Book Crush: The Black Count

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Happy St. Patty’s Day folks! Today’s Book Crush takes place at one of my favorite outdoor reading venues in Bellingham. On the walk between downtown and Fairhaven, there’s this ramp overlooking the water that is peopled with wooden benches. And while they may not be the softest benches ever, the view is great, the air is salty and I can’t think of many places I’d rather read on my day off…always providing it’s warm enough of course.

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When my girlfriend Scarlett and I were girls we loved the book The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m not sure what appealed to us. The adventure, the exotic locales, or just the writing itself. Later in life I picked up The Black Tulip, another adventure story by Alexander Dumas, and thoroughly enjoyed it both as a discussion of a very interesting time in horticultural history and simply because it was a ‘ripping yarn’.

black countBeing also a fan of history itself, I was delighted to come across this book one Sunday afternoon. Author Tom Reiss spent over a decade researching the life of Alexander Dumas’ father, General Alex Dumas. And when you start to look at the facts, suddenly Dumas’ outlandish tales of derring-do and conspiracy seem a lot more grounded in reality.

Are you interested in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era? This book will give you a whole new perspective on them. It turns out that Alexander Dumas’ father was the son of a French gentleman and a Haitian lady. Tom Reiss delves into the history of the sugar plantations in the Caribbean as well as Napoleon’s failed attempt to conquer Egypt. The range of this book is fairly far-reaching, all told through the lens of one incredible man’s life story.

My only beef with this book is that I would have liked to see more primary sources from the perspective of General Alex Dumas. That said, perhaps not many of his letters have survived. In either case, I enjoyed Reiss’ spare, though evocative prose. And this is a story that certainly needs to be told. Even just the two pages devoted to the fate of Toussaint Louverture’s sons gives the reader a greater understanding of that era, as well as the contemporary era. It is an unmasking of history that has been buried for too long.

If you enjoy reading history, pick up this book next time you’re at the bookstore. Reiss’ book is well-researched, finely written and significant. Plus it’s a ripping good yarn.

Book Crush: The Bones of Paris

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This week’s book crush takes place at Avellino’s. A tiny coffee-shop tucked into the battery of shops along Railroad Ave in downtown Bellingham, with some very good tea as well as coffee. It reminds me a bit of the tea shop I frequented on Lower Goat Ln in Norwich.

Velvety-chairs tucked here and there and a relaxed array of personable and interesting baristas. (What do you call tea-shop ladies, can I call them baristas also? Ah well...) They also take their baked good quite seriously.

avellino COLALGEI’m not sure who does the baking, but I’ve been quite impressed to date. The flavors are interesting and the texture often revelatory. (Wait did I just say that? Some people are so silly about baked goods.)

But while I’m in transports, lets turn them in a literary direction. My dear husband drove with me down to Mill Creek on a weeknight recently just so that I could meet one of my favorite mystery authors…. Laurie King! If you like mysteries, and you haven’t read Laurie King yet, run to your nearest bookstore and pick up whichever of her novels you can find.

MeandLKReaders, she was just as dynamic in person as is her prose on the page. We talked with her afterwards, and she was everything that is gracious and funny and charming. It was thrilling and husband made me go back and get a picture with her which is how I have this to share with you.

I was quite excited when I saw the title of her latest book “The Bones of Paris” online. Set in Paris? Something to do with the catacombs perhaps? It seemed to be a perfect autumn read.

BonesOfParis-3The book that precedes this, originally intended to be a stand-alone, was one of the few Laurie King novels that I hadn’t read yet. So, I read ‘Touchstone’ before starting ‘The Bones of Paris’. I won’t go into that book here, (do read it, fantastic) but just to say that it introduces Harry Stuyvesent- hard-boiled detective with a soft spot for things/persons smaller than him.  As ‘The Bones of Paris’ opens, we find him in a considerably darker place than the previous novel. Not to say that his life was sunshine and light during ‘Touchstone’.

Nonetheless his brother, for whose misfortunes he blames himself, has passed on. Harry’s grieving and stuck in a bit of a holding pattern in Europe. Waiting to hear from, we realize as the novel progresses, a formidable young women he met as part of the tumultuous events of ‘Touchstone’.

Paris is tired. This is not the sparkling city of ‘Midnight in Paris’. Rather, this is the Paris of hangers-on, the seedy underbelly of creativity, the hot summer hangover of a spring of intellectualism. Harry is not having an easy time of it. He is trying to track down a girl named Pip Crosby with whom he had a brief affair.  Her family, who are unaware of his past with her, has hired him to investigate her disappearance. But it isn’t just that,  Harry feels he has wronged Pip and is desperate to find her.

He stumbles past Man-Ray, Hemingway and other legendary luminaries. They glance off the sharp edges of this grim tale rather than being the focus. The center of this tale is actually the American girls who seem to arrive in Paris in droves to disappear into the ‘art scene’. From Mimi to Kitty to Lulu to Pip, all eerily diminutive names, Harris is haunted by their seemingly disposable nature to the art movement that places them in the role of muse, while it seeks to abuse and humiliate them simultaneously.

I sincerely enjoyed this novel. King delivers rich if often disturbing imagery, along with skillful character development and tightly-woven prose that is beautiful in its own right.

If you do read this, which I highly recommend you do, please drop me a line. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

Wayfaring: The Whatcom County Farm Tour

 

Farm

Happy Monday Friends. Today I have a few pictures for you from the Whatcom County Farm Tour. A total of 9 farms and 2 wineries participated.

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Train

distilleryWe sampled the local produce, rode a tractor-train, tippled some apple gin and best of all met all kinds of farm critters. Frisky barn cats, soft-nosed ponies, shy cows, parading turkeys and even two little baby lambs.

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Goat2We learned from the farmer that these two little guys are of an ancient breed off the coast of Scotland called, “Soay“. Historians have theorized that this relatively small breed (adult rams only get up to 95 lbs) were spread among the islands by Vikings who carried them on their ships with them. Another fun fact is that they naturally shed their wool in the spring and early summer, when you can pluck it right off their backs.

AppleTrees

My husband was of course thrilled to be in a working apple orchard. He LOVES apples the way some people love chocolate or oysters or beer but MORE.

Apple2FeetWhat were your adventures this weekend? Did you do some exploring? Or snuggle up on the couch with a good book? The weather was certainly perfect for it, as you can see from my wet tennis shoes!

Summertime, Heat Waves, and that old Dirty Hose

August P-Patch Bounty

This year my garden has been thirsty, likely even a little parched. It’s been a bee-yoo-tiful summer. Hot, sunny, even a bit humid. At one point I wondered whether I was living on the west or the east coast. (Though I imagine those who’ve lived on that other coast wouldn’t confuse the two)

I hiked and camped and kayaked and swam and adventured to my heart’s content.  I watched sword ferns unfurl their deep-green fronds,  trilliums bloom and die back and devoured tangy, red huckleberries. I’ve been back and forth a great deal to Seattle (Emerald City I heart you). And in all of this rushing around, my community garden patch has not received the amount of water it should.

Let me rephrase that, as someone who’s been growing vegetables for over sixteen years, I can tell you most definitely that my garden did not get enough water throughout July and August.

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Tending a garden not located near your home, can be a challenge at times. However, gardening is a solitary activity for the most part. You’re at home, with your trowel and other tools playing in the dirt. Very relaxing.

But… gardening in a community patch I imagine is akin to how it felt living in a village 200 years ago. That friendly, spontaneous chat that happens just by running into your neighbors.

So I will be back at my garden this fall, kicking around, listening in and trading theories as to why my parsnips were remarkably forky or how my neighbor’s broccoli could have gone to seed so quickly. The best part of this summer’s mad rush to the garden to water and then bus back home for work or to put the cat out and such….is that my garden has been remarkably forgiving. As though it acknowledged the work we put in this spring and early summer. The double-dug compost, the seaweed, the re-seeding and sturdy fencing of tender vegetables.

The kale, artichokes, radicchio, peas, beets and generally bountiful harvest that we’ve reaped this summer, it’s as though my garden was saying, “Hey, I’ve missed you too. Let’s hang out more“.

And that’s the best part of gardening. Despite the bolted spring lettuce that really should have been harvested sooner (At least we got most of it in time), the beans that got overtaken by sweet peas, the strawberries struggling for air between great swathes of chickweed….despite the less than diligent care…every season is a learning experience and a new opportunity.

So, Hey Garden- thanks for sticking it out with me this summer. And thanks for the tasty carrots!

P-Patch at Dusk

Like to write about gardening? Consider joining the ‘Grow, Write Guild’. From the lady who brought us You Grow Girl and other fun gardening literature.

 

 

Book Crush: Tokyo Bound

The front facade of Village Books

Today’s Book Crush takes place at Village Books in Fairhaven. I often walk there on my day off. Three floors of books, both used and new, a little cafe, and my favorite part, lots of “staff picks” cards. I like to browse through them and often find my next book that way.

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Two of my favorite summer reads of 2013 to date have a major character in common: Tokyo. I’ve been fascinated with Tokyo for awhile, especially now that one of my good friends is actually living there. The first is Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel: A Tale for the Time Being. Ozeki is one of my favorite contemporary novelists. My husband introduced me to her work years ago with her excellent novel, My Year of Meats.a-tale-for-the-time-being

The main character in A Tale for the Time Being lives on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia with her eco-historian boyfriend Oliver. She is a novelist and she is trying to finish a memoir, which seems to be going slowly. When she finds a bag containing a diary supposedly written by a sixteen year old girl called Naoko living in Tokyo, her search to find the ‘truth’ about this girl speaks to the conflict between fiction and reality, and the essential unreliability of both. As with most Ozeki novels, I had a hard time putting this book down. I was that interested in the journey of her characters.

The cityscape and culture of Tokyo play a big part in this novel. I wanted to read more, even if I couldn’t actually go to Tokyo right then and there. Luckily for me, I picked up this next book by chance a week or so later.

pretty good number onePretty Good Number One is a very different book, it is non-fiction, but similarly interested in Tokyo and the culture. Written by local Seattle author Matthew Amster-Burton, this is a great, fun summer read, particularly for those with travel lust of a culinary variety. The premise is simple. A father and his daughter, obsessed with Japanese cuisine, decide to spend a month in Tokyo exploring the city and all that it has to offer foodies. What a delight. From tales of ramen restaurants to onsen to bar culture. It’s so much fun to see it through the eyes both of the father and the daughter both, as well as the long-suffering mom that they’ve drug along on this fantastical food odyssey.

I enjoyed each of these books thoroughly and felt like I’d gained new insight on the city of Tokyo. Now I’m thinking I just might have to do some exploring of my own one of these days soon…

 

 

 

Dreaming of Spring

Barrows

Today I want to share a few pictures of our new community garden patch. We went over the other day to clear weeds and put bark down on the paths. Given that the soil has a great deal of clay, we were lucky to inherit some raised beds.

We’ve recently moved to Bellingham, and many planting dates for vegetables are later than Seattle. So I am biding my time and dreaming about all the things we will grow there this year. It’s hard to be patient! I would definitely like to grow some carrots and maybe some parsnips if I can find the seeds.

What are you planning to grow in your garden this year?

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Patch

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