Posts Tagged ‘books’

Some Things Don’t Change

Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

The First of the Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series

It wasn’t just the unwelcome homecoming they had received that bothered her.  That was certainly upsetting… It was more everything around them.  The whole world was unsettled.  People were leaving for an expedition to the Holy Land knowing no more than they should face the east, relying on faith to get them there and back safely.  Others were turning completely from all they had been taught, believing instead in new gods invented by deluded fools.  Starvation threatened all around them from the barren fields and ignorant preachers were there to addle the minds of those already weakened by hunger.  Bands of ruffians were attacking…  The order of the universe had been rearranged.  Perhaps these are the end times, she thought.

This passage is from Sharan Newman’s book, To Wear The White Cloak, the seventh of the ten books in her Catherine LeVendeur Mystery series.  Although the author is still writing and is from Oregon, these books are not about the here and now.  The delusion, the starvation, the bands of ruffians she speaks about are integral to twelfth century Paris  — so far off in time and distance from our own lives, and yet… with so many similarities.

The Seventh of Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series

I’ve read all ten books in the series which were published between 1993 and 2004 and am now re-reading them — not in any order but just as I rediscover them on my bookshelves.  Granted, they are fiction but I do factor in the fact that Sharan Newman is a medieval historian and author. She took her Master’s degree in Medieval Literature at Michigan State University and then did her doctoral work at the University of California at Santa Barbara in Medieval Studies, specializing in twelfth-century France. She is a member of the Medieval Academy and the Medieval Association of the Pacific.  And mostly, I count that she chose not to teach in the traditional sense, but to write novels set in the middle ages.  She gets high marks from me for that choice! What better way to pass on her knowledge!

As I read. I am at once struck by how far we’ve come in some areas and by how little we’ve gained in others.  I wonder if we humans actually have the capacity to interact with one another successfully over the long term.  Have we made strides in that arena over the last thousand years?  And yet, the books are not depressing.  If you have yet to discover them, I recommend you start with the first one, Death Comes In Epiphany.  I can almost guarantee that you’ll find it a learning experience and a delight!

1,000 Years of Slogging through Poland

Monday, November 29th, 2021

James Albert Michener 1907 – 1997

James A. Michener’s Poland is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read — 556 pages of unrelenting war and oppression, occasionally lightened by marvelous descriptions of classical music and art.  I’m now within 125 pages of the end but with almost every paragraph,  I need to put the book aside for a while.  I have to take deep breaths before I go on.  It is 1943,  Poland is under Nazi occupation and its citizens are being systematically eliminated so that the country can be re-populated with Germans.

Michener describes the holocaust extermination methods — the shootings, the hangings, the torture methods, the death camps, the gas chambers — in excruciating detail.  It will probably take me quite a while to finish the book given my need to set it aside now and again.  Published in 1983, Michener appears to have drawn heavily from information disclosed during the thirteen Nuremberg Trials, 1945 -1949.

I have to confess that my knowledge of Poland and its history is, or at least has been, extremely limited.  That it is a country in Eastern Europe, that the names are hard to pronounce, that Pope John Paul II was not only the first Polish pope but the first non-Italian Pope in 400 years — are about the extent of it.  Otherwise, the sum total of my understanding is confined to the great admiration I had for two Polish men I taught with in Hayward, California — Stan Laird, a 5th grade teacher, and Paul Gowack, a speech therapist, and to the music of Chopin, especially as played by my father’s favorite composer/pianist, Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

This is the third (and most difficult) Michener book I have read.  I loved Hawaii; I liked The Source so much that I read it twice.  With each, I vowed to read all (is there still time?)  of Michener’s  forty-some books, most of which are long, fictional family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating detailed history. Many of his works were bestsellers and were chosen by the Book of the Month Club; he was known for the meticulous research that went into his books.  He won  he Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948 for Tales of the South Pacific (1947), his first book, published when he was 40.  Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted it as the hit Broadway musical “South Pacific” which premiered on Broadway in New York City in 1949.

There are other Michener books I think I’d enjoy more than this one, but I must say that Poland has been an eye-opener.  I only wish that my friends Stan and Paul were still around to talk with me about it and, you can be sure that I am slogging through this last hundred pages with the two of them and their families much in my thoughts.




Every little once in a while…

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

I’m sure it happens to other people, but maybe not in quite the same way as it happens to writers.  Every once in a while, I run across something that I wish I had said or, more to the point, written.  Not often, and usually nothing of great moment.  In fact, frequently it’s something a bit off-beat or humorous.  Take today, for instance…

I was sorting through boxes (and boxes!) of newspaper clippings, getting rid of duplicates and trying to categorize them by broad subject matter — a mind-numbing sort of task that in no way lends itself to more than cursory skimming.  But when I ran across something about oysters that my uncle had saved from the University Week, a University of Washington publication, I took a better look.  The article, “Oh those oysters!” by Sandra Hines was a review of a book called Heaven On The Half Shell by David G. Gordon, Nancy Blanton, and Terry Y. Nosho.  Both article and book were written in 2001.  As I skimmed, this bulleted paragraph jumped out at me:

The Sorting Game

Oyster biology:  By some standards, an oyster leads a dream life.  It doesn’t have to hunt for food, but simply waits for the tide to bring the next serving.  Breakfast in bed never ends.  Snug in a subtidal channel or secure on a soggy mudflat, an oyster can feed at its leisure, filtering up eight gallons of food-rich salt water per hour.”

“Breakfast in bed never ends.”  I LOVE that!  I immediately flashed on my own book, O is for Oysters written in 1998 and had a momentary flash of writer’s envy.  The entire paragraph, but most especially that one sentence, would have fit right in with the bits of humor I used to intersperse the sometimes rather dry (go figure!) oyster facts.

And if I couldn’t have come up with such a gem on my own, I’d have given full credit as I did with several of the following:

Said one oyster to another
In tones of pure delight,
“I will meet you in the kitchen,
And we’ll both get stewed tonight.”
C.J. Espy (Uncle Cecil)

Q.  What do you get when you X-ray an oyster?
A.  Basic black and pearls.

Oh me, Oh my, What shall I do”
Asked the oyster of its mother.
Yesterday I was just a girl but
Since I slept, I am her brother.

There’s no sense in your complaining
I haven’t the time to bother;
You’re not the only changeling here
Since I have just become your father.
Florence M. Pratt

And my all-time favorite:
I do not roister with an oyster
I like my bed dry.
An oyster moister.
Willard R. Espy (Wede)




Rule #1: Always check between the covers!

Monday, October 11th, 2021


We all know the adage, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.”  We know that to mean, literally, that a book might have the dullest cover ever and be a true cliff-hanger.  But, more likely we apply the adage metaphorically.  Like, even though that woman looks as cold and aloof as an Ice Maiden, she is totally warm and approachable, belying her looks.

But… the other day Karla Nelson of Time Enough Books called me with an entirely new take on that old saying.  “Sydney,” she said, “I didn’t know you were writing ghost stories about the indigenous people of West Virginia!  And under a pseudonym, too!”

“Huh?” was my totally uncomprehending response.


Apparently, a customer had taken a copy of Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula off the shelf to have a look and, when she opened it, found that the title page said:  “Early Native Americans in West Virginia – The Fort Ancient Culture” by Darla Spencer – History Press © 2016.   There followed 158 pages of illustrated text material, presumably interesting information about the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric native settlements in West Virginia between about AD 1000 and AD 1650 to 1700.  The bibliography, acknowledgements, and foreword are scholarly and impressive.  This is definitely not a book of ghost stories about the Long Beach Peninsula!

In the end (and after checking carefully), the customer bought both of my ghost books, correct innards intact.  Karla removed the “West Virginia edition” from the shelf and gave it to me so I could take a look.  I still can’t imagine how such a mistake happened.  With the number of titles that History Press has in print (4260  according to their website today), it stands to reason that their printing and binding facilities are fully automated.  How could

So how do the innards of one book end up with a cover from a completely different book?  And how many of those mismatches were produced?  Are they “out there” somewhere confounding people from WV to WA?  And if any of them do sell and they are not returned, who gets the royalty for the sale?  I really think Darla and I should split the entire net profit –none of this eight percent (about 50 cents per book) nonsense.  I really don’t think History Press earned their 92% this time around.  Do you?

October: Not Exactly As Planned

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Scavenger Hunt

I wonder when we’ll be able to plan ahead with surety — as in arranging to attend something or help sponsor something or…  Not for a while longer, would be my guess.

A few months back, when events for October were being scheduled, it looked like it might be a busy month for me.  Two offers to do book-signings at the Cranberrian Fair — one at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum and one at the Cranberry Museum.  Both for this weekend and, of course, both cancelled when the Fair was cancelled.

I was also scheduled to do a book talk and signing at the Ocean Park Timberland Library on October 16th.  It was to be in connection with a proposed annual month-long celebration of literacy called Peninsula Loves to Read.  Sponsored by both the Ilwaco and Ocean Park Libraries, they were planning to hold special events throughout October around the theme: “The Peninsula Loves to Read MYSTERIES!”  I was SO looking forward to talking about both of my ghost books, but…  CANCELLED!  Damn!

Now Available in Hardcover

Fingers crossed for next year on all counts!  And, of course, my disappointments are small potatoes in comparison to some of the really big and important celebrations and ceremonies that have been called off in the interest of health and safety.

Meanwhile, under the heading of “Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons,”  I spent the morning distributing “Free Scavenger Hunts” to the vendors who sell my books.  It’s the second or third rendition by History Press — the first tries having had some serious flaws from my point of view.  The new ones definitely meet with my approval, though I’m not sure how they will be received by readers.

Cover: Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula

The 8×11 sheets of paper display seven buildings, each located somewhere on the Peninsula with a bit of information about the ghost connections of each.  The idea (according to History Press, anyway) is that readers of Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula and Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula can find additional clues as to the where and the who of particular ghosts.  I’m not sure why they are billed as “Scavenger Hunts” — I guess what you find at each location is a photo op if not an actual ghost!

No purchase is necessary to pick one up, so if you already have the books or think you can locate the specific sites and already “know” who haunts them, go for it!  You will find the Scavenger Hunts at BOLD, the Cranberry Museum, Time Enough Books, Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, and Oysterville Sea Farms.   And let me know what you think — a fun activity?  Or not?


Not quite here and not quite now.

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021

Mudlark ©1993 by Sheila Simonson

From page 42 of Mudlark by Sheila Simonson:
It’s happening all along the dunes, Mrs. Dodge.  Perfectly good houses — not shacks by any means — being torn down and replaced with big monstrosities like something out of Sunset Magazine.  Pretty soon we’ll look like Los Angeles.  The new houses block the view for the people on the crest, too… I don’t know why anyone would need a house that big to retire to.”
“I ventured the possibility the owners weren’t thinking of retirement.”
She snorted.  “Thinking of renting the places out by the wee more likely.  It used to be quiet around here, no traffic, no crime.  Now we’ve got murder and arson and idiots driving sixty miles an our up and down that road to town.”

The book, a murder mystery, was published in 1993, the third in a series by a Vancouver, WA, author who did a number of signings at the Bookvendor when we owned it.  I have the next two in the series but not the first two — go figure — and I don’t think I’ve ever read the three I have.  I began this one the other night when I was suddenly out of reading material and it called to me from a bookshelf in the bedroom.  I’m enjoying it and was struck by some of the prescient observations that the author made all those years ago — observations that I’ve heard made about the “here and now” in almost the same words.

Meadowlark ©1996 by Sheila Simonson

And no wonder!  On the very first page of Mudlark, Mrs. Simonson writes:
A Note on Geography:  The Shoalwater Peninsula is my gift to the state of Washington.  In Larkspur, I inserted a fictional county on the northern California border.  Nobody objected, so I have felt free in this book to edit Washington, too.
Residents of the Long Beach Peninsula will recognize some features of their own corner of the state.  However, I made the long needle of land stubbier, with a little hook of expensive real estate at the northern end where the peninsula terminates in the Leadbetter Point wildlife sanctuary. I substituted all six towns and replaced them with two purely imaginary ones — Kayport and Shoalwater.  The demography of my fictional peninsula, including ethnic composition is deliberately different from that of the Long Beach area.  The Nekana are an imaginary tribe.  Shoalwater Bay is the old name of Willapa Bay.
None of the people or communities in this book is real though the issues facing Shoalwater towns bear a resemblance to problems common to beach communities from the Canadian border to Brookings, Oregon, on the California border.

According to what I can learn on Google, there are five books in the Lark Dodge Series.  I have an order into the library for the first two…  The jury’s out as to whether I’ll wait to read the rest of them in order…

It’s a whole other language, doncha know?

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

For the first time in some years, I am so immersed in a book series that I don’t even like to surface to write something of my own.  The author, Elly Griffiths, is British and the series, the Ruth Galloway Novels, is set in Norfolk County, England, in an area that reminds me of the saltmarshes and tide flats of Willapa Bay. Protagonist, Dr. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist — an “old bones expert.”

The books fall into the “mystery” category which doesn’t do them justice by half.  Right now I’m in the midst of The Lantern Men — the 12th in the (so far) 14-book series — and like all of the others it contains a good deal of folklore, scientific information, modern-day relationships and complicated family arrangements.  The mysteries are almost secondary — almost!

One of the pleasures of these books is the language — British English, sometimes explained and sometimes not.  And, I’m not always sure I agree with the explanations, anyway.  In this book, for instance, an American friend explains that “biscuits” are called “cake” in the United States.  Really?  I thought English biscuits were more synonymous with our “cookies” or “crackers.”  And who knew that “pudding” at the end of an English meal really means “dessert”?  Or that children “paddle” in the shallow water at the beach — so much more colorful than “wade.”

Author Elly Griffiths, 2018

Besides all that, who among us wouldn’t love a protagonist who describes herself as weighing a bit over “twelve stone” (168 pounds),  who eats with enjoyment and laments her plain-Jane wardrobe, yet has more than her share of sex appeal and charisma — and besides all that she is very intelligent, sensible. and conflicted like every really interesting person I know!  She seems so real and so approachable that I sometimes want to climb right into the book and go for a walk with her!

I’m not too concerned about overtaking Elly Griffiths’ Dr. Ruth Galloway series, though I’m sure it will happen within a week or so.  I am pleased to say that she has written at least one stand-alone novel as well as another crime series, “The Brighton Mysteries,” under her Elly Griffiths pseudonym.  In addition, there are several novels under her real name, Domenica de Rosa.  (When her first crime novel came along her agent told her she needed a crime novelist’s name – and so Elly Griffiths was born.)  By the time I finish all of those, perhaps Number Fifteen in the Dr. Ruth Galloway series will be at our local library!  Or maybe I’ll get back to writing something, myself.



See you Saturday-the-17th in Klipsan Beach!

Monday, July 12th, 2021

Yesterday at BOLD

I do believe I was born to party and that’s what my book signing at BOLD felt like yesterday!  So many friends came to hear me talk and to buy books!  Friends from long ago.  Friends from afar.  Friends from the neighborhood.  Friends from FaceBook. Even “friends” who only know me through my books!  So so so fun!

And when I got home I saw a few laments on FaceBook — people who couldn’t get there yesterday or who hadn’t made it to Adelaide’s the week before.  If you were among those who missed the “party” I just want you to know you’ll soon have another opportunity.  I’ll be talking and signing at the Senior Center in Klipsan Beach from 1:00 to 3:00 on Saturday, July 17th.  And, no, you don’t need to be a “senior” to come!  It’s open to all and they have plenty of chairs and I’m told I’ll be provided with a mic… just in case my old “teacher’s voice” isn’t up to the challenge.


So mark your calendar and come on over!  It will probably be the last signing I do until the ghostly month of October.  Meanwhile, of course, the book will remain on sale at these local outlets:  the gift shops at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and at the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse; Time Enough Books, Ilwaco; Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco; The Cranberry Museum, Long Beach; BOLD, Long Beach; and Adelaide’s in Ocean Park.

If you live elsewhere and can’t get to the beach, I urge you to check with your local bookstores. (If you tell them it’s a hot item and that they can order from History Press, they may begin stocking it themselves. They probably should also stock my first ghost book, too — Ghost Stories of the Long Beach Peninsula.  Several stories in the first are continued in the second and it helps to know the backstory!) Amazon also carries them and has plenty in stock I am told, although I’ve seen several of their websites that say they are “temporarily out” of Historic Haunts — which apparently is not true.  Go figure!

My One Track Mind

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

Sydney After Adelaide’s Signing Event, 7-3-21

From noon-thirty until two-thirty today I was scheduled to give a book talk at Adelaides — my first for this second ghost book, Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula.  So, I scurried around with my morning chores — feed and water the chickens, refurbish the hummingbird feeder, spray Deer Fence on roses, hydrangeas, primroses, and camellias.  (Oh… and on nasturtiums!  Who knew?  But someone has been eating them and it doesn’t look like slug work.)

We ate an early lunch (read mid-morning snack) and I was on my way, hoping against hope that Adelaide’s still had enough books!  Every book seller on the Peninsula has replenished once and has called again…  More books on their way but North Carolina’s a far piece and there’s a holiday and will they get here in time for the next signing and and and?  Me worry?  YES!

It was crowded at Adelaide’s.  SRO!  Some people I knew — even from afar! — and many others whose faces were familiar and still others who were completely unknown.  I talked for a while.  I answered questions.  And then I signed.  And signed!  50 books in all — 41 of the new ones and 9 old ones.  Plus, a few that had been purchased elsewhere…

Adelaide’s at the
Taylor Hotel, by Jean Stamper

I finished about 2:45 and then PJ (husband of Jill, both of whom volunteered to “take care of my every need” — and they did!) asked to take my picture.  It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that, despite my best intentions, I had forgotten pictures entirely!  I had intended to photograph the crowd.  And the line of folks waiting for my signature.  And maybe even the parking lot.  Damn!

Thanks, PJ, for sending me a copy of the one you took!  It’s a great one, doncha think???

The Tip of The Iceberg

Thursday, July 1st, 2021

I don’t know about you, but when I receive just a little bit of information about something — especially if it’s not in the Good News Department — I wonder.  Sometimes I even stew about it.  Today was one of those days because of one of those things.

Actually, it began yesterday when my friend Marion wrote from Olympia that she had ordered Historic Haunts of the Long Beach Peninsula from Amazon and: there was some kind of glitch so they refunded my money. I decided to go through Time Enough Books in Ilwaco as they could ship it out right away. 

My first thought:  Bless you, Marion.  My second:  What went wrong at Amazon?

Then, today, I received a Facebook message from my friend Isabelle in France:  I’m looking forward to get my copy. The delivery is being delayed. Have a great date, Sydney. Wish I were in the area and could attend the presentation and signing of your New Book.  I wrote:  Amazon?  Yes, she told me, but she is choosing to give it a few days before ordering anew from a local bookstore.

For me, those bits of information were the tip of an iceberg.  Where was the problem — with Amazon or with History Press?  Would the books I’ve ordered for my book signings arrive in time?  What’s the rest of the story as Paul Harvey used to say?  I got in touch with marvelous Elysia who handles all my book orders. She was wonderfully reassuring:  It must be an Amazon problem. Did they specify what the issue was? We have plenty of inventory and are shipping without issue.  

Whew!  The iceberg seems much less ominous — in fact, melting as we speak.  Take note, dear readers.  Buy locally!!!