Sunday, June 29, 2014

Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss: a Review

         I have been given an incredible opportunity: I am one of the readers (fans!) who have had an opportunity to read and review Theodora Goss' newest book, Songs for Ophelia, due in stores in the coming months. I have had to resist a massive fan-girl attack (I really love Theodora's work!) and have tried to be as objective as is possible. I hope you enjoy...I certainly did!

         My advanced review copy of Theodora Goss' exquisite volume Songs for Ophelia is something I will treasure, even after I purchase a copy of the book. One can never have too many books, provided they are ones we love, of course. And multiple copies of the same title? Let us call it collector's insurance. (Hence my two copies of Under the Lilacs and three Jane Eyre.) So two collections of these beautiful, fantastical, even spiritual poems, one digital, one bound, grants me twice the magic, feeling and beauty of Theodora Goss' words. I will have two keys to the kingdom, a realm of dreams, otherworldly mists and confectionary-like castles of dreaming maidens and hopeful princes.

            Like her stunning book In the Forest of Forgetting, Theodora Goss has again created a masterpiece of lyrical elegance, giving readers a glimpse through the magic mirror into the artist's heart. It is a beautiful place.

            We read of heartbroken brides, reminiscent of Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci: 'The willow was once a bride, and dressed herself in white...She wandered by the river, her eyes grown dull and wild/ her satin gown gone ragged, her white feet bruised and bare...on she silently dances, according to decree/ with the wind for her bridegroom...'

            We are introduced to the Elf-King's daughter, the veritable Spirit of nature; a maiden who finds solace in the river's embrace, and goblins who cavort and caper on springtime hillsides. Imprisoned queens sing morning songs and the Lady of the Corn meets with her mortal love.

            We enter woods, dark, secret, where lie pools still and deep, disturbed only by a graceful beckoning hand, and only bones are left to tell the tale.

            The Marshes brought to mind Charles De Lint's short story The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep; the image of the moon lighting pools here, casting reeds into shadows there, is so clear you do not just read the words. You feel the cool night air, you smell the damp mossy pools: 'The marshes call/ the marshes so wild/ all yellow under the moon/ and the small green frogs/ raise their heads from the slime/ to croak a beckoning tune.'

            Fairy Tale denies description. You are there in the grove, listening to the plash and play of the fountain, bathing in the scent of orange blossoms. You are the princess of this fairy tale.

            We walk the ruined paths of Eden, listen to the ghosts of monks' chants, and follow Isolde through the forest. We listen to the rain and lament summer's passing. Later we will climb the Mountains of Never and dream of the pomegranates and olive trees of the south with a bear's daughter.

            We read of raven men who, like the selkies of the north, capture the hearts of humans until such time as they find their cast-off skins and return to the world they knew before.

            The words are redolent of  Emily Dickinson as we read of the last night a dear one lived: 'The last night that she lived/ I scarcely felt her breath/ She wandered vacant-eyed/ the misty hills of death...How noiselessly she went!' We are given an elegantly Victorian view of death in Dirge for a Lady: 'Lay her in lavender...lavender preserves the lovely and the white...Look how her hands are turned to alabaster...How frail, this arrangement of elegant dry dust.' We attend a ball draped in rich velvets, hosted by Death Herself, and witness Narcissus' decay.

            'The songs are done, said the singer...and since the singer left/ we jangle and we start/ all toneless now and reft/ the lutestrings of the heart.'

            I shall say no more, my friends; I feel you are so, for if you are readers of Theodora Goss then we are comrades of the heart. Read her words, and listen with me to the Songs for Ophelia.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer Reading List update

   I have dropped the ball on reviewing the titles on my List, as I got so caught up in reading and taking notes (and an update crashed my system. Bad, bad update!) you are, and it's a doozy!

      My reviews left off with Swimming With Giants, and I was just heading out to explore, adventure, and cause a ruckus with my very dear (fictional) pal Vesper Holly, star of Lloyd Alexander's adventure series. We were on our way to El Dorado, where we met up with all kinds of peril: the evil Doctor Helviticus, erupting volcanoes, hostile jungles, you name it. We survived, and made our way back to Philadelphia, only to rush away on a journey to the Middle East to return a book to the Great Library of Jedera, where we got caught up in a rebellion and political intrigue. Heaven help us. Next we had trouble closer to home at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Finally, we travelled to an archeological dig at the site of the fabled city of Troy, and faced off with Doctor Helviticus yet again. At last we made it home, safe, sound, and ready to take a bit of a break for a while. (This is a VERY brief synopsis of these four books, but I don't want to spoil anyone's adventure. These are young adult books, but I can say they were as fun to read now as they were when I was ten. Check them out. The entire series is: The Illyrian Adventure; The El Dorado Adventure; The Drackenburg Adventure; The Jedera Adventure; The Philadelphia Adventure; and The Xanadu Adventure.)

      Following my adventures with Vesper, I settled down at home with Mary Catherine Bateson's Composing a Life. Essentially this is a treatise on how women rearrange their lives, goals and visions of the future to accommodate others, and how society tends to expect this and take it as the norm, if not a necessity. In contrast, men are seen as go-getters, deterred by nothing, nor should they be. Bateson gives examples of the sexism we are all acclimated to and therefore see as the norm. How do we change this?

      I skipped ahead to Jefferson's Garden Book (because that came in at the library first), and was sadly disappointed, probably because I was expecting detailed entries by Jefferson about his gardens rather than just single line entries. Its greater value lies in the excerpts from Jefferson's personal correspondence that illustrate just how important his home and gardens were to him and how much he was interested in gardening and landscaping projects. Also, the footnotes provided by Edwin Morris Betts are useful in clarifying many of Jefferson's abbreviated entries.

      I got through Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra with little effort and less enjoyment. I am not a Shakespeare fan, but I am a Literature scholar. Hence, lots of Shakespeare on my plate. In all honesty I probably found Antony and Cleopatra so dull because I've read many historical accounts of their drama; thus the play was simply overly wordy old news.

      Next Chris Evans' Iron Elf trilogy. I didn't find it as polished as Eddings' or Salvatore's works, but it is epic fantasy at its height, rife with dark magic and riddled with epic battle scenes. Very fun. (A Darkness Forged in Fire; The Light of Burning Shadows; Ashes of a Black Frost)

      On to The Tempest, also by the revered Billy. I'd like to see this one performed. I'm sure it's amazing to watch. It read well, was mildly suspenseful, but I had always heard that Prospero was one of the most evil literary characters ever, second only to Iago (Othello). I found him entirely justified in his actions...but then I tend to take the underdog's side.

      Pragito Dove's Laughter, Tears, Silence was an interesting and informative read. I highly recommend it to anyone embarking on a meditation practice. I took extensive notes, and have already begun to implement some of her practices. She includes Four Minute Meditations, Grounding Exercises, methods on achieving Quietude, as well as directions on how to inspire and spur Activity for focus and clarity.

     The last book on the list (I think I'm some kind of freak...22 books in 28 days. Who does that? Me, apparently.) was Jostien Gaardner's young adult intro to philosophy, Sophie's World. While well-written and easy to follow (and understand!) it didn't hold my interest very well. Yes, it is a YA book, and I'm most certainly NOT a YA, but I think the bigger reason is that I'm just not a philosophy person. I've tried to study it before, with about the same results: boredom. However, don't let this deter you. It is a very very good book, and the 'lessons' are very easy to follow.

     And there, my friends, you have it. The final reviews of the books in my Summer Reading List. I hope some of you are looking up some of these titles and enjoying them. Since finishing the titles on my list I have read The Dovekeepers for the umpteenth time (I LOVE this book!); The Mill On the Floss for the second time (just as heartbreaking as the first time); Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (another YA title, very good, but I don't think I'll read the sequel, Hollow City); and am reading Anna Karenina for the second time. Once I reach Anna's end, I will move on to the most amazing treasure trove I have ever seen :) My mother came over the other day with a mystery bag, just for me. And inside? Four Louisa May Alcott volumes!!!!! Three of them ones I've never read!!!! There was also a copy of Under the Lilacs, my favorite of her children's stories, and I already own a copy, but one can never have too many copies of Under the Lilacs. (Or Jane Eyre, apparently, as I own four. But that's a tale for another time.) Also included in the magical collection were Jack and Jill, An Old Fashioned Girl, and Rose in Bloom, which is the sequel to Eight Cousins...which I just happened to pick up at my library book sale three months ago! Oh, joy and rapture! From Imperial Russia to old-fashioned Americana. I may not visit many places this summer, but I shall certainly travel far! Happy reading all!!

     And since you're going to be busily reading these next few weeks (aren't you?) I have a lovely suggestion. Why not make yourself some curried chicken salad and some cherry limeade and sit out under a favorite tree with a picnic lunch? Here they are:

                                          Curried Chicken Salad

 My husband loves this salad. I don't like chicken salad. I love this salad. It is perhaps easier to buy prepared curry powder, but making it yourself means you can tweak things here and there and make it as mild or as screamin' hot as you like. I go for mild, myself. If you are a true kitchen maven (or a glutton for punishment) you will season boneless skinless chicken breasts and bake them, then shred them and mix with the dressing. If you're like me, you take advantage of your local grocer's weekly rotisserie chicken sale and buy a ready-cooked birdie.

* 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat and seasoned with salt and pepper or curry powder, or one whole rotisserie-cooked chicken (you will get approximately the same amount of meat from either)

*1 to 2 C. mayonnaise, depending on your taste

*1/4 C. to 1/2 C. finely diced Vidalia onion

*1/2 C. finely chopped pecans

*1/2 C. golden raisins

                   Curry Powder:

*1 tsp. ground ginger

*1 tsp. turmeric

*1/2 tsp. cumin

*1/2 tsp. paprika

*1/2 tsp. dried mustard

*1/4 tsp. coriander

*1/4 tsp. cinnamon

*1/4 tsp. clove

*Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and bake until cooked through, 30 minutes or so. If you wish to season them with curry powder, double the seasoning recipe and use half for the chicken.

 2. While the chicken bakes, prepare seasoning; chop onion and pecans. Mix seasoning, onion, pecans and raisins with 1 C. mayonnaise, set aside.

 3. Allow chicken to cool, chop, then shred to desired consistency; add to dressing mixture. Mix well. Taste, and adjust seasonings and/or dressing to your preference. (I generally use 2 C. mayonnaise in the end.)

 For sandwiches: spread bread with mayonnaise, add baby arugula and a generous 1/4 cup of salad. Top with a second slice of mayonnaise-spread bread, slice on the diagonal and attempt to eat without wearing it.

 For neater consumption: place a bed of baby arugula on a plate, top with salad and eat neatly with a fork. Not as much fun, but far less messy.

                                Cherry Limeade
  • 3 cups of cherries, pitted
  • 2 limes, quartered (peel on)
  • 6 cups water
  • ½ – ¾ cups of sugar, honey or your favorite sweetener
  • Ice
  • Garnish: Cherries and lime slices

    1. Combine the cherries and limes in the blender with the sugar and 2 cups of water. You can also add some ice if you want it extra cold. Blend until all the ingredients are pureed.
    2. Strain the juice and add the rest of the water through the strainer
    3. Serve cold or with ice garnished with cherries and lime slices.
    (Cherry Limeade recipe from Laylita's Recipes: )


    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    Just an update...

    in which I shall squeal, squark, whoop, flip and do all kinds of ridiculous antics out of pure glee! I have an opportunity to read and review Theodora Goss' newest book (not yet in stores) Songs for Ophelia!!!!!! Pardon me while I go fan-girl, my friends, but Theodora Goss is an incredible writer; her book In the Forest of Forgetting is a lush, lyrical walk through a fantasy realm, and I, among many many others, have been highly anticipating her forthcoming poetry volume...and I have a copy, sent by the lady herself, saved away here in my laptop. I am in ecstasy, truly. (I know you can't see it, but trust me here.) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thursday, June 12, 2014

    Words of value...

    "In this information age awash with so many words it is easy to undervalue an instinctual knowledge hat comes from within. But the sacred principles of life have never been written down: they belong to the heartbeat, to the rhythm of the breath and the flow of the blood. They are alive like the rain and the rivers, the waxing and waning of the moon. If we learn to listen we will discover that life, the Great mother, is speaking to us, telling us what we need to know. ... all ...the words in our libraries and on the Internet will not tell us what to do. But the sacred feminine can share with us her secrets, tell us how to be, how to midwife her rebirth. And because we are her children she can speak to each of us, if we have the humility to listen."
    -Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
    From:The Return of the Feminine and the world Soul

    (I found this on Facebook, of all places. It's amazing the gems you can find there.)

    Summer Fun!

         Over the next few days I'll share links and activities for some great summertime fun with your children. Much of it will be geared toward the younger set, but I'll try to include things older children might like as well. (For instance, my teenagers are all about video games...until I mention anything about letterboxing!) I'm also going to try to keep it as budget-friendly as possible. My own household is a single-income one, so I fully understand how difficult it can be to get out and do things with the family.  Here's wising you all happy summer days!
    There is a monthly fee for this, starting at $10.95 a month for a 12 month plan. Your child receives:
    World Edition: Here's what you get!
    Recommended age: 5-10 years old
    Explorer Kit for Month 1
    • A fun travel suitcase with a letter from our globetrotting characters Sam and Sofia
    • World wall map
    • Travel passport
    • Fun stickers, an activity sheet, and access to online games and activities
    Country adventure kits for future months
    Sam and Sofia visit a new country every month and send your child:
    • An adventure letter
    • Fun souvenirs
    • Stickers for your child's suitcase, passport, and map
    • Photos from that country's sites
    • Online games and activities in our Boarding Zone

         We're looking at this for our own little guy. There is also a US edition, recommended for ages 7 to 12.

    LETTERBOXING is an intriguing pastime combining navigational skills and rubber stamp artistry in a charming "treasure hunt" style outdoor quest. A wide variety of adventures can be found to suit all ages and experience levels. Click on the menu or desktop items above to explore this fast-growing hobby.

         This entertaining hobby can cost as little as your time, and the amount you need to purchase an ink pad. Buy or make a stamp, grab a small notebook and a pen, and you're off! Look up clues to various letterboxes on the letterboxing website and let the treasure hunt begin. Unlike geocaching, all you leave and take with letterboxing is your stamp in the hidden box, and the stamp you find in your notebook.

         If you want to plant your own letterbox, you'll need a few more items: a second notebook, stamp pad, stamp, a pen, and a waterproof bag or box to place your things in. Depending on where you place it, you may also need to ask permission. My children and I have only placed one so far...look for our clues under The Pickety Witch on the letterboxing website! :)

         More to follow soon!

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Reading nonfiction....

    and finding it at times informative, enchanting, disappointing and/or boring, as the case may be. Having finished Laura Esquivel's Between Two Fires, I will rate this book as enchanting. Anecdotes, essays, introductions to her other works or those of others, this delightful little book is a must-have for anyone that loves what I call 'food books': not cookbooks, but books like Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, Luisa Weiss' My Berlin Kitchen, Julie Powell's Julie and Julia; books that center around food as a main theme in the living of daily life. I love this kind of stuff.

         "Life cannot be substituted for literature, nor can literature be substituted for life...No one who loves life can ignore literature, and no one who loves literature can ignore life." ~Laura Esquivel

         I have also just finished Swimming with Giants by Anne Collett, and while well-written by a leading scientist in the studies of these beautiful giants of the sea, I found it disappointing, though I think that is my own fault. I suppose I expected essays waxing lyrical about whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, maybe some manatees, otters and the like. And while Collett describes many of these creatures in great detail, and her interactions with many of them, this book is overall far more clinical and distant than I expected it to be. (Though I would now love to visit the Center for Research on Marine Mammals in La Rochelle, France.) If you are a sea-lover like myself, it is definitely worth reading, just not quite as lyrical or enchanting as I'd hoped it to be.

         I've re-piled the tumbled-down books, and today will be embarking on an adventure to South America with an old friend of mine, Vesper Holly. I'd post photos, but Vesper and I get into so much trouble together that I never have a chance to take pictures. I have the four Vesper Holly books I never got to read as a teenager (thank you, Carnegie Library) and as each is only about 150 pages long I should be through them in fairly short order. No worries though: I already ordered the seven remaining books on then Summer Reading List, and I own a volume of Shakespeare and I'm borrowing my daughter's copy of Sophie's World. I seem to have made it through all the shorter books on the list already (though Endymion was 60 pages long, it was in miniscule print, and didn't seem all that short when I was reading it!). Chris Evans' Elf Trilogy looks to be like quite an adventure...we'll see how well I hold up after racing around the world with Vesper!

    Saturday, June 7, 2014

    Moving forward!

        While my computer has been down these last few days I have not sat idly by; I have completed a children's story titled Henry Loves Hash Browns, finished a second draft of a story titled Do Butterflies Drink Lemonade?; and have been charging ahead with my Summer Reading pile...I mean list. Having finished The Celtic Twilight (days ago!) I moved on to Eve Curie's biography of her mother Madam (Doctor, actually) Marie Sklodovska-Curie, followed by Per Olov Enquist's fictional novel The Book About Blanche and Marie, based on the relationship between Marie Curie and her lab assistant Blanche Wittman, as researched in letters and journal entries, then built upon. Yesterday I read A Scented Palace by Elisabeth De Feydeau (only 114 pages).

         And so, to recap.....I found Marie Curie's life to be an incredible story: she was a brilliant woman, a child prodigy, really, who faced and overcame nearly insurmountable odds on her journey to greatness, not the least of which was crushing poverty. Despite the grand titles and numerous awards she earned, won and was given, she seems to have retained an attitude of grateful humility, thankful that she had been given the opportunity to learn, teach, research, and bring polonium and radium to light, as well as use her knowledge for the benefit of humankind. Hers is an extraordinary story, really.
          I followed it up with Enquist's novel, and I will not hesitate to say, with rather rude honesty, that I thought it was terrible. The writing style is alluring; in fact the style itself (reminiscent of Alice Hoffman's writing style, actually, at least to me!) may be the only reason I finished the book. It is written in a unique voice, told in both the first and the third person, though distantly, as though the storyteller doesn't want you to invest much thought in the person behind the words, but just the words themselves.

         The story revolves around love: love lost, love gained, love hated, love spurned, and around death, or rather Blanche's obsession with death: natural, in gradual stages, and imagined (or desired) murders. At the same time passages read redundantly, as though the storyteller's (and through this first person voice, Blanche's) thoughts circle back again and again to the same ideas.

         A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer is very well written, but interesting mostly in that despite all the evidence of Fargeon's support of the rising Republic he was still arrested and held for trial, and nearly executed, all because he created a quality product that the nobility coveted. It's a very good look at how very screwed up France was during the Revolution and the days that followed.

         I'm shuffling things around now, mostly because my book pile fell over, and the book at the top of the pile was Laura Esquivel's Between Two Fires. I am on page 65, and have decided I need to purchase this one. My husband has just announced we are going out for ice cream. I will continue this post later. (Probably lying on the couch feeling extremely ill, as I am lactose intolerant, but I don't care. ICE CREAM!) Later all! Much luvz!!!

    Finishing 'The Celtic Twilight' with selections of Yeats' poetry:

    The Stolen Child

    Where dips the rocky highland
    Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
    There lies a leafy island
    Where flapping herons wake
    The drowsy water rats;
    There we've hid our faery vats,
    Full of berrys
    And of reddest stolen cherries.
    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

    Where the wave of moonlight glosses
    The dim gray sands with light,
    Far off by furthest Rosses
    We foot it all the night,
    Weaving olden dances
    Mingling hands and mingling glances
    Till the moon has taken flight;
    To and fro we leap
    And chase the frothy bubbles,
    While the world is full of troubles
    And anxious in its sleep.
    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

    Where the wandering water gushes
    From the hills above Glen-Car,
    In pools among the rushes
    That scarce could bathe a star,
    We seek for slumbering trout
    And whispering in their ears
    Give them unquiet dreams;
    Leaning softly out
    From ferns that dropp their tears
    Over the young streams.
    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

    Away with us he's going,
    The solemn-eyed:
    He'll hear no more the lowing
    Of the calves on the warm hillside
    Or the kettle on the hob
    Sing peace into his breast,
    Or see the brown mice bob
    Round and round the oatmeal chest.
    For he comes, the human child,
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than he can understand.
      ~ William Butler Yeats

    Down By The Salley Gardens

    Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
    She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
    She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
    But I being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

    In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
    And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
    She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
    But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

               ~W. B. Yeats

    Monday, June 2, 2014

    A walk through the Celtic Twilight with W. B. Yeats.

         The Celtic Twilight is a collection of essays that read like short tales; some are interviews with folk of the Irish countryside, they who live side by side with the sidhe and the fey, and who have all sorts of tales to tell about ghosts, faerie haunts and happenings, and poets and heroes of times past. Yeats introduces us to ideas that seem child-like to the mind of today, but hover on the edge of plausibility. Are the fair folk real? Could they be? Living in America, I haven't had the exposure to the forces of the otherworld that seem so prevalent in Ireland and Scotland, though I have the blood of both heritages running through my veins. (Wales and England too, actually.) And I love faerie tales. So yes, I believe, for there are some things that need to be believed in to be seen: "The things a man has heard and seen are threads of life, and if he pull them carefully from the confused distaff of memory, any who will can weave them into whatever garments of belief please them best."

         Yeats asks us: "What is literature but the expression of moods by the vehicle of symbol and incident? And are there not moods which need heaven, hell, purgatory, and fairyland for their expression, no less than this dilapidated earth?"

         "Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet." (I think this is one of the most beautiful, moving lines I have ever read.)

         In Dust Hath Closed Helen's Eye, Yeats tells us of the beautiful Mary Hynes of Ballylee, and the wandering  poet Raftery, both immortalized in Liam Clancy's exquisite song Mary Hynes (shared back in April). At the time that Yeats had written this essay, there were still living some few who had known, or at least seen Mary Hynes personally, and all attested that she was indeed the most beautiful woman ever to walk upon Ireland's soil.

         In The Eaters of Precious Stones, Yeats tells us of his 'waking dreams': "Sometimes when I have been shut off from common interests, and have for a little while forgotten to be restless, I get waking dreams, now faint and shadow-like, now vivid and solid-looking, like the material world under my feet. Whether they be faint or vivid, they are ever beyond the power of my will to alter in any way. They have their own will, and sweep hither and thither, and change according to its commands....I seemed to hear a voice of lamentation out of the Golden Age. It told me that we are imperfect, incomplete, and no more like a beautiful woven web, but like a bundle of cords knotted together and flung into a corner. It said that the world was once all perfect and kindly, and that still the kindly and perfect world existed, but buried like a mass of roses under many spadefuls of earth." And so there is yet hope for humanity.