all round nasty individual. He was married before and had two sons from this previous marriage, whom he never contacted and left nothing to in his will.

So. Who did it? Of course I'm not going to tell you, except to say that I found the plot line very interesting and it kept me going to the very end.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City by Adina Hoffman; 1000 Tattoos ed. by Henk Schiffmacher; The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice by Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh

 Here are the Complete Harpsichord Concertos by J.S. Bach.




I came across this old photo of me with my baby boy.  Baby boy is now 6'2 and living in China.  Thank God for WeChat.  I can talk to him every day and he sounds like he's in the next room, not on the other side of the world.


So far this year I've read 218 books.  I set a goal for myself to read 300 books before January.  Not that numbers are a worthy aspiration, but I was hoping to decrease the number on Mount TBR.  It has not worked because a big chunk of these books are from the library.  These three, however, are my own and you may be getting a lot of reviews of multiple books in one post from now until 2021 in an effort to make my goal.

I love architecture and this time last year I toured Israel for three weeks. So I was interested to read a book about its architecture, although it seemed to me that most towns were made up of white washed square, stone apartments.

This book kind of explains that as we learn of the German Jewish architects who traveled to Jerusalem during the height of the Bauhaus movement and left their imprint on the buildings there.

We get biographies of various European architects, many Jewish, but not all, along with Middle Eastern architects and how they arrived in Jerusalem, their philosophy of building, and how they impacted a city that is holy to so many cultures.

Along with the architecture we get a history of a pre-born and newly born Israel and the political tensions that developed along the way. 

 If you're interested in tons of photos of people's tattoos through the ages, this book is for you. There are, well, probably a thousand, ha, ha different tattoos. You can see the development of the art, how it changed throughout the years and also the forms of tattoo art from different countries.

I wish there was a little more information on the photos, especially the photos of tattooed women from the thirties, forties and fifties, when it was unheard of for a woman to get a tattoo. Who were these women that bucked the contemporary culture? Were they women from questionable, " not respectable" backgrounds, or bored housewives that liked having a naughty secret?

I have always found tattoos interesting, even though I don't have any.  But I think after a while, they all start to look the same. Still, I like asking people how they came by their tattoos, because there's always an interesting backstory involved. 
If it's not personal, I'd like to know if any of my readers have a tattoo, what it looks like and the story behind getting it.

This book was not exactly what I was expecting. I thought I was going to get more information on the missing illuminated manuscripts of the Bible from Armenia. There were very few pictures.

However, there was a history of the manuscripts and the mysterious artists who created them. This history is intertwined with the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman government. From 1915-1917 an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were murdered in an effort to ethnically "cleanse" the western part of Turkey and other regions of Armenian Christians.

The author also describes the area of Armenia under Soviet rule and also how the illuminated manuscripts ended up in museums, one of which was the Paul Getty Museum in California.

The author does her best to make a case for museums creating stricter measures and criteria for museums fielding possible artifacts and making sure that they are not buying priceless works from a source that pilfered the works.

I fully understand the need for not buying stolen artwork, but where Watenpaugh goes too far is when she begins demanding that all land or work sacred to a certain ethnic group be returned, such as land sacred to Native Americans or work of art that was stolen over a hundred years ago. How can you return work to someone no longer alive?

Also, it seems to me that museums are in the best position to preserve priceless works of art, which is why the owners of so many works loan them to museums, it staves off the tax man while letting the taxpayers maintain your priceless art.

The book was OK, but I'd like to read other, less slanted sources of Armenian history and especially a source more focused on the Bible manuscripts with a greater number of photos.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

Here is one of my favorite pianists, Glenn Gould playing J.S. Bach, the Well-Tempered Clavier.

This was such a fun read, I raced through it.

Sir Eustace is sent a sample box of chocolates to his club. He is disgusted anyone would send him something so trite, especially since he doesn't like chocolates. Next to him is Mr. Bendix. Mr. Bendix has lost a bet with his wife and owes her a box of chocolates. Might he nab the box and give it to her? Why not save a few pounds, he figures.

Sir Eustace gladly gives him the chocolates and Mr. Bendix takes them home and gives them to his wife who proceeds to help herself, insisting that her husband eat a couple, which he does out of politeness. He does not care for chocolates.

On his way back to work, Mr. Bendix becomes violently ill and ends up in the hospital. When he finally is released, he discovers his wife is dead.

The chocolates were laced with poison and the immediate conclusion is, who was trying to kill Sir Eustace? After all, they were sent to him.

The police investigate but come to a dead end.

Enter a criminologists club. This is a group of men and women who solve murders as a hobby. One member is a lawyer, but the rest are mystery writers.

What ensues is a couple of chapters devoted to each member as they solved the crime. Not only do they solve it to their satisfaction, but they also demolish each other's theories to their own satisfaction.

However, one of them turns out to be right and the ending is satisfyingly unexpected.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Washington Square by Henry James


 Here is Sephardic Spanish music from the Middle Ages.

Below is an acrylic painting.  I call it "Birds Flying Over Flowers."

Well, I finally set up my Etsy shop.  I'm selling my paintings there.  It's called FongArtStore.  Yes this is a shameless plug.



I had forgotten why Henry James is one of my favorite authors because it's been a few years since I've read him. This novel reminded me.

As the blurb says, a successful Doctor becomes the unwilling widower of his brilliant wife, whom he adored. His infant son, upon which he lavished so much love and hope, also dies. All that is left is a daughter who is destined to disappoint him.

Catherine turns out to be everything the Doctor expects of her. She is unattractive and simple minded. He shows her no affection and plenty of contempt. Therefore is it any wonder that the first man who comes along and showers her with attention is met with Catherine's immediate amazement, then devotion?

But is this young man, Morris Townsend, as good a person as his looks are handsome? We don't know at first. Catherine's father thinks he does and makes it clear that if Catherine is so stupid as to marry an obvious gold digger, it won't be his money the man will be digging.

Hence begins a battle of the wills of three people. Four actually, because the Doctor's sister, Mrs. Penniman inserts herself into the drama with all the thrill of an aging widow who yearns to be part of a romance. Another way of putting it is to say that Lavinia Penniman is a tiresome busybody that further muddies the waters with all of her vague insinuations and half said implications and assertions.

It eventually becomes evident to everyone that the future is going to become bleak for everyone involved. I am not going to say more in case people haven't read the book.

What I love most about James' writing is is masterful use of language and perspicacious psychological studies. We see inside everyone's heart. We see the thoughts behind the words and actions and understand them to be dead on.

And he's suspenseful in his own way, because I read this short novel in two days because I couldn't put the book down for wondering how it was all going to turn out. 

 Puddle up my sleeve.  He likes to do this while I'm on the computer.



Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Battle for Home by Marwa Al Abaquni and a few light reads I've been amusing myself with.


 Listening to Schubert's last three String Quartets.

 It was my birthday and hubby cubby brought me flowers!!  I love birthdays, they make me feel loved.


 I've once again been reading books faster than I can write in depth reviews, so here are blurbs on the last couple of books I've read:

The author poses an interesting theory that architecture can bring a community together in harmony or create strife and division.

She asserts that before the government decided to tear down traditional, historical buildings and demolish neighborhoods, Christians and Muslims lived together in peace and with respect. After different government leaders decided to glorify themselves by destroying these buildings, and create horrible, lifeless, soul-less structures, it divided people and ushered in the war that has now ravished Syria.

She does not make it that simplistic, but that is the gist. Our living space matters in affecting how we think and live our lives.

I get that, but I also think that Isis and the government have other reasons for fighting each other. I think the destruction of the architecture was a symptom of a corrupt government that maintains power through terror. Isis are religious radicals who believe they have a God-given right to oust the leaders of Syria. The problem is their motives aren't to provide the people with liberty and opportunity, but to impose radical Islam on the country.

The people of Syria are caught in the cross fire. I wonder how it will conclude? After all of Syria is lying in ashes?




This is my second in Schweizer's liturgical mystery series. His mysteries are well constructed and he's as funny as all get out. Kind of a Mark Twain, if Twain were a mystery writer.

I just read the author died last year. A pity, because he's only written about twelve of these mysteries.

To complain: he hurls too many cheap shots at other denominations, but he does not spare the Episcopalian church and he lets his opinions be known about Nazi Feminists who become priests.


Willy, the curator is found dead in the choir loft. At first it looks like a heart attack, but then poison from the Oleander plant is found in his blood stream. Oleander is the plant that one of the choir members has been using to kill her neighbor's pet hedge hogs because they keep escaping into her yard. Then she cooks them into a stew to serve at pot lucks. Yuck.

But, the cook did not do it and it takes quite a bit of circling before we find out who did. 
The following stories are on Hoopla and I listen to them on my phone while in my car or while I'm cleaning.
Agatha Raisin's new detective agency is just starting out. She's invested in an office, hired junior detectives and a secretary. So far their only client is a woman who wants them to find her lost cat.

However, things slowly pick up (a man wants to find his son, but only because he wants his car back) another woman wants evidence her husband is cheating on her and a young woman about to be married has received a death threat.

The last case is when things really start to escalate. Agatha and her secretary, Emma Comfrey, arrive at the engagement party and help the lady narrowly avoid getting shot at by a sniper.

Why would anyone want to kill this girl? Agatha is determined to find out. Meanwhile her friends, Ron and Sir Charles arrive to help.

The secretary Emma, starts out as a good ally, but she begins to show signs of instability as the story progresses.

In this book, the relationships Agatha has begun to cultivate in her Cotswold village are beginning to ripen and blossom.

Another fun read.


I enjoyed this story for the same reasons I enjoy all of Beaton's Agatha Raisin series. Agatha is so human. The dialogue is hilarious. And also I very much enjoy the narration by Penelope Keith. I have been listening to these novels while painting and cleaning my house, getting it ready to sell. It makes the time go so much faster.

After listening to Keith's wonderful voicing of all the characters, I don't think I want to read them anymore.
 Poor Agatha. She's a middle aged over weight woman who has the same notions of romance as a teenager who devours pulp novels.

She's recently married, but her husband disappears. Not only that but the last woman he was seen with has been murdered. Did he do it? And where did he go?

Another great psychological study of psychopaths, but with the warmth and humor that makes me enjoy Beaton's novels.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came by M.C. Beaton

Here is some Harp music for a change.

This is my third or fourth Agatha Raisin and she's beginning to grow on me. Agatha starts out on an island where she is drowning her sorrow over her marriage to James Lacy who has left her for a monastery.

She returns to England and new adventure. She goes to her pilates class, determined to get in shape, quit smoking and all round start fresh. In her class she overhears a pretty young woman talk about getting her legs waxed in preparation for her marriage. Nothing to remember.

Except that the next day there are torrential rains that flood the local village river and Agatha sees the woman from the pilates class floating down it in a wedding dress, holding a bouquet. She is frozen stiff.

What the heck happened? That is what Agatha Raisin is determined to find out.

In this book I see a very human side to Agatha. She is middle-aged, overweight and smokes too much. Her self-esteem is garbage because of her recent divorce. Then a famous author moves in next door. Hmmm....

He is a mystery writer and he is willing to help Agatha investigate this mystery of a frozen bride. He's her age....might he be interested in Agatha?

We learn a lot about Agatha, her vanities and her vulnerabilities as well as John the mystery writer. I enjoyed the interplay between the characters as much as the mystery. 
Fall doesn't arrive here until November.  In the meantime I can at least paint and imagine.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Life at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual Address by Stephen Birmingham

Beautiful music by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen.


Life at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual AddressLife at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual Address by Stephen Birmingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Life at the Dakota provides a good history of the apartment building the Dakota that stands in Gothic glory across the street from West side Central Park on 72nd street.

I love reading the histories of these famous buildings and this book did not disappoint.

We see how the builder Edward C. Clark had vision when everyone else saw the area north of 53rd Street as a barren wilderness (hence the name Dakota, after the Dakota Territories) because there was nothing up there but country.

Clark met up with a poor Jewish immigrant who fixed sewing machines and developed a better one, but no one took seriously. Except Clark. As a Lawyer, Clark patented it and made a serious advertisement campaign, changing the image of sewing machines as a poor immigrant laborers work tool, to a machine every lady must have in her home.

Thus the inventor Isaac Singer and Edward Clark made millions off of the Singer Sewing machine.

This happened when Clark was a younger man. He didn't begin to imagine the Dakota until he was in his seventies. However, the money he made off of Singer's sewing machine gave him the money to embark what what everyone else considered a crazy scheme to make an apartment building in no man's land.

This was during the 1880s. At that time New York was clearly divided between the American Aristocracy, the Waldorfs, the Astors, etc...and everyone else. They all lived below 53rd Street on the East Side. No one worth knowing lived anywhere else. Clark decided he was going to provide living space for the middle rich and the up and coming rich. Rich people who had not inherited their wealth but actually earned it. Shocking!

Stephen Birmingham gives lively descriptions of many of the better known occupants of the building, from the Steinways (of grand piano fame) to various actors and actresses such as Lauren Bacall, Music conductor Leonard Bernstein, all the way to the sixties and seventies when the first black woman moved in (Roberta Flack) and also the rebellious, peace activist turned hauteur-bourgeoisie ex-Beatle, John Lennon with Yoko Ono.

This book was published in 1979, shortly before Lennon's death so it doesn't include his murder right outside the Dakota Building, which sadly, is why most people not from New York City know about the building. It provides a unique insight as to how John Lennon had largely disappeared from sight in the 1970's and Birmingham clearly saw him as a has-been musician who could be heard from the other floors "playing lonely little melodies on his guitar in his living room on the seventh floor."

While this tells me the author belonged to an earlier generation who did not have much use for rock musicians, it also shows his lack of foresight. Around the time the book was published John Lennon had released a magnificent album with some of his most mature music to date. The songs revealed a man who had matured and mellowed and who knows what he had in store for us if his life had not been dreadfully cut short.

I suppose I'm showing my own bias there. Nevertheless, I recommend this book as a great addition to anyone's library of historical buildings.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 20, 2020

I'd Rather Be The Devil: Skip James and the Blues by Stephen Calt; Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death; Death of a Greedy Woman, a Hamish MacBeth mystery by M.C. Beaton; Josephine Tey: a Life by Jennifer Morag Henderson

 I was listening to meditative music as I wrote this review, because it doesn't draw my attention away from the task at hand.

Here is another group of short reviews.  I read or listened to all of them on Hoopla, except the last, so I don't have any photos of the books.  So instead, here is a lovely, yet random  photo of a postcard I sent.  I'd like to paint it in acrylic.


I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues | Stephen Calt | First  Edition

Fascinating, if unflattering narrative on the life of Skip James, but also other blues performers of the early part of the century, their comeback in the 60s as white audiences discovered their love for the blues and their impact on the history and culture of American and also global music.

The author met with and befriended Skip James and was intimately involved with the Blues revival of the sixties. He reveals that many of these musicians led extremely rough, even lawless lives. Their relationships with white people throughout the South was far more complex than how it is often portrayed in today's media.

The author also showed how the Blues Revival of the sixties wasn't necessarily profitable for these blues musicians. Many of the managers and record companies took advantage of them, making money for themselves, but not the blues musicians themselves.

I'd Rather be the Devil, not only provides a historical chronology, but delves into the rich, old culture of the South and Southern black people, combining their religious beliefs, intertwined with superstitions that preceded the introduction to Christianity and the hard determined grit the was necessary for survival in those pre-civil rights days.


I have really grown to like Agatha Raisin. She's so human, yet so likable. I have not read these books in order, but this is the first mystery. Agatha Raisin moves from London, her job in advertising, to the Cotswolds for a peaceful life.

It does not turn out as she expects. The people of the village are politely cordial, but nothing else. No one befriends her and soon Agatha is homesick and lonely. She decides to take the bull by the horns and get involved in village society. She begins to attend church, largely because the vicar's wife, Mrs. Bloxby has been the only person to show genuine friendship to her. She then becomes involved in several church functions.

This brings her to the Quiche competition. Agatha can't boil water, so she decides to cheat. She goes out and buys a quiche and presents it to the judges. It doesn't win, but the judge and his wife offer to take it home and finish it off. Agatha, disappointed and depressed, shruggingly lets them.

The next day, the judge is found dead. Poisoned by cowbane that was found in the quiche. Now what is Agatha to do? Admit she cheated, or be suspected of murder?

The mystery is fun, but so are all the characters as Agatha gets to know her neighbors and they get to know her. Many of the characters travel from book to book with Agatha, so they become like old friends to the reader.



It's funny, but with Beaton's Hamish MacBeth mysteries, one knows who is going to be topped off almost from the get go. It's the most odious, disgusting individual who acts in a way that makes everyone want to kill them.

From this foundation, one then has to get to know all the suspects and find out who ultimately did it and what their reasons were for doing so. As in previous MacBeth mysteries I've read, even though the murder victim may be obvious, the murderer is not, nor are their reasons.

In Death of a Greedy Woman, a group of tourists come up from England to take a holiday at the local hotel. They are not just any group of tourists, but clients of Checkmate, a match up site. An equal number of men and women are going to spend the week together and hopefully pair off.

The monkey wrench is that one of the partners, Peta, of Checkmate is an ogre. Or at least her eating habits are ogre-ish. The other partner, Maria, actually was hoping to pull the gathering off without Peta's knowledge. Peta finds out however, and joins the group at Priscilla Halburton-Smythe's father's hotel and restaurant. The group, which was already disliking each other, find themselve in solidarity in their disgust of Peta.

In addition to the murder we see the ongoing relationship between Hamish MacBeth and Priscilla. There are bumps along the road as they continue to misunderstand each other, but I suppose that is what keeps the reader coming back. Will Hamish and Priscilla ever meet each other half way?

There is very little known about Josephine Tey, but Henderson does a good job gathering what facts are available and intertwining them with an analysis of her work, both as a playwright, historian and mystery writer.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

In the Dark, Soft Earth; poetry of love, nature, spirituality and dreams by Frank Watson

 These Bach Baroque Suites for guitar go perfectly with these sublime poems.


I would like to ask everyone to pray for all the people in the northwest who are experiencing the fires.  This includes personal family members and blogging friends and their families.



And while we're at it pray for the people on the Gulf Coast.  

Hopefully Hurricane Sally will become depressed, lose her will to survive and give up, like Marco did.




This is an embarrassingly late review.  I was given this collection of poetry months ago and time got away and then I flat out forgot.   I am actually not a fan of poetry, I don't know why.  Takes too much discipline to read. 


 Poetry isn't meant to be gulped, but savored.  I feel so overwhelmed with Mount TBR that I find myself reading non fiction and mysteries just because they're easy to devour.


I really enjoyed this book of poetry.  Maybe it is the minimalism.  One thing that does appeal to me in poetry is the painting of visual imagery through power of expressive words.  Frank Watson's words wash over me in rich, deep yet cool colors.  I am going to post a couple of the poems because they can speak well enough for themselves.



 to the poet there

is a love for beauty

 in all its terrifying forms  


in the quiet 

 stirrings before 

 the world wakes

 when even the night  

creatures cease to speak  


with distant sands 

 turned white as flecks

 on wild black hair I follow the Northern Winds 

 to where the world begins


  before Creation

 cast in stone 

 we built this world 

 on what was sown 


 since all eternity is rest

 why not use this

 time to do our best? 



pallid and hollow
we’ve drifted
through this town
for centuries
and no one’s home

her words
strung up
on stranded hair—
blown away
in the winter wind

smoke gun
thoughts in the air—
these words sit silent there

the naked despair
of a people
without courage
who wander
another’s land

in breathless prayer
for centuries
without imagination

where flames drive me deep
into the song of sleep
and the narrow road
that carries me off somewhere



And finally, one short one:


spoken word
fit into a cube
and packed, as is,
into another dimension
where the spoken word
shall never leave
I had a hard time formatting this.  Google decided to become more sophisticated and I'm struggling to catch up.
The collection has ten section, each on a different theme, introduced with a famous poem and beautiful paintings from Europe and Asia, from the Middle Ages to modern.
Finally, this is my honest review in exchange for an Arc copy.  I think I am legally obligated to say that.
I wish Frank Watson all the best and that many, many people enjoy his beautiful word painting. 
Gulf Coast at a more peaceful time.