Friday, July 31, 2020

FFB-BROOKLY, Colm Toibin

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin

This is a very fine novel that I was resistant to reading for a long time. It sat on my shelf despite the urging of several friends who loved it. But after seeing the movie, I wanted to read the book. And I am glad that I did. 
There are no jobs to be had in Eilis Lacey's hometown in Ireland. Reluctantly she sets sail for New York where a priest has secured her a job and place to live. She is nearly overwhelmed by homesickness--and I don't think I ever read such a great description of it--but eventually settles into her new life and finds a beau. A sudden death calls her home again and she must decide where her future lies.
What makes this novel work so well is how much inside the head of his character Toibin gets. And I am truly amazed at how well he does a female voice. And how well he seems to understand how a girl feels about a multitude of issues.
Eilis is utterly believable as a very nice girl with very nice friends and a very nice family. The descriptions of Brooklyn life in the fifties are terrific. 
If I found one flaw in the book, it would be there was so little conflict or strife for Eilis. I am sure an immigrant coming here with no friends of family to succor them would find life a lot harder. And the ending is perhaps too swift.
But this is a small flaw in a wonderful novel. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Six Favorite Books Midway Through 2020

This was Kevin Tipple's idea which he got from Lesa Holstine, I think. But here are my seven favorite books of the year so far. I really should list one of the novels of Nicci French I've read but they have all kind of run together, which happens when you repeat characters and situations from novel to novel. But they were enjoyable.

In no particular order

Between Them, Remembering My Parents, Richard Ford (a memoir)
The Movie Musical, Jeanine Basinger
Lean on Pete, Willie Vlautin
Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith
City of Nets, Otto Friedrich
Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro
Chestnut Man, Soren Svestrup

What about you?

Monday, July 27, 2020

Still Here

Lots of good weather, a little dry though. It feels like summer is ending. I have lost the little interest I had in my garden. It is all about weeds by now. And the Rose of Sharon is all about bees. Hard to get near it.
Finished the second season of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND on HBO, which was gorgeous and decided I wanted to read the next book in the series so I downloaded it. Finished Swanson's THE KIND WORTH KILLING. Very clever but like EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS gets by too much on twists for me. I guess if you like books for the puzzle, you would like it more than I did. Still I finished both these books so that says something about them.
Finished both the Dutch series on Acorn. THE SCHOUWENDAM 12 ended badly for me but I guess seven good episodes is enough. Landing the ending is tough.
Reading THE STAR MACHINE about how Hollywood groomed their stars of the golden age.
A lot of my friends can't read at all, but I find I am reading more than ever. How about you?
Several porch visits. Went up to Josh's on Saturday where we played Boggle, which I was lousy at. Their swim club had to close because they had an employee with Covid. Kevin is playing a lot of tennis and still taking the guitar lessons.
They are watching THE SIMPSONS from the first to the last. I have never watched it so I am going to try and watch it with them.
Friend bringing Chinese food over for dinner and we are going to watch THE FISHER KING or SNOW WHITE. Haven't decided which yet.
What's up in your neck of the woods?

Friday, July 24, 2020

FFB-The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, Barbara Vine

(from the archives) Ruth Rendell but writing as Barbara Vine in this case.

Gerald Candless is a famous British writer who dies suddenly much to the sorrow of his daughters and puzzlement of his wife. Their marriage has always been odd to say the least. She has functioned more as a typist and sometimes muse than a wife. However the girls adore him and the oldest decides to write a biography about him.

This proves to be a difficult task as there are many blind alleys in his life. Is he even Gerald Candless?

And the reader is left with mysteries of her own at the book's end. Why did a man so mistreated by society mistreat his wife. Why did he undermine his daughter's relationship with their mother. Yes, we feel sorry for Gerald, but we also loathe many things about him.

This is a complex, complicated book, which I could not put down. Rendell does a wonderful job of showing what life was like in various time periods. Not one character is a cliche. Truly a terrific book. And she integrates his writing wonderfully into both his life and that of his wife's.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Forgotten Movies

Rewatched all three of these films in the last week and all three were terrific. Hollywood knew how to make movies for large audiences that weren't about superheroes then. This sort of movie would come out of independent film companies nowadays and wouldn't be as lush as these three were. Daniel Day Lewis is amazing in both of the ones he is in, playing such different parts. Winona Ryder is so much better than I remembered her.

I always remember the first 20 minutes or so of Three Days of the Condor, but the whole film is brimming with tension and great scenes. Redford and Van Sydow in an elevator is amazing.

A Room with a View is so much quirkier, with so many unexpected moments than I remembered. And what a cast. I was shocked when I checked IMDB that Denhom Elliott has died thirty years ago. I could swear I saw him more recently than that. Helena Bonham Carter is just twenty in this part and already an accomplished actor.

What movie when you rewatched it held up surprisingly well?

Monday, July 20, 2020

Still Here

Perhaps I am bailing on PERRY MASON too soon and also I"LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, but neither of them speaks to me. Instead I have gone back to MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, which seems far enough removed from current events to be relaxing.

At first, I disliked the ending to THE OLDENHEIM 12, but the more I thought about it the better it seemed. It is on Acorn. Enjoying THE KIND WORTH KILLING, Peter Swanson too.

This week, I had a new fridge installed. Had to have a separate guy turn off and on the water. So lots of visits from unmasked workmen. It really makes me angry but as a single woman I can't get into fights with these people. 

Have you all seen Window Swap? So much fun seeing what people see out their windows all over the world. So I tried to do a video and three kids thought I was filming them and really got worried they were going to be reported for not wearing masks. Again, I had to let it go. They were of no danger to me--too far away--but they were old enough to be wearing a mask. Lots of things you would do it you were not alone, but I am.

Which reminds me if you are a couple or more, please think of your single friends who are going through this alone. I have really noticed that people alone are suffering so much more than people with someone else in their house. I had a friend over the other day who had only seen one  person face-to- face since early March and that was just one time. It this goes on, we are going to have a lot of crazy people to deal with.

I had a little dinner party Saturday night. I ordered all the food from a local restaurant and one of my guests picked it up. I set up a table and chairs in my backyard and it turned out well. One person brought dessert and one brought bread and wine and we sat and talked until dark. I am glad I ordered the table from Costco a couple of weeks ago. My porch is great but only holds a three at most with social distancing.

So what have you guys been up to?

Friday, July 17, 2020


This reminded me a bit of DAUGHTER OF TIME. A man who composes music for movies leaves California for the UK after the death of his wife. He learns the house he has rented once belonged to a notorious murderess, who poisoned her husband back in the fifties and was executed for her crime. As Chris reads more and more about the crime in newspapers and books, he is doubtful that Grace Fox, a nurse would have committed this crime, especially as the mother of a seven-year old and a dedicated nurse. His investigation leads him to track down people still alive fifty years on.  Midway through, the journals of Grace Fox are introduced, mostly of her time serving as a nurse during the war. This gives the reader their own impressions of her as well as providing an interesting account of the war from a nurse's perspective.
This was certainly a well-written book. I was so convinced Grace Fox must have existed I went to look for her myself. Robinson, as always, writes memorable characters, locations and plot. I missed Inspector Banks a bit but this was certainly a good read.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Still Here

This is my friend, Rita, who's having a hard time now after the anesthetic for her husband's hip replacement surgery caused horrible issues. He was on a ventilator for ten days, has had septic shock, etc. She is in Savannah by herself, trying to work out the details of what he will need to come out of the Rehab place. I am glad I have been through some of these issues and can be useful to her. And as you might imagine COVID has made it so much harder. She can't visit him for one thing. Rita has a Ph.D in educational technology and is still having trouble navigating what Medicare and various other agencies require of her. What do other people do to get through the many pages of forms? What do people without a good pension do? Because Medicare doesn't provide everything needed. If Medicare had allowed him to stay in the hospital longer, some of this may have been avoided.

On to other things. Watched SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY and GOOD WILL HUNTING on Hoopla this week. SUNDAY was a very strange movie with Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch. Is it just me or did Robin Williama always approach dramatic roles with a sing-songy voice (GOOD WILL). PALM SPRINGS on Hulu is a very cute takeoff on GROUNDHOG DAY. I haven't been so relaxed in weeks.

What a gift Hoopla is. If your library has it, you can get lots of free audiobooks, movies and regular books. Even better than Kanopy.

Watching OLDENHEIM 12 on Acorn. About missing people again. Also watching LONDON KILLS, a more ordinary show on Amazon. Also PERRY MASON and I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK and I MAY DESTROY  YOU.

Books: reading the Nicci French, WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY. One thing I really like about her writing is that she always takes the time to give every character some memorable dialog or traits. Her world really feels lived in. I know it is both a husband and wife writing and perhaps that's a strength.

Had to buy a new fridge. Did it over the phone. Just asked what can you deliver the quickest (4 days) that fits my spot. I have no edible food left except canned soup with two days to go.
Really weird that I have had to do some much of this sort of stuff in the last year. Seems like I am always having windows washed or furnace checked or new pavers installed or new mailbox hung. Is this the adult life I seemed to have escaped or am I making it harder than it should be.

Phil would have let a lot of this go, but I am afraid not to keep things working. I just don't know what can wait and what can't.

How about you? What have you been up to?

Friday, July 10, 2020

BREWSTER, Mark Slouka

Mark Slouka's BREWSTER takes place in the blue-collar town of Brewster, NY in 1968. But as Slouka makes a point of saying in a wonderful interview with Edward Champion on the BAT SEGUNDO podcast, 1968 was very different for blue-collar teenagers in a blue-collar town than for those slightly older at that time and of more means. Only gradually does the outer world work its way into the story of four kids in upstate New York.

Its the inner world that Slouka is concerned with here anyway. It's the past, not the present, that has a enormous affect on these lives.

Jon Mosher has always felt like an outsider in his town because of his parents’ roots as German-Jewish émigrés and the accidental death of his older brother. The death of his brother has destroyed his family and especially his mother, who like the mother in ORDINARY PEOPLE seems to hold him responsible for being the one who survived. Spending your life dodging your mother's disdain for you takes its toll.

He begins to run track on his high-school team and becomes friends with: Frank Krapinski, a Christian, and a talented athlete; volatile Ray Cappiciano, who comes to school bearing the bruises of constant fistfights; and Karen Dorsey, who falls for Ray.

Ray’s alcoholic father, a WWII veteran possessed of a raging temper, takes an interest in Jon. And Jon's damaged mother has a fondness for Ray, confounding both boys.

The four teens bond in their desire to leave their damaged lives and working class town behind. It is only gradually they see that you can never leave the past behind. This book is about the solace, the support, and the gift of friendship and loyalty among teens who feel they are powerless.

This was a hard book to read in many ways and it is certainly more noir than more books touted as such.  But every moment felt real. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Ghosts of Bucks County

                                                        New Hope Towpath
                                                        Phil's grandfather's house after massive renovation. It is now a B and B    
                                                                Donkey Barges on the canal

                                                                            Train Station in New Hope

What experience do you have with ghosts outside of reading about them? I am reading a Peter Robinson book where a very specific experience with a ghost reminded me of one I may have had. It was so many years ago I am not sure I didn't talk myself into it. Or perhaps Phil did.
It was the summer I met Phil. He was 20, I was 17 and newly graduated from high school. He was living with his parents in his hometown where they ran a luncheonette and newspaper business. It was a summer job between his junior and senior year at AU in D.C.
I was waitressing in Philadelphia at Vic's Pizza Parlor, but on the weekends, I came up to New Hope to visit my friend, Lynda, and met Phil and began to date him.
New Hope was a special place; lots of writers and artists (Michener, Pearl Buck, Patricia Highsmith) lived there; there was a theater, many boutique shops, restaurants, etc. It was set between the Delaware River and a canal. In fact, Washington crossed the Delaware just down the road. It was a colonial town in many ways, some of those buildings still standing. It was the definition of picturesque.
Anyway, it was a cool place to hang out and the summer before this one (1965) I had lived there with Lynda and waitressed at the Crystal Palace. Lynda was still working there and didn't mind my staying overnight in her tiny apartment over a garage.
But mostly I hung out at Phil's house. His room was off by itself, up a flight of stairs from the rest of the house. We spent a lot of time up there, listening to Barbra Streisand, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the Beatles and Stones. And, of course, fooling around.
At the bottom of the stairs leading up to that room, was a full length mirror. I am not sure why it was there except a bathroom was next to it. One day, we were late getting started for driving me home to Philly (an hour drive) and we went flying down the stairs. As we neared the bottom, I could just make out a woman in a shawl in the mirror. She has long curly hair and had some sort of silk cloth or bandana on her head. I saw her in profile so didn't have a very clear picture of her.
I, of course, asked Phil if he had seen it and he had not.
There was something about the lights too. Phil loved to light candles and the candlelight seemed to attract her because a few nights later, as we listened to COLOR ME BARBRA, the lights flickering on the walls and down the steps, I saw her again. And behind her in the mirror was a window that wasn't on the wall where the mirror was set. It was like looking through to another place and time, based on her clothes.
This happened several times during the summer. Only at night, only when there was candlelight and music. It was not alcohol or drug enhanced in case you are wondering.
And then it sort of got ruined. Phil told his brother Billy about our apparition and one night as we were gazing down the steps, waiting for our ghost to appear, Billy donned a shawl and sauntered in front of the mirror as if he was exiting it.
I screamed, of course, thinking my ghost was coming into the room. And then I felt foolish, wondering if I had ever really seen the colonial maid at all.
Lynda's mother wrote books about the ghosts of Bucks County and included our colonial miss in her next volume. Phil laughed about it later, dismissing it entirely, but I was never completely convinced it had just been too much imagination, music and candlelight as he told anyone who asked.

Monday, July 06, 2020

I'm Still Here

I MAY DESTROY YOU is very hard to watch because of the sexual violence against women (and men too). And also watching the sexual behavior of this group of people is itself hard. So many risky moments for a likable group of people. However, it is so well done, so in the moment, that you can't look away.  It is hard to find movies that develop an idea as well as television does now.
Enjoyed watching HAMILTON with the family. Miranda is a genius. I can't think of another musical able to impart so much information in that amount of time--and do it to music. Quite a production. Although there is an irony of a black cast presenting US history with so little attention given to slavery. Or even a man of color having reverence for a nation that has treated people of color so badly. I guess BLM really brings that home right now.
Listening to Peter Robinson.s BEFORE THE POISON. Reading the Frances Wees book, almost done, and trying to sort out my thoughts about it.
It has been in the nineties for a few days and is likely to continue for a week. ugh.
How about you?

Friday, July 03, 2020


The Elizabeth Stories, Isabel Huggan

Eight stories tracing the growth of the child, Elizabeth Kessler, over a ten-year period (ages 7-17) during the 1950s was published as The Elizabeth Stories by Oberon Press in 1984, and in 1987 by Viking Penguin in Great Britain and the United States, where it won the Quality Paperback New Voice Award in 1988 as well as the Best Fiction Prize from the Denver Quarterly. Huggan has won many awards for her writing.

I read the book in 1988 and enjoyed these stories about a girlhood in a small Ontario town very much. Elizabeth has a difficult mother who regards propriety as overly important. She is often misunderstood, often plays a subsidiary role in these stories but never plays a victim. I see this book is now categorized as YA but I don't remember it as anything other than a book of related stories about growing up. Are we not meant to take childhood seriously as adults? Huggan is a lovely writer and this is a model on how to write related stories.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Books read in June

Kerry Smith always posts the books she's read each month as do a few other bloggers. This was the most books I have read in a month in some time. Perhaps it is because I am not writing very much. I am trying to start a memoir although I have no experience in writing one. So far I am mostly writing history rather than my history. Anyway these are the books I read. Reading the NYT takes me an hour most days. I can't remember that in the past.


Poet of Tolstoy Park, Sonny Brewer

Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith

These Hills Are Made of Gold, Pam Zhang

Eight Perfect Murders, Peter Swanson

Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

Between Them, Remembering My Parents, Richard Ford

 Two crime novels, one old, one new; two memoirs; three mainstream novels. I also read some scattered short stories. And I started at least four books I gave up on. I started one last night and gave up after 25 pages. It's usually the voice with me--just can't picture spending time with that person. Or the setting-in this case the Chicago World's Fair-I've been there already with Erik Larson (Devil in the White City). I will try it again in daytime. Sometime that has an affect on my reading.

How often do you put a book aside and then return to it?