Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Guest Blog - Lucy Maud Montgomery

This is the centennial year of the publication of Lucy Maud Montgomery's novel Anne of Green Gables. A new biography is going to be published next month authored by Mary Henley Rubio who has spent 30 years writing about Montgomery. In anticipation of the centennial celebration, one of Montgomery's grandchildren Kate Macdonald Butler wrote an article for the Toronto Globe and Mail about her grandmother. In the article she reveals that Montgomery took her own life in 1942. She talks about the difficult life that Montgomery lead suffering not only with depression herself but with her husband's, Rev. Ewan Macdonald's, mental illness. Several days later the Globe and Mail published an email interview with Rubio that gives a different slant on the famous author's death.

I admit that I knew nothing about Montgomery's life. I read Anne of Green Gables as a young girl and was so delighted when my own daughters fell in love with Anne Shirley too. No details of Montgomery's life will ever overshadow the remarkable stories that she wrote. Anne makes frequent mistakes and struggles with who she is and whether or not she is loved. Even though she made her first appearance a hundred years ago, Anne reflects the sorrows and joys of girls and young women of today.

I very much appreciate Butler's openness about her grandmother's and grandfather's mental illnesses. As a whole we need to be more aware of the struggles of people who deal with depression and other challenges. We have stepped forward a bit in our treatment and acceptance of mental illness since 1942 but we still have a long way to go. Hopefully Lucy Maud Montgomery will have opened new doors for all of us in understanding the struggles of others and perhaps in seeking help to solve our own problems.

In 2004 The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery was published. Rubio's new biography Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings is scheduled for release in the US in November. I want to thank the blogger who is far away in Turkey for bringing the article written by Butler to my attention.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Mystery of Swordfish Reef

I just finished yet another of Arthur Upfield’s pre-WWII Australian detective novels. (The copyright is actually 1943, but I suspect he wrote it before the war.) My Upfield reading began with the Agatha Christie-esque The Lost Shoe. I bought several other used Upfields expecting the same tone.

Lo and behold, The Lost Shoe is the only Christie-esque novel I have read so far. The Mystery of Swordfish Reef has detective Napoleon Bonaparte (“Bony”) investigating a murder in fishing waters. He poses as a swordfish angler to track down the disappearance of a fishing vessel and its three passengers.

The most irritating thing about the novel (at least for me) is the EXTENSIVE detail about Bony’s fishing expeditions. Upfield obviously had a love of fishing, or he thought his readers would have a great love of it.

Bony solves the murder, with a climatic kidnapping and confrontation. Upfield’s treatment of the aboriginal culture in the climax is the most interesting note. Upfield’s brilliant detective is a “half caste,” born of an aboriginal mother and a white father. This would incline me to believe that Upfield wanted to go against stereotypes of aboriginals. However, the last few scenes reveal Bony, totally embarrassed that his “mother’s side” overcame his father’s side as he physically attacked the murderer. Bony’s thoughts on this matter are incredibly racist. I guess I just need to remember that Upfield wrote his novels over fifty years ago and may have been somewhat advanced in his thinking for the times.

Guest Blog - Kate Hardy

In 1979 I picked a novel off the revolving book rack at the library. The book was Green Money written by a novelist that I had never heard of – D. E. Stevenson. When I read the first book, I did not even know whether the author was a woman or a man. Little did I know that it was the beginning of a life long romance.

Green Money was a romance with a touch of P. G. Woodhouse comedy to it. It definitely fell into the category of a mystery as Alistair Cooke defined it when speaking of Pride and Prejudice. The mystery is who will marry whom.

Since that first encounter with D.E. Stevenson, I have read everything that I could find written by her and tried to add it to my personal library. One of my favorite stories is Smoldering Fire first published in 1935. It is the story of a woman in an abusive marriage who meets the Laird in a village in Scotland and, of course, they fall in love. In 1935 a divorce was not only rarely heard of but also extremely hard to obtain. There seemed no future for their relationship.

Since 1979 I have read and reread my favorite novels. This spring I read one book and then had to find another one where the same characters were casually mentioned. That led me to read another one. Finally I decided that I really wanted to read Kate Hardy. However, I couldn’t find a copy of it anywhere. I was sure that I had read this hard to find novel by Stevenson at some point. In desperation I found a copy on Amazon and splurged.

Kate Hardy is a little different from most of Stevenson’s other novels. It takes place in post WW II Britain. Kate is a successful author who decides to buy a house in the country. In the quiet countryside, she meets two very different men. One is the largest landowner in the area with a long heritage as a gentleman. The other is a local boy who returns after six years of war a decorated hero. He no longer fits into the carpenter’s shop he worked at before the war broke out. D.E. Stevenson is very much a product of her time and class. All of her novels clearly define the differences in class. Officers and enlisted men do not socialize together. The gentry do not cross the line to marry among the workers on their land. Could Stevenson possibly do the unthinkable and have a spark of romance between Kate and the boy/man from the village?

Agatha Christie is frequently praised for her astute portrayal of British life among the upper middle and upper classes. D.E. Stevenson is an equally skilled artist in painting the England with which she was familiar. Her first novel was based upon her own journals as the wife of an officer in the English army. The four novels about Mrs. Tim Christie are among my favorites. I am an acknowledged Anglophile and highly recommend any novels by Dorothy Emily Stevenson that your library might have on its shelves. Your best chance of finding a few of her novels is among the large print library copies. Good reading.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Guest Blog - White Shell Woman

After doing some serious reading for awhile (well, serious reading for me) I picked up a James D. Doss novel and have thoroughly enjoyed indulging in a Charlie Moon mystery. And I have to admit that I did not see this one coming. The totally logical solution hidden among Indian lore and mysticism completely surprised me.

White Shell Woman is a mythological character from the creation stories of several different Native American tribes. This novel opens with various tribes having a tour of a national park before the official opening for the season. The park overlooks two sandstone monoliths who are said to be the twin sons of White Shell Woman. As in many novels set in the mountain west, there is a sense of conflict over the sacred lands of the ancient tribes who still inhabit the area and people who would exploit the land. Part of the park is being excavated by an archeological team and only a few days after Charlie Moon and his aunt Daisy have visited the park, a young woman is found dead in one of the digs.

Mysterious sightings of a crouching man who turns into a dog along with other seemingly inexplicable occurrences make this an intriguing story. As usual it is challenging to try to separate the lore from the facts. While I was left wondering though, Charlie had no trouble sorting them out.

The blogger happens to have a Master’s degree in English, so when I came across this quote at the end of the novel, I had to share it with her. I hope you will enjoy the humor as well. It is a conversation between Charlie Moon and his friend Parris. Charlies says:

“You been engaged for about six hundred years. And me-I’m supposed to be your best man. And your best friend to boot. So if there’s something gone sour, you should tell me.”
“Well, there’s lots of reasons. If you really want to know-”
Parris choked back a sigh. “Sometimes Anne kinda gets on my nerves.”
”Gimme a f’r-instance.”
”Well, she’s always correcting the way I talk. Like I don’t never say nothing right.”
Moon sighed. “Ain’t that always the way.”
Parris took a deep breath. “Keep this under our hat-but I found out she’s an English major.”
“You should not make an accusation like that without evidence.”
“She keeps the sheepskin hid in a closet. But I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
“When you first met the woman, she should’ve told you about that right up front.”
They enjoyed a long silence. White Shell Woman p. 271

In case you cannot tell, I have grown quite attached to these two fictitious friends from Colorado.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Wee Note on the Future of this Blog

My dear loyal (and not-so-loyal) readers,

I leave for Turkey in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow. Although it breaks my heart to admit it, because of technology and time restrictions once I move, I will no longer be able to maintain this blog on a daily basis.

Ideally, I hope the blog will continue to function as a forum for all contributors to post and share reviews as they read.

As for me, although I don’t know what kind of access I will have to books in English, I will continue to post reviews for anything I read over the next year.

Thanks again to all contributors and readers for indulging my fancy and participating in this blog. Your involvement means the world to me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Book Buzz

  • What book is popping up all over the place? Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Larsson was a Swedish journalist who died several years ago, so at least he won’t know that The New York Times hates his book, which it describes as “a thoroughly ugly view of human nature, especially when it comes to the way Swedish men treat Swedish women. In Larsson’s world, sadism, murder and suicide are commonplace — as is lots of casual sex.” Clearly, I missed a lot during the few days I spent in Sweden.
  • The second book in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, Living Dead in Dallas, has been on Amazon’s bestsellers list for the last two weeks. The HBO program True Blood is based on the series, so I’m not surprised to see the book there. But I have to wonder what is wrong with the first book?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lonely Planet Phrasebooks

I only own three books in the Lonely Planet Phrasebooks series, but I’m sold on them. The pocketsize books contain brief introductions to countries, a crashcourse in grammar, useful vocabulary and phrases, cultural tidbits, and even a small dictionary in the back.

I picked up my first phrasebook several years ago before visiting Ukraine. I used the dictionary and sections on travel, shopping, and eating out to refresh my language skills. It was exactly what I needed, though I have probably already forgotten everything I learned.

Imagine my surprise when I bought the Polish phrasebook a few years later and discovered the “social” section. This section is without a doubt the all-time greatest reason to buy Lonely Planet Phrasebooks because it provides translations for any and all “romantic” encounters. 

(For some reason, the Lonely Planet folks must have thought visitors to Ukraine wouldn't be looking for love—even though the country is famous for its mail-order bride industry.  However, they released a new edition this year that I can only hope is full of dating phrases.)

My Turkish phrasebook arrived last week, and I have spent many hours in fits and giggles over the various phrases. “You’re a fantastic dancer,” “Do you want a massage?,” “Touch me here,” “I won’t do it without protection,” “Easy, tiger!,” and “You’re just using me for sex” are just a few of my favorites.

Clearly, I have the maturity of a twelve-year-old boy. However, I also can't help but think if you need a phrasebook to tell someone “I love you,” you probably don’t actually know him/her well enough to be in love.

Even without the dating sections, Lonely Planet Phrasebooks are invaluable. In fact, I think everyone should plan an international vacation just for an excuse to buy one.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Smoke Screen

My priorities are clearly suspect. I only have a few days before moving, a few days with access to English-language books, and I wasted several hours today reading a trashy novel.

I picked up my first Sandra Brown novel years ago when she was still a pure romance writer, and I have stuck with her through her transition into a romantic-thriller writer. Smoke Screen, her latest, is completely formulaic but enjoyable-enough for that very reason.

Journalist Britt Shelley wakes up one morning next to a dead police officer. She doesn’t remember what happened the night before. Naturally, she soon finds herself a suspect in the officer’s death. Enter Raley Gannon. Raley is a disgraced arson investigator and is sure Britt’s conundrum is related to his own.

Of course, Britt and Raley decide to investigate the crimes on their own, find themselves in mortal danger (several times), and make a little love (several times) along the way. Brown throws in several unconvincing red herrings, but anyone with half a brain—or who has read a book before—will guess early on the culprit.

Smoke Screen is anything but groundbreaking, but who really reads popular fiction for mental exercise? The book has some action, a dose of romance, and a little mystery. What more could I want while I’m trying to avoid packing, learning a new language, or doing anything else productive?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Guest Blog--The Shape of Sand

Between reading Marjorie Eccles’ books Shadows and Lies and The Shape of Sand, I seem to have forgotten how long it takes for her to get into the meat of the story. The jacket promised me a mystery about the body of a woman hidden behind a wall. However, it was about page 140 before Eccles has finished setting the background for her mystery.

The Shape of Sand takes place in England but revolves around events that take place 40 or 50 years before the discovery of the body. The journal of Beatrice Jardine recounts a holiday in Egypt ten years before her unexpected disappearance left her family in disgrace from the ensuing scandal. This novel by Eccles has not only the shape of sand but shadows of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Beatrice’s journal tries to convey a mystery wrapped in the exotic atmosphere of the streets of Cairo and an expedition to ancient tombs along the Nile.

Perhaps if I had not taken a university course where I learned that the ancient Egyptians had no word in their language for art, I would have been more impressed with the descriptions of the monuments and frescos commissioned by Ramses II with Eccles’ dialog about "art." And it might have helped if I didn’t have vivid memories of the Indian wrongly accused of inappropriate attention to an English woman in A Passage to India.

I have not figured out how Eccles can build the atmosphere for her mysteries with less volume, but I have endured the build up and enjoyed both mysteries after she gets down to the business of solving the crime. In both of the novels I have read, Eccles spends so much time establishing past events in South Africa and Egypt that she almost lost me.

During this past year, I have read several mysteries set in Cairo in the early twentieth century written by Michael Pearce. With an economy of words, Pearce is able to bring Egypt in that era to life. Since he lived in Cairo for part of his life, I feel far more confident in the picture that he has drawn with his writing than I do in Eccles’. Reading The Shape of Sand, I was reminded of those novels of Egypt under British rule, and I might see what Pearce’s character Gareth Owen, the Mamur Zapt in Cairo, has been up to lately.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Generation Dead

Some of the teenagers in Daniel Water’s Generation Dead are “living impaired” or “differently biotic.” In other words, they are zombies.

For some reason, living impaired teens are popping up all over the United States. The teens, who move and talk slower than their traditionally biotic counterparts, try to assimilate into “normal” society and have no desire to harm anyone. Phoebe, who is living, and Tommy, who is undead, develop a groundbreaking and unusual friendship that causes consternation within both communities.

The setup is intriguing. After spending way too much time with vampires, I was excited to tackle another supernatural element. Naturally, I was particularly interested in the taboo romance between Phoebe and Tommy.

What should be a fun and potentially scary romp is anything but. This is not a zombie book or a romance or a thriller. Instead, Generation Dead reads like a primer on political correctness. Now, I am all for being PC, I really am, but it’s just not what I was expecting in my sci-fi young adult fiction.

The book is overwhelmingly political. The action is cushioned between lecture after lecture about accepting those who are different from the majority. I absolutely agree with Waters in terms of minority rights. But if that is his focus, he should write about actual minority characters and leave the undead to fantasy authors and audiences.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Book Buzz

  • Annie Proulx is back with Fine Just the Way It Is, a collection of short stories. The New York Times writes that Proulx’s “sense of story is admirable, her sentences are artful, and she writes like a demon.” USA Today calls Proulx “one of the best short-story writers working today.”
  • I keep running into The 39 Clues, described as a “multimedia, interactive adventureseries” that includes cards, books, games, and prizes. USA Today thinks the first book, The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan, is “full of promise.”
  • Finally, the blog Pop Candy features “Twenty-five great high-school books.” I’m not sold on the list, but I will say that I did learn how to spell the word separate correctly when I read John Knowles’s A Separate Peace in high school.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gardens of Water

I move next week, so I promise this is my last (okay, maybe next-to-last) review of a book about Turkey.

Alan Drew’s Gardens of Water is quite similar, at least thematically, to other fictional accounts I have already read, particularly Bliss. Sinan, a Kurd, lives outside Istanbul with his wife and two children. The story begins the day before a powerful earthquake hits Turkey. Sinan suddenly finds himself, and his family, jobless and homeless.

Convinced that Americans are responsible for, or at least funding, the Turkish war against the Kurds and the PKK, Sinan is reluctant to accept help from American—specifically, Christian American—relief workers. He is particularly wary of a young American who shows interest in his teenage daughter, İrem.

Sinan is torn between two worlds: the traditional and the contemporary. He struggles to maintain his family’s honor while functioning in modern society.

I am still a novice when it comes to fiction about Turkey, but even I know that the book’s themes are not new. That in itself is not a problem, but Drew doesn’t seem to bring anything fresh to the story. His writing is acceptable, but the story is formulaic, and he relies heavily on cliché.

Drew does a good job, though, of pulling the reader into Sinan’s thoughts. Sinan isn’t simply a conservative, “backwards” villager. He genuinely believes in his lifestyle, although his faith falters now and then, and wants nothing more than for his family to feel and do the same.

Gardens of Water is certainly not groundbreaking, but it is adequate.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Lace Reader

After finishing Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader, I have to question what all the buzz is about. Although the book’s premise is intriguing, the execution leaves much to be desired.

Towner Whitney returns to her home near Salem, Massachusetts for the first time in 15 years. She fled after her twin sister’s suicide, and her own emotional breakdown, and only returns when her step-grandmother goes missing.

Much of modern-day Salem is populated with witches, and no one in town—or out—seems surprised or alarmed by this fact. Towner comes from a long line of witches. The women in her family have a history of mind reading, tea reading, and lace reading. Towner, however, has chosen to abandon these practices.

The book follows two stories: Towner’s return and the events that led to her leaving in the first place. Like I said, the premise is intriguing. The actual story—not so much. Barry fills the book with tedious, unnecessary descriptions and details, so I found it difficult to actually get into the story while slogging through these passages.

For a book that reads (and is written) more like popular than literary fiction, I was surprised by how intentionally muddled the story is. Specifically, Barry never makes clear what is magic and what is a product of mental illness. I know the vagueness is deliberate, but for the kind of book it is, such writing makes for an unsatisfactory conclusion and reading experience.

If you are interested in the supernatural (and language, sex, and nudity), leave The Lace Reader on the shelf and tune into HBO’s new series True Blood instead.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Guest Blog--Grandmother Spider

I am in the middle of reading a Maeve Binchy novel and part of the way through a biography. Both are interesting, but the other night at bedtime, I picked up Grandmother Spider just to help me relax and go to sleep. I did eventually fall asleep, but the next day, I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it. Now I am back looking at the other two books and thinking about needing to read them so they can go back to the library. At the moment, it is tempting to simply ignore both.

James D. Doss has again mixed mysticism and superstition with my idea of reality to make another page-turning mystery. The story begins with Aunt Daisy’s warning to nine-year-old Sarah when she kills a spider. Unless she immediately proclaims that it was a Navajo who killed the spider, Grandmother Spider will come looking for her and seek revenge. And Grandmother Spider is no ordinary arachnid. She is huge and can bite off the head of a cow.

That very night Sarah and Daisy are disturbed by a coyote’s howls. When Daisy takes her shotgun to scare off the animal, both she and Sarah see a huge, dark body moving across the sky. And it looks as if a screaming man is being clutched in one of the many arms of the monster.

The next morning two cars are found abandoned by the lake, and there is no sign of their owners. It doesn’t take long for rumors to spread across the Ute Reservation and beyond about the mysterious creature seen in the sky linked with the disappearance of the two men. One of the missing men turns out to be a scientist working on top secret work for the USAF.

Just when I thought that I had it figured out, Doss threw a curve ball, and I felt completely out of the game. I was puzzled by a death and the appearance of a gun-totting security force.

Fortunately, though, Charlie Moon never looses his grip on reality or his sense of humor. He scoffs at the rumors of a monster or Grandmother Spider seeking revenge. When Moon’s best friend and ‘pardner’ Scott Parris tells him, “You are the luckiest policeman I ever heard of,” Moon replies, “I’d rather be lucky than smart.” With a little luck and a lot of intelligence, the two policemen are able to solve the mystery.

I still haven’t decided, though, what to do about the puzzle in my life. What to read next?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wreck This Journal

Technically, Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal isn’t exactly a book, but I wanted to write a review of it anyway.

This week, I gave the “journal” to my niece who turned 13 years old. I knew she would either react with rapture or complete apathy. Fortunately for my aspirations to be a cool aunt, she loved it.

Each page of the journal contains different instructions for destructing the book: poke holes through this page, burn that page, mail the entire journal to yourself. My niece immediately set out to wreck the journal. She ripped pages, smeared food on other pages, and sprayed perfume on a few.

The one drawback to the journal is that it asks for very little actual writing. I’d like to see a few more opportunities and prompts to record one’s thoughts and experiences. That being said, the book does get the creative juices flowing in other—albeit more destructive—ways.

Wreck This Journal isn’t likely to inspire the next Shakespeare. But it can give young people a lot of giggles and a way to channel their energy in a creative manner. And it just might inspire the next Picasso.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Book Buzz

  • Oodles of books came out this week, so let me mention a few that interest me (and thus must surely interest you). Last week, I heard a good interview with Patrick Tracey on NPR about his new book Stalking Irish Madness. Speaking of NPR, The Good Thief has been sponsoring the station for weeks. Hannah Tinti’s novel about an orphan traveling through New England is finally available to read, so maybe the ads will magically disappear. New England must be a hot topic because Kathleen Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter about the Salem witches also came out this week. Finally, Marilynne Robinson has a new book, Home. I read Housekeeping in college and didn’t love it, but I might be in the minority.
  • I keep running into David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife everywhere I turn (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration). I likely won’t read the book, but The New York Times gives the fictional account of Brigham Young’s 19th wife, Ann Eliza, a positive review.
  • I saw an ad this week for Bookmarks. I’ve never read it, but I am intrigued by a magazine all about books. Then again, I'd probably never get around to it since I have a hard enough time reading the book reviews in the newspaper.
  • Thank goodness for dishonest people. Someone leaked a draft of Stephenie Meyer’s latest book, Midnight Sun, on the internet, and now Meyer claims she might not finish it. I haven’t read the draft, but considering how terrible the final product is, just imagine how hideous Meyer’s first-draft writing must be. Don’t feel too badly for her, though. She is directing a music video for Jack’s Mannequin. How being a crap writer qualifies Meyer to direct, I do not know.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tales from the Expat Harem

I stumbled across Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey. The title is rather off putting, but this collection of 29 essays is perhaps the most helpful book I’ve read in my preparations for moving to the country.

English-speaking women from around the world, though mostly Americans, write about their experiences living, working, and sometime romancing throughout Turkey (though most do live in Istanbul). Only of few of the authors are professional writers. Although the writing is not always stellar, it is more than adequate and sometimes even better than many of our current bestselling authors.

The women provide a variety of perspectives, but almost all openly admit to struggling with adapting to a culture so different from their own. In “Forever After, For Now,” Tanala OsaYande writes about maintaining her identity as an independent American woman while navigating the Turkish dating scene. Several women also write about experiencing the Turkish bath for the first time, and Rhonda Vander Sluis in “Failed Missionary” describes working as a Christian missionary who eventually rethinks her calling.

Only one essay is set in the city where I will be living. Unfortunately, it takes place in the 1960s, and the author has apparently not returned since then. I’ve been told Eastern Turkey is far more conservative than the West, but I suspect life has changed dramatically in the last 40 years, so I won’t take any advice from the essay.

Another story mentions a tradition I’m convinced Americans should adopt. Brides write the names of single women on the soles of their shoes, and grooms write the names of single men. Maybe if someone had done this for me, I would be long married. Then again, maybe someone will do this for me in the near future.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Guest Blog--The Frozen Thames

Last summer I read several novels by Canadian author Helen Humphreys. When I read The Lost Garden, I had a new insight into what it must have been like for a Canadian serviceman waiting to go into battle during World War II.

Canadians entered the war at the same time that Britain did in 1939. There was one difference for those men from North America serving overseas. The British could go on leave to visit their families. The Canadians were isolated on an island far from their families with no idea when the war would end or when, if ever, they would see their families again. My own father did not return from England where he served in the RCAF until April 1946 almost a year after the war in Europe ended.

In Leaving Earth, I learned about a whole new world that I had never contemplated. The story is of two women who fly in a circle around Toronto trying to set a new record for the longest time in the air. The bond these two women form as they are isolated in the clouds and drenched in the rain in a small frame airplane becomes real under Humphreys’ pen.

The Frozen Thames is a very different type of book. Humphreys says that she wrote it in response to feelings of concern about the edges of our polar caps slowly melting into the oceans. In this tiny book with a wide variety of illustrations, she takes on the description of ice in one particular area of our world, the Thames River in England. (A paperback version is going to be available Oct. 7, 2008).

Humphreys says that the Thames froze over 40 times in recorded history, and she has used several sources for her accounts. The book has a tiny chapter that highlights some of the events or consequences of each year when the river froze solid.

When I picked up the book, I immediately thought of my memories of frozen ponds. I remember one time taking our small children to a frozen pond in upstate New York. Despite not having ice skates, we had a wonderful time running on the smooth surface and sliding. The Thames, however, was not a smooth surface. It is a river with tides and bridges. As the ice would form the tide would change and the ice would break up into clumps only to refreeze with jagged edges and small cliffs in the surface.

The book begins with the freezing of the river in 1142 when Queen Matilda is under siege in a castle. She and a few loyal knights manage to escape under the cover of night across the frozen river. Many of the tales are told in the first person.

Most of the characters are imaginary people living at the time when the river froze. She takes us into the world where people who make their living by ferrying people across the river or fishing in it are starving because the river is frozen over. We catch a glimpse of a world so cold that everyone in the household is sleeping next to the fireplace fed by scraps of wood because coal cannot be transported on barges down the river. Birds freeze while sitting on the fence or while flying in the sky. And there are frequent frost fairs on the Thames when the river becomes frozen so solid that even lighting a fire on its surface cannot melt the ice.

The last time the Thames froze in London was 1895. Why hasn’t the Thames frozen during my life time? You will have to see if you can find this small treasure with reproductions of works of art in it and find out for yourself.