My friend pressed Nora Robert’s The Sign of Seven trilogy on me as perfect vacation reading, knowing I tend to like supernatural and spooky books. I should have guessed, as she was the friend who also tried to get me to read the 50 Shades crap. But I love her anyways. These books, however, I do not love, although they aren’t as bad as I thought when starting them.
The story centres on the Pagan Stone, an spot in the woods that has been subject to many rumors and history in the town of Hawkin’s Hollow. Three boys go there for their tenth birthdays, each on the same day. They do a blood brother ritual at midnight, and release a demon into the world. This demon returns for seven days every seven years, starting on the anniversary of its release from its prison. The demon taunts the boys, and infects the townspeople into committing acts of violence and forgetting all about it once the week is over, and the boys grow up trying to protect the townspeople and figure out a way to destroy the demon. This is actually kind of interesting, and is largely introduced in the first of the novels, Blood Brothers. It reminds me a bit of a Stephen King novel, which is fine.
In Blood Brothers, a young woman researching a book into these events comes into town, followed quickly by her best friend and another woman who is just drawn to the town. The six of them all converge together, of course, and sparks fly. The characters all have romance names – Caleb, Fox, Gage, Quinn, Cybill and Layla. Caleb and Quinn pair up in Blood Brothers, Fox and Layla in The Hollow, and Gage and Cybill in The Pagan Stone. It is all drawn out over the three novels. They are all beautiful and intelligent and well spoken, and the men are all the best lovers the world has ever seen. It is all so cliche, and it drags down what I thought was actually a well drawn out supernatural story, if it had been compressed into a single novel. I think I might just be the wrong audience for romance novels, because Nora Roberts sells enough books that it must be speaking to someone.
I love this book, unreservedly. Years ago, I ran across a reference to Eugene Walter’s in The Pat Conroy Cookbook, and searched out this oral biography. I was thinking about it again recently, and took it out again. I enjoyed it just as much the second time – Walter is a born storyteller, having lived one of the most interesting lives I have ever read about.
Katherine Clark met Walter a few years before his death in Alabama, and was immediately drawn into his circle. She knew what a rare soul he was, and knowing he would never finish an autobiography, recorded his stories about his life and wrote them in a book later, only lightly edited. He divided the world into people who were “cats and monkeys” and those who aren’t. Cats and monkeys were kind of his spirit animals, and it was how he described the people with whom he identified and liked.
Walter lived the life of an adventurer, a born raconteur who was open to everything that life might offer. He had an interesting childhood in Alabama, and embraced his Southernness throughout all his life. He was a code breaker in WWII, moved to New York where he encountered personalities like Tallulah Bankhead, and lived the life of a poet, artist, and bookseller. He fulfilled a dream of moving to Paris, and helped George Plimpton set up The Paris Review. He later moved to Rome to edit Botteghe Oscure and to translate for Felllini films. It is hard to talk about the book without just making a list of all the famous people Walter knew – Judy Garland, T. S. Eliot, Anais Nin. That feels lame, and Walter wasn’t really bragging about all the people he met; he was just a great storyteller and entertainer who valued and welcomed experience. He never made any money, but seemed to just luck into this exotic life.
Walter was a novelist, poet, editor, translator, actor, puppeteer, cook and expert party thrower. It is beyond me why he is not more famous than he is, but he seems to have been a delight and a treasure. I love this book.
I reserved Girl Walks into a Bar at the library after hearing a good review of it from another Cannonballer. I had kind of mixed feelings about it at first, as it wasn’t exactly the story I had been anticipating, but my husband read it after me and said that he found it “strangely compelling.” We actually had an interesting discussion about some parts of that book, and a month after finishing it I find it has really stuck with me.
Dratch, whose performance as Sheldon on SNL never failed to make me giggle, opens her book with a pretty frank discussion of her life and career around the time her role on Tina Fey’s 30 Rock changed and then ended. It was insightful and wry and funny, and reminded me quite a bit of Fey’s Bossypants, particularly those sections also dealing with the creation of 30 Rock. However, soon after the opening chapter, Dratch’s book took on a less funny but more personal nature, focusing less on her work and more on personal life.
There are certainly funny moments in Girl Walks Into a Bar, but the book talks quite a bit about Dratch’s romantic relationships, and how her life just seemed to change in tone once her career kind of stalled and she approached 40, unmarried and childless. It seemed heartfelt and honest. I haven’t had the same experience, having married and had children when younger, but her worries about her career and how her life is progressing felt disturbingly familiar to me. To me, it seems like she learned to live with uncertainty to some extent, which is probably a good lesson to have learned and one I wish I was a bit better at embracing. I am glad she found so much happiness, and I wish I could see more of her television. Dratch is really charming and self- aware in this book, and I really enjoyed it.
I made the spiced crabapple jelly recipe from Ellie Topp’s and Margaret Howard’s excellent and foolproof The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving. It turned out perfectly – it gelled right away and it seems to taste great, if the tiny bit I could scrape of the spoon and bottom of the pot are any indication. Another batch due today!
I have two apple trees in my front yard – they are pretty tart, but make good sauce. All the school kids that pass by always steal some, take a few bites, and then chuck the remainder further down the yard. I guess I will head out tonight to harvest some to make some applesauce before the kids and the other assorted strangers strip the tree bare.
UPDATE: I have made seven litres of applesauce, and then gave the rest of the apples to friends after saving some for eating out of hand. For my future reference, 12 apples is approximately 4 lbs, making 2 litres.
Edgar Degas’ sculpture The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen Years is arguably one of the most famous sculptures in the world, and I think it is much more striking in person than it is in a photograph. The girl seems so delicate and dainty when one sees the sculpture in person, and one could see how that suggestion of fragility would inspire Cathy Marie Buchanan to write The Painted Girls. Her novel is about the life she has imagined for the model for the sculpture, a girl named Marie van Goethem. In real life, little is known about van Goethem’s life, but Buchanan did some research on the life of young “ballet girls” from that era in Paris and written a whole backstory for this girl.
Marie van Goethem is the middle child of three girls, living in poverty with an absinthe addicted mother. Her older sister Antoinette had previously been a ballet girl, a petit rat, but had lost her place mostly due to attitude problems. With few options available, the family desperately has the two youngest daughters audition for the ballet school, and both are accepted, which brings in a few extra francs to the family. Marie and Antoinette both want something better for themselves, mostly love and security, but have very few options available. Marie ends up modelling for an artist named Degas, and Antoinette falls in love with a rakish young man. Things, of course, get complicated for all of the girls.
This book is an interesting study of a certain subset of girls who would have been living in Paris at this time, particularly in the world surrounding the ballet. However, it is also focuses closely on the relationship of the sisters, which is not something I have seen in many of the books I have been reading lately. The men in their lives are just passing characters, and their role in the story is centred largely around how they affect the relationships of the van Goethem girls. The chapters alternate between the voices of Maria and Antoinette, and Buchanan does a good job of making each distinct throughout the novel.
The Painted Girls was a really enjoyable read, and I think I am going to track down Buchanan’s first novel.