Tuesday, September 4, 2018

We Are Traveling — New Post to Come Soon

We are on our way to Galicia, Spain, tomorrow, while our neighbor watches our place here. Once there, I will get back to blogging. I have a couple book reviews to share of books I've enjoyed lately. Till then, hope everyone had a great Labor Day week-end.  Ciao for now.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Family Reunion Time


The whole group of us.
The hosts, Vidhya, Venkat, and
their son, Rohan
                       My husband and I just got back from a super family reunion held at the home of my niece and her family in Falls Church, Virginia. People came from Pittsburgh, Boston, and Raleigh (and we made the California unit), and a great time was had by all. It took place over about 6 days, given all the arrivals and departures. All of the people you see here in this photo stayed at their house — a big one, and a lovely one, too.

So . . . Meet the family:     This was the third reunion we've been to over the years. How about you?                                  

Yummy meals.
The Raleigh couple, Cheryl and
our nephew, Murali


The Boston family, our nephew,
Srivatsan, his wife, Simil,
their children, Saraswati & Shavan

My husband, Rajan, on right, his
Pittsburgh brother, Raghavan, on left.



Their Raleigh brother, Bashyam

Bashyam's wife, Seetha, on left,
Raghavan's wife, Kalyani, in middle,
and me on the right

A nice moment between Srivatsan
and his daughter, Saraswati.

Rocket man, Shravan, and
his mom, Simil












The rocket, fueled by baking soda
and vinegar. It worked!

This is the third reunion we've been to over the years.  How about you? Have you been to many family reunions? Do they tend to be large or small?

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Pinocchio's Sister, Another Great Vaudeville Story by Jan Slepian


Last week I shared my response to Jan Slepian’s novel for grades 4-6, The Mind Reader. This unique story was about a family whose popular vaudeville act involved mind reading. In a surprising twist, it turned out that the son actually could read minds, a talent that led to all sorts of problems, but finally to a happy ending. Slepian has written a second book about vaudeville, Pinocchio’s Sister. In both books Slepian draws on material from relatives in her family who actually performed in vaudeville. As in The Mind Reader, she convincingly depicts the hardships of being on the road in different theaters, staying at different boarding houses. A reader can identify with the anxiety about whether one’s act will stay or be dropped, the bullying by theater managers, the poor pay, the comradery andcompetition between performers of various acts.

But Pinocchio’s Sister, is a darker, more poignant tale than The Mind Reader. Like the latter, Pinocchio’s Sister was written in the 1990’s, but has the swift pace and vivid writing we expect from today’s writers. Theoretically it’s for 8-to-12-year-olds, but School Library Journal suggests it might be better for older audiences because of its underlying theme of emotional abuse. I found it a profoundly moving story that lingers in your mind long after the last page. This is literature at its finest.

The story: Ten-year-old Martha Rosedale travels with her father on the vaudeville circuit and is part of his act. The book opens at a new theater and a new boarding house. But someone else is ever present in the act—the puppet, Iris, who sits on Mr. Rosedale’s lap and says smart-aleck remarks the audience loves. Martha’s father does all the talking—and even singing—but he’s such an adept ventriloquist, he makes audiences suspend disbelief. Martha’s mother died when she was small. For a short time, her father remarried, but his new wife ran off with another actor, leaving Mr. Rosedale with only Martha and . . . Iris.

In the vaudeville act Mr. Rosedale created, Iris wears pretty dresses and has a blonde curly wig. Martha wears a tattered dress and implores him to come home to a family he seems to have abandoned, while Iris zings one-liners at Martha. Audiences love Iris and her smart mouth, although they feel for poor, tattered Martha and join in the plea for him to go home. Iris, meanwhile, has a punchline – “Help, help” – always said sarcastically. This punchline becomes significant later in the story in a way that is nothing short of heart-breaking. 

Since Iris is the family breadwinner, so to speak, Mr. Rosedale lavishes more attention on her than on his own daughter. Jealousy eats at Martha. Still, her life is brightened by another family in the show: a group of Polish acrobats. The twelve-year-old boy in the act, Stashu Pliska, becomes Martha’s friend. Unwittingly, Stashu is pulled into Martha’s desperate plan to deal with Iris. Meanwhile, the proprietress at the boarding house, Mrs. Pelosi, becomes sort of a surrogate mother to Martha. Mrs. Pelosi was a former vaudeville singer and is drawn so vividly, you feel she could actually be running a boarding house just down the street, even though those days have long vanished.  

This is wonderful story, grippingly told, with memorable highs and lows and both a sad ending and a happy ending. Jan Slepian was a brilliant writer. The two books I’ve read by her have sent me on a quest to find more of her books in hopes of learning more about how she works her magic. 

I can remember when I was a kid listening to Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and being entranced by the idea of puppets and ventriloquism. How about you? Did you have favorite puppet shows? Did you ever hear or know a ventriloquist? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Look Into My Eyes — No, Don't!

                                  

Since my present WIP involves a character who was once in vaudeville, I’ve been doing a lot of research. I’ve read nonfiction histories of vaudeville and, more  recently, fictional 
works with characters in Vaudeville. Thus, I stumbled across this little gem of an MG novel about a family whose stage act takes a surprising turn: The Mind Reader, by Jan Slepian.              

The Amazing Leonders have a mind reading act – one with codes and gimmicks all worked out as cues to give Leo Leonder, the father and mind reader of the act, all the information he needs to give a reading. He has a problem with alcohol, although he’s never too drunk to perform. Clara, the mother, dressed in scarves and glitter, posing as Princess Shalimar, is the one who goes into the audience and elicits the information. On the particular night that kicks off the story, Connie’s father has passed out cold and can’t be revived enough to go on. 

The tale is told by ten-year-old Annie Ellinger, whose parents have a song-and-dance act in the same show. She hangs out with Connie (short for Conrad) and realizes he knows the whole mind-reading act forwards and backwards. She suggests that Connie take Mr. Leonder’s place. Hurriedly, Connie is hustled into the turban and robe and make-up that create the Amazing Leonder. Unlike his father, if Connie looks into the eyes of someone, he really can read that person’s mind. For this reason, he has always avoided people’s gazes. Annie has found that sweet. In fact she has a crush on him. 

In his fill-in-for-his-father performance, Connie makes the mistake of meeting the gaze of an audience member who is up to no good and yells, “No! Don’t do it!” The man runs out of the theater. The audience erupts in excitement. This is the kind of “show” they love, as does the theater manager. Connie becomes the new and even more popular “Amazing Leonder”. The family is making good money. But Connie is miserable because of what he sees in people’s hearts. The decision he takes next brings several surprises that lead to a dramatic (and heartwarming) conclusion. 

The characters in this book are endearingly quirky. The details about vaudeville life and performers ring true. Setting details for the acts and stage layouts are well-rendered. The book came out in the late ‘90s, but the writing is lively, fresh, and original. The author did a masterful job recreating the world these characters inhabit. I heartily recommend this book which achieves what the best vaudeville achieves: It entertains and leaves you wondering.


Do you like mind reading acts? Do you believe in mind reading?

Friday, July 13, 2018

A New Way to Enjoy Sherlock Holmes


It isn’t mandatory for a book about Sherlock to be a new mystery starring Sherlock. In this clever new series, Gemma Doyle, manager of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, uses Sherlockian logic to figure out a crime scene she reluctantly stumbles into.

In Elementary, She read, by Vicki Delany, Gemma has come to West London in Cape Cod for a fresh start after her divorce. She manages the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium for her great uncle, Arthur Doyle, a Sherlock Holmes aficionado (and maybe even a distant, distant relative of the famous author). Uncle Arthur bought the building for its address: 222 Baker Street. Next door (220 Baker Street) Jayne Wilson, who co-owns Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, has become Gemma’s best friend and confidant. The two shops are connected, benefiting both businesses. 

The story kick-off: While tidying up after twenty-four women on a bridge group holiday swept in, shopped, and left, Gemma comes across a bag wedged between some books. Inside the bag is what appears to be an original edition of a magazine containing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story. If not fake, it could be worth a fortune. Gemma finds a postcard in the bag with the name of the hotel where the magazine’s owner must be staying. After stashing the magazine in her great uncle’s safe at home, she and Jayne set out for the hotel to ask a few questions before returning the magazine. They find a dead body, and the game is afoot.

The characters are deftly drawn: Gemma isn’t the Sherlock Holmes fan both her great uncle and Jayne are, but her mind works, ironically, like the Great Detective’s. She can take every little detail and arrive at accurate conclusions in a way that disconcerts local police and even wrecked a fine romance. Jayne is her Doctor Watson, sensible, anchored, and yet secretly thrilling to the adventure Gemma drags her into. Other quirky characters move the plot along: great uncle Arthur who, despite being in his 90s, has wanderlust and is on a trip in this story. The author’s brushstrokes are just enough to make him vivid by his absence. (This reader hopes he pops up again in a future book.) Then there is Ruby, the grumpy clerk at the shop cash register; Irene Talbot, the journalist hungry for a story; two book collectors (one hunky, one boring), who take an interest in the magazine; Detective Louise Estrada, out to pin a murder rap on Gemma; a dysfunctional family of would-be heirs . . . and many minor characters breeze through the pages with life and humor. Gemma, as a matter of fact, has some very funny lines throughout. 

This is a mystery that is both satisfying in the puzzle sense and disarming to a reader who likes cozy mysteries with endearing sleuths.


Vicki Delany obviously loves writing mysteries and has several series out, as well as stand-alones. You can learn more about her at her website HERE











How about you? Are you excited to find a new series? If so, is it the location or the characters that grab you and make you want to read more?   Do you prefer stand alone novels  or series?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and a Quantity of Debt — Book Review


                               
     
I have been "missing in action" for almost a month since we came back from Spain and Portugal. (No this picture is not me; it's the cover of a good book I read and am reviewing below.) On return from our trip, we immediately needed to go vote in the California primary. Then Rajan had cataract surgery (which went well). And ever since then I've been catching up on gardening, cleaning, and politics. (Marching this Saturday on behalf of asylum seekers on the border.)

I also wrote a new post about the Braga Romana festival in Portugal on my Fourth Wish blog HEREif you want to check it out.

But I've also found time to read.  I am a Sherlock Holmes fan, and although the discovery of pastiches came late to me, now I'm hooked. When they are well done, they are as satisfying as the original stories. I just finished a most satisfying mystery by David Marcum: Sherlock Holmes and a Quantity of Debt. 

Here is my review below:

David Marcum’s new mystery once again presents Sherlock Holmes and John Watson with just the right “voice” to make this novel seem as if it is part of “the Canon”. The title pays homage to a line from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations,and its layers of meaning unfold with the story.

The story opens with Dr. Watson in the doldrums over the death of his beloved first wife, Constance. He has moved back in with Holmes for company and for some direction to his now purposeless life. It is a cold, stormy day in April. Enter Inspector Alec McDonald with a troubling case in Bedfordshire: Workmen who were replacing an antiquated pipe drainage system on an estate uncovered a body hidden under the pipe fifty years earlier. The corpse has been well-preserved with physical details that play a large part in the story. McDonald asks for help from Sherlock, and off the three go to Bedfordshire to investigate further.

The cast of characters are wonderfully “Victorian Gothic”: Martin Briley, the estate owner, is an old man in his sixties. He’s highly thought of by all the villagers for his many good works throughout his life, but now he’s chair-bound and on the brink of death. His housekeeper, Mrs. Lynch, is as freezing as the inclement weather outside. On the other hand, his estate agent, George Burton, is a popular villager who has worked his way up to his current position. Burton, soon to inherit the estate, enjoys only antipathy from the forbidding Mrs. Lynch. Minor characters are quirky enough to be memorable without detracting from the main cast. Interiors, landscapes, and weather are so well described it’s easy for a reader to visualize and navigate all sites in the story and feel immersed in Victorian England. The clues scattered along the twists and turns of this puzzle mystery lead to a satisfying conclusion. 

All in all, a pleasurable read, and I certainly hope more from this author are in the works. 




Author, David Marcum


                                                                                                                              


David Marcum is also the author of several Sherlock Holmes adventures as well as the editor of several Sherlock Holmes story collections. You can read more about him and all of his writing ventures on his Author Page HERE.


How about you? Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? Are you a mystery fan? Do you prefer novels or stories? Have you ever written a pastiche?





You can contact David Marcum at 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

An Evening in Apúlia That Began with Pessoa


My husband and I returned Sunday from a five-day trip to Braga, Portugal. We went for the Braga Romana Festival, which I'll be posting about soon, with pictures.  Here is a little "taster" until then. But today our last evening in Braga is fresh in my mind, because friends we've been privileged to know — Carla Pereira, her husband, Armando Coelho, and their daughter, Beatriz — made it magical.  
         
To begin with, I am a fan of Pessoa, the mysterious Portuguese poet whose poems were never discovered until after his death. He's considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, and one of Portugal's two greatest poets. The fact that I'm a fan doesn't mean I've read a lot of his work: But I do have two books of his translated poems that I dip into from time to time. And when I do, there is something about his use of words, even translated, that etch the heart and linger on.
   
So the evening we were to go out to dinner, Carla invited us to their flat for snacks first, and gave us this marvelous present: A hand-crafted book of some of his poems. You can see what a marvel the book is: The cover is wood, as it the spine, all lovingly assembled into a masterpiece of workmanship. The poems are in Portuguese, alas, but I will make it my Portuguese language lesson to start translating them one by one — probably for the next 30 years! 😊 She also gave us a bottle of Dona Carla wine, which we are saving for a special occasion. (Maybe when my new book comes out in October)

Those were the first two surprises.

The third surprise was where we went for dinner — a small fishing village about 32 kilometers away from Braga. It's called Apúlia, which is also the name of a town in Italy, and it is thought that perhaps there is a connection, due to Roman-style original folk costumes that may go back to the Roman Empire. The name of the restaurant was A Cabana (The Beach Hut). More about that later, but first we walked along the beach, enjoying the fresh breeze, the susurro of waves, the peacefulness that always comes near the ocean.





             


Carla took the picture of me on the beach looking up at Rajan. The reason I like this picture so much is that a few minutes earlier, a man came along singing loudly and with high spirits. I think he was gypsy because of the melody of his song and the wonderful "warbling" effect that you often hear in gypsy music. He stopped and leaned on the rail above, looking out to sea, with his arms wide open toward the water. Rajan was beside him at that point and gave him a couple of coins, and, in Spanish he spoke at length, thanking Rajan, blessing him, blessing his wife (with a nod to me where I was looking up from the sand), and then he went on his way, singing. I had my camera and would have loved to take a picture, but it would have made him self-conscious. And it would have destroyed the moment. But it's an experience I will always remember. 

Before we got back in the car to go to A Cabana, we posed for two group photos. And then we went on to the restaurant which was another great experience.


The restaurant was one of several in a line, but it was absolutely packed. Obviously a popular place. Wonderful artifacts of the sea and of fishing. Waiters who loved to joke — and who were some of the fastest I'd ever seen! And the food was just delicious. We had grilled salmon, but it came with potatoes and vegetables, and the meal was served with a very tasty table wine in a carafe the water kept refilling. Everyone at every table seemed to be having a wonderful time. (WE certainly were!) 





Finally, it was time to go. But the evening wasn't over! You might call this surprise #4: Armando drove us from beach area to beach area as twilight fell. It was a beautiful night. The sky was that lovely blue that always seems so mystical. The moon wasn't visible from inside the car, but Venus was — a planet, but also known as the evening star and the morning star, and always shining brightly. That's the epitome of Portugal for me: always shining brightly. 

How about you? What is the most magical trip you can remember? What is the most magical evening? Does twilight affect you? Do you love to wander along the beach?