Pirates in Polite Society: Wharton’s Buccaneers

An unfinished book by a favorite writer always raises questions: How would it have ended? How would the story have changed as the author developed the characters and explored their lives? If the author started out with a plan, would that have changed as the book progressed? Stories inspired by real people and events also intrigue us, because they show us the writer at work, transmuting life into art through imagination.

image-of-buccaneers-by-wharton.jpgEdith Wharton’s last novel, The Buccaneers, has both of these fascinations, besides being a great story that’s both romantic and humorous, cynical and touching. The “buccaneers” are a group of young American women who set out for England in the 1870s in search of the social success that has eluded them at home. Armed with beauty and wealth (or the reputation for it) they conquer the English aristocracy, though the consequences are not always the stuff of romance. Unfinished at Wharton’s death, the novel was published the following year in its incomplete state along with her detailed plan for its story; many years later it was given not one but two endings at more or less the same time: one by Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring and one by screenwriter Maggie Wadey, who also wrote the script for a BBC adaptation. Two of the plot lines echo aspects of the life of Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American heiress who married, and later divorced, an image-of-consuelo-and-alva-vanderbilt-book-cover.jpgEnglish duke; Consuelo’s later wrote an autobiography, The Glitter and the Gold, and there are also two biographies about her: Consuelo: Portrait of an American Heiress by James Brough, and Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: the story of a daughter and a mother in the gilded age, by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart.

All the best stories leave you wanting more, and fortunately, with The Buccaneers, there’s plenty of more to explore!

                                                                               ~ Janet

Plush You!

I love crafting.  However–and it pains me to admit this–I’m not very good at coming up with top notch project ideas.  I usually steal ideas from craft books. 

So I get really excited when I find a great book like Plush You! Loveable Misfit Toys to Sew and Stuff, by Seattle artist and Schmancy owner Kristen Rask.   This book has dozens of full-color photos of cute, squishable, and sometimes bizarre handmade plush items, many crafted by local artists. 

Eighteen patterns in the back of the book allow you to crib many of the designs, like Wiggle, the Sweater-Wearing Tooth, or Sir Sulks-A-Lot, a purple blobby creature who explains that he is of a “generally caustic disposition.” 

Many of the projects are cheap and easy to make.  I made this set of breakfast magnets based on the designs of local artist Mucho (displayed in all their glory on my refrigerator) for only a few dollars :

                  Breakfast magnets featuring Dearie Toast and Darling Bacon

Of course, if you’re not in a crafting mood, you can just enjoy the beauty of the book and stock up on plush at Rask’s store Schmancy, which is a pleasant stroll away from Central Library.  And be sure to check out the Plush You! blog for more plushy goodness.

Medieval Mysteries of Britain.

absolution-by murder book coverIf you find secret corridors and hemlock poison more interesting than gunfire, you may enjoy this collection of mysteries set in medieval England, Scotland and Ireland. Each of the books listed below is one of a series that revolves around a particularly engaging sleuth for whom the plagues, politics, and superstitions of the medieval world are normal facts of life and the best tools available for solving crimes are a keen intellect and a strong understanding of human nature.

Absolution by Murder by Peter Tremayne

The 17 books in the Sister Fidelma mystery series begin with this tale of murder investigated by our heroine Fidelma, who is both a nun and a “dlaigh,” or “advocate,” permitted to practice law in the Irish courts. The religious divisions, political climate and surprising degree of gender equality found in seventh-century Ireland shine in the background as our clever and diplomatic detective unlocks secrets and saves the day.

Monk’s Hood: The Third Chronicle of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters

Much-loved sleuth Brother Cadfael brings his skills as an herbalist to bear when a visitor to Shrewsbury Abbey exhibits symptoms of a dangerous poison. Though this third Brother Cadfael mystery is set in a monastery, others take place in exotic settings and in the days before Cadfael took his vows. Nearly two dozen books lie in store for the Cadfael fan.

The Prioress’ Tale by Margaret Frazer

Misery sweeps the abbey in the wake of domineering Domina Alys’s ascension to Prioress, as her unfair rules and unwise decisions threaten ruin to the nuns and their beloved home. When a family feud leads to murder, Continue reading “Medieval Mysteries of Britain.”

Flower Frenzy

It’s flower season here in the great northwest!  If you want to get up close to fields and fields of colorful tulips, don’t miss the 25th Annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

If you’d like to explore some of the fascinating history of these blooms, here is a bouquet of books exploring the appeal of flowers past and present:

Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dashtulipomania.jpg

In the Netherlands in the 1630s, during the height of what would become known as “Tulip Mania,” single tulips were being sold for more than the price of a house. This slim fascinating page-turner Continue reading “Flower Frenzy”

The War in Fiction, part 3: The Pacific


A war is not one story, but many.

Here are some novels that view the war through many eyes, reflecting the diverse experiences of civilians and soldiers around the world whose lives were drawn into the Second World War.

When Louis Belk is deployed to Alaska to head off and diffuse a barrage of dreaded Japanese balloon bombs, he could not have imagined the strange, haunting freight drifting towards him across an ocean of air.

As the world stumbles blinking into the light of peace, Aldred Leith feels the chill of war’s long shadow as he surveys a devastated Japan, wondering how human warmth and dignity can flare forth from the ashes. Continue reading “The War in Fiction, part 3: The Pacific”