Five Stars for A SUMMER IN EUROPE

A Summer in Europe

A Summer in Europe

It’s been three years since I read this book, but I remember it fondly, so obviously, it was memorable. At the time I reviewed it this way:

“This is a simple story told in a wonderful and complex style. It’s long, but there isn’t an extra word anywhere. The author, Marilyn Brant, leads the reader in a journey through Europe with Gwendolyn Reese and a group of American and British tourists. You know how you see description of tourist spots and your eyes tend to jump, or glaze over? NOT in this book, because each description is so ingrained with emotions that the very street (or canal) becomes an integral piece of the story. Now, that’s writing talent! At the bottom, it’s a romance, but also a ‘coming-of-age’ (at thirty!). And definitely a story of adventure, mystery, every-day-life, age differences—but that’s what I brought to it. Maybe you will bring something else.”

Okay, I loved this book. And so did almost all of those who reviewed it on Goodreads.

One of my favorite reviews starts this way: “Oh this book is like sitting in the sun in the middle of a Roman piazza while eating a big scoop of gelato. It’s lovely and something to be savored. Just about the only thing I didn’t like about this book is that Gwen got to go to Europe for a month and I didn’t. Yeah, I’m pretty jealous of this fictional character!”

I discovered this reviewer is Meg and she’s a book blogger. I had to look up her blog. It’s one I want to follow.

Another review by Meredeth (another book blogger) starts this way: a”*yawns and stretches* Sorry, please excuse my sleepiness, I’ve just returned from a fantastic sojourn in Europe and I’m just a teensy bit jet-lagged…

“During the summer she turns thirty, Gwendolyn Reese – an unsophisticated and inhibited middle school math teacher that passionately loves listening to musical soundtracks – expects to be trying on wedding dresses, picking out flowers, and planning a wedding with her boyfriend of two years. But instead she is being shanghaied by her aunt’s S & M Club (S for Sudoku, M for Mahjongg – had you shocked there for a moment, didn’t I?) to travel on their five week tour of Europe.”
That’s two blogs I want to follow. Perhaps you will too.

Craney Island – Another War of 1812 Episode

Battle of Craney Island

Battle of Craney Island

In June, 1813, the British were cocky. They had only encountered ineffective local militia. They had blockaded Chesapeake Bay and chased the frigate U.S.F. Constellation into Norfolk, VA. At Craney Island, protecting both Hampton Roads and shipyards at Portsmouth and Norfolk, VA, was a small military contingent. In every land battle so far, the Americans had run rather than fight overwhelming odds. The British did not expect much opposition.

Instead, they planned to capture the island, continue on to the larger Virginia cities, and capture the stranded frigate. According to a lieutenant from the Constellation who visited the blockading fleet under a flag of truce, the British officers said they would strike at the ship soon, vowing that “they must & will have it!”

USS Constellation-1812

“The British became the victims of their own overweening arrogance,” says Maryland historian Christopher T. George, author of “Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay” and editor of the Journal of the War of 1812.

“They thought they were facing ill-trained rustics. So they rowed in as if they were just waiting to be shot at. They were sitting ducks.”

General Robert Taylor

General Robert Taylor

As General Taylor wrote in his letter of July 4, 1813, to the Secretary of War: “The whole force on the island at the time of the attack, consisted of 50 riflemen, 446 infantry of the line, 91 state artillery, and 150 seamen and marines furnished by Capt. Tarbell. Of these, 43 were on, the sick list.”

He added, “I cannot withhold my grateful acknowledgments to Com. Cassin, Capt. Tarbell, and the officers and crew of the Constellation and gunboats, who have in every instance aided our operations with a cordiality, zeal and ability, not to be surpassed.”

The ship’s crew helped, but as British Napier lamented in his journal, “A sharp cannonade from the works on the island cost us 71 men, without returning a shot.”

The British did not capture the Constellation, and they left the area without attacking Norfolk.

The reported number of British casualties varied by source. There were approximately 80 killed, wounded and missing. One barge was captured and at least two more were severely damaged. The defenders did not suffer any casualties in the first major War of 1812 victory on Chesapeake Bay.

“The British had all the advantages. They had the numbers. They had the firepower — and they should have won,” said former Virginia War Museum director John V. Quarstein.

“You can’t go visit Craney Island today. It’s not immortalized by a song like the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,'” he adds.

“But the battle there was the first big American victory in a long string of defeats on the Chesapeake Bay — and it deserves to be better remembered.”

Five Star Read – THE ANTEATER OF DEATH

Anteater coverNow, you have to admit—The Anteater of Death is an unusual name for a mystery story. Okay—crazy! But I truly like it. It’s got a lot going for it.

A. The name attracts attention. (Always good.)

B. The story lives up to the title. (Also good.)

C. The anteater (in a zoo, thankfully) is not only a suspect in murder, but has a devoted advocate in the heroine of the story—Teddy, the amateur detective.

This was how I put it a couple of months ago when I read The Anteater of Death:

The plot is full of unexpected twists, the characters are mostly known to eah other (for generations) and quite individual. The suspense is right up there, along with enough humor to fit the title. But there is also suspense to keep the reader on the edge of her (or his) seat. The book starts and ends with a chapter in the anteater’s viewpoint—quite a bit different than a human viewpoint. In between it’s Teddy’s story. She’s related to the wealthy zoo donors and working at the zoo. And yes, there is death. Great story for those looking for the unusual subject. Spiced with zoo and animal information.

Right now the Kindle ebook is $.99. Betty Webb is the author. She has two other zoo books, and a desert series of mysteries.

War of 1812 – Kent Island

In August, 1813, Captain Charles Gordon, U.S.N. said, “MARYLAND INVADED…it appears the enemy have taken possession of Kent Island, and that the inhabitants of every description have removed to the main land…From the circumstance of landing cannon on Kent Island, it appears to be the intention of the enemy to keep possession of it for some time; and certainly a more eligible situation could not have been selected for their own safety and convenience or from which to annoy us.”

Burning in Kent County

Burning in Kent County

Indeed, on August 5, the British, with two thousand men and seventeen ships, took over the island. British Admiral John Borlase described Kent Island as a “valuable & beauty Island which is half as large as the Isle of Wright…a central Point between Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington and the Eastern Ports of the State of Maryland.” After they prepared the island, they launched raids on St. Michaels and Queenstown. However, they left on August 27 to sail to their winter quarters.

One reason they left so soon was because of the heavy storms they had encountered in the previous September.

This bit of history and others that I’ve shared added to the reenactment of the forgotten War of 1812 in my upcoming mystery—Forgotten Body. In fact, some I’ve read today means I have to change a few things in that upcoming manuscript. Saved me from a major historical boo-boo. Of course, since all the characters live in the twenty-first century, any misstatements they make could be blamed on ignorance. But Jo (my amateur/reluctant sleuth) is smarter than that.

I just said that, didn’t I? My character is a person—not an extension or imagination of my brain. As a writer, does that happen to you too? As a reader, do you think of the characters as paper dolls or real people? As a reader, when I enjoy a book, I’m firmly in the “real people” mind set.

 

New Writers’ New Book

5-25-5th grade coverI’m one of the retirees who have been helping ten fifth graders who want to write. (When other kids see us passing through the school halls, they ask, “Are you the grandmas?” Yep, that would be us.) This week we will deliver their finished book. They will each get two copies—one to keep and one to give away to a favorite person. (Or, two to keep—their choice.)

All of the children wrote one, or more stories, we edited them, made suggestions, they learned that writing is also rewriting. Some illustrated their stories. One created the cover. One boy was definitely writing a book, but he managed to make a story out of the first two chapters. One of the girls seems destined to take Steven King’s place, but since she was also prolific, we encouraged one of her sweet stories.

They accomplished quite a bit in a half hour a week, especially since 5-25 5th grade kidsthere were several late days for snow that seemed to always happen on our Tuesday morning at the school. They did their writing on a computer easily using a hunt-and-peck system they had each worked out for themselves. (Although it was easy to transfer their work, I really do think it might be better to teach typing skills before using the keyboard. But I’m definitely of the old school—learned how to type in high school on a manual typewriter.)

But, enough of that. I enjoyed working with the kids. I’ve got to say, at least one inner city school is giving the children lots of choice in their education, for we could not have done this without some cooperation from the overworked teachers.

A War of 1812 Prank

One of my favorite souvenirs from our years sailing Chesapeake Bay waters was a small book from St. Michaels, Maryland, The Town That Fooled The British. Besides detailing day-to-day activities and preparations for war and telling the story of saving the ship-building community from British attack, it told about Jacob Gibson’s Prank.

In April 1813, Mr. Gibson farmed Sharp’s Island (now mostly sunken). The British sized the island, imprisoned Mr. Gibson, and confiscated his cattle and sheep. However, they shortly released him and even paid him for the animals.

A few days later, Jacob Gibson, who was well known for his practical jokes, must have been feeling his oats. He and some of his slaves rowed and sailed a barge up Broad Creek toward St. Michaels, about fifteen miles away. He tied a red bandana to the mast, and when they neared St. Michaels, he ordered one of the sailors to beat on an empty rain barrel. (It might have been on a bright, moonlit night.) The videttes (mounted sentries) rode to alert the town. The residents grabbed their stores of food and animals and vacated the town while the St. Michaels Patriotic Blues (the local militia) stood ready to fight the enemy. Fortunately, they recognized his boat, and since Jacob was a quick talker as well as a big joker, he escaped without bodily injury. However, he did give the town two six-pounder cannons as a peace offering.

And, those cannons may (or may not—let’s not forget these stories were passed down by word of mouth before they were written down) have been helpful in the later defense of St. Michaels.

 

A Five Star Read-Under Any Title

Original Cover

Original Cover

The book is the first of the Persephone Cole Vintage Mystery Series taking place in the early 1940s. The author is Heather Haven. I read this mystery a couple of years ago. Was it called Persephone Cole and the Halloween Curse (the original title) or The Dagger Before Me? I don’t remember. Was the cover the original one (pictured left) or the new one? Think it was the original, but, I read the book on my Kindle, so I’m not sure.

As I remember the story, I like the first cover the best. Persephone (Percy for short) is big and beautiful—extra large size. She’s a single mother, living with the extended family (space was a problem) and helping her father in his detective business. She’s determined to succeed at her first solo case. It’s in the theater, which is an added complication—since she doesn’t know that much about theater. But, she’s a good faker (she hopes). And so does the reader—pulling for Percy with every page.

There are so many great reviews of this title, I’d like to quote from a couple of them:

Second Cover

Second Cover

Percy is certainly not the stereotypical mother of the 1940s. She’s a tough woman with an attitude big enough to match her 5’11” frame. She possesses a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue. I love the way she handles people, men in particular, who doubt her abilities as a detective. Though she can be brash at times, Percy also knows how to turn on the charm when she needs to. I can just as easily picture her buttering up a potential witness with free food or roughing up a hostile one.

Here’s what another reviewer had to say:

I found Percy engaging. I liked her moxie. Not exactly feminine, people “often remarked that between her wild hair, thin body, and daffy personality, she reminded them of a Dandelion caught in a windstorm.” (I like that word-picture.) Percy does things like: “she popped a nut into her mouth and separated the meat from the shell with her teeth.” Haven offers delightful and “punny” prose: “What color the interior was supposed to be was difficult to say. I’m going with drab.” Or how about this one—when Percy looks up at a man, we read: “It was novel, looking up to someone not standing on a stepladder.”

And here’s my review:  Persephone Cole (Percy for short) is a female detective in early 1940s New York during World War II. There’s great historic atmosphere (sweaty because it’s a non-air-conditioned heat spell) dealing with strange accidents in the theater district. She detects undercover as a manager who doesn’t really know that much about managing, but she’s right up there with detecting, including gun-handling. The nicely convoluted plot kept me guessing, and the ending was wholly satisfying. Definitely recommended for readers of historic mystery (with sassy women).

I’m wondering, why the title and cover change? I understand an author wishing to present the best face to her readers. And, since I do love this series, I hope it was a good choice. But I have to ask, which cover and which title do you like?

 

Does My Book Need a Vocabulary List?

5-14 Paper and penOkay, that’s a question I seldom ask myself. I write mystery (mostly) taking place in the current time, and in the country where my books are sold. I don’t have any characters speaking a foreign language.

Other books, often ones I read, are set in past centuries or other countries. They might have a list of names, or words that are unfamiliar. That’s handy. There are other instances that necessitate word lists—often involving unusual occupations, or even hobbies. But cozy, or almost cozy mysteries? Most readers know enough of the words used to describe recipes, needlework, antiques, pets, and the various occupations of our favorite amateur sleuths.

Now, back to my question. One of my mysteries involves boating. The following is a paragraph that may have non-boaters thinking I must have missed a few grammar lessons in elementary school.

“The coiled anchor rode smelled musty, even though it was 5-14 anchorcompletely dry. Little colored plastic tags lay, woven into the fiber to measure off the feet as the line payed out. Would I have to remove all that line to see if there was anything underneath? Not tonight. Too much trouble. I flashed around the interior one last time. There was a small piece of paper stuck low, under a few coils of the rope. I pulled it out.”

Did I misspell something? I checked a boating site from the Great Lakes. This is a sentence describing how to anchor a boat. “When all the rode has been payed out, gently back down on the anchor to set it in the bottom.”

RODE – anchor chain or line (rope) that attaches the anchor to the boat

TO PAY OUT, or PAYED OUT – to allow the rode to uncoil and leave the anchor locker so the anchor is lowered

Or, is that just too much? Personally, I think so. I don’t mind reading a book with a few things I have to infer from context. What do you think?

Book Party for THE CLIENT’S WIFE

cover-The Clients Wife2Yes, I went to a book party last week, and I tell you—Thomas Wiggin knows how to party. Big room with chairs set up—check. A showing of a full movie—check. Cookies and popcorn—check. Adult beverages—yeah! Coffee and tea, sure—but choice of wine as well as martinis, both gin and vodka—check! And, icing on the cake—the reading of a scene by the author who made it come alive. (After all, he had a long stint as a starring actor of both daytime and nighttime TV—not to mention writing episodes of the daytime drama, then performing a one-man show he wrote.)

Of course, that’s beside the point. The important part of a book party author signing 2is the book. And, getting a new slant on the where, why, and how of the author’s inspiration and carry-through of that book.

Thomas Wiggin was inspired by his parents, the Gershwin music they loved, and the Nick and Nora Charles movies of the 1930s. So how did those things all come together?

Mr. Wiggin had an answer for that. In those old movies, Nick and Nora had a son, Nick, Jr. What we didn’t know is that Nick, Jr. was not into the detective scene, but his daughter Emma was. Yes, Emma Charles spent time with her grandparents. She learned to love Gershwin, investigations, and martinis. As the book, The Client’s Wife begins, Emma has left her job with the police department and has begun her own detective agency. All she needs is to find a man who appreciates the finer things of life. Gershwin, good English, and the kind of relationship her grandparents had. (All this, of course, while solving crime cases.)

I’ve only started reading my new, signed copy of The Client’s Wife. It’s heading toward my five-star category.

 

Battle of St. Leonard Creek – 1814

St Leonards Creek MD mapWhen I think of war in the days of sailing ships, I envision battles on the ocean. For the War of 1812, I must include the large estuary of Chesapeake Bay and even deep rivers. But a battle on a creek? Especially a creek that family sailboats and cruisers might anchor in for an overnight rendezvous? (More especially, one where my husband and I met with other boaters for a friendly weekend.) But in June of 1814, it did happen.

The British controlled Chesapeake Bay, allowing little trade with St Leonards battleother countries. In an attempt to open the bay, former privateer, Commodore Joshua Barney took his fleet of eighteen small gun boats, barges, and sloops down the bay. He was able to harass the British ships, then escape into smaller tributaries. Barney’s Chesapeake Flotilla clashed with the British from June sixth to the twenty-sixth, ending that day where the Patuxent River meets the mouth of St. Leonard Creek. (Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, the unnamed green section in the center of the map above. is located at the site and commemorates the battle.)

During the ensuing battle Barney, with 360 sailors and 120 marines held off an overwhelming force that bettered him ten to one. One source says that President Madison, himself, took control of the land forces when Barney was severely injured. After four hours, beaten, they retreated. Had they won, they might have prevented the burning of Washington.

Note: Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum cooperated with a middle school in a UTube video of a presentation of Commodore Barney’s tale of the battle.