Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 90

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 90: Birthday candles.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 90: Birthday candles.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you may know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

July 2015 Reading Review…

july_2

Had a busy July but it was fun, and included sitting on a beach in Mexico and going to a great conference which was thought-provoking and inspiring. I also got to catch up with some long-lost friends which has been extremely entertaining, so I’ve really enjoyed the last month.

Reading-wise, as I’ve mentioned here, I haven’t been able to keep up my reading pace pre-promotion but I’m fine with that. My best read last month was definitely Helene Hanff’s book and the longest project was Aurora Floyd, but it was worth the effort.

I’m also toying with the idea of picking cross-stitching again, especially now that I have finally got some new glasses that give me x-ray vision. So – I’m digging through my small pile and seeing what appeals. More on that as warranted, I expect.

So – to the books.

For July 2015, I read the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

Total number of books read in July: 5

Total number of pages read: 1359 pages (av. 251 pages)

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 2 F and 3 NF.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 0 library books and 4 owned books. 1 e-book this month. (Total of 21 books off TBR this year.)

Credit: Basking Ridge Historical Society.

Credit: Basking Ridge Historical Society.

Note: WordPress – please help me figure out why I get different fonts at different times and in different places. Have I hurt your feelings? Are you tired or hungry? Am I pressing the wrong buttons?…

Things on Cowboy’s Head – No. 89

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 88: Ribbons and bows.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 88: Ribbons and bows.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you may know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

New things…

Pen_inkIt’s been a busy last few days (and weeks) for me, so much so that I’ve finally come to the realization that I’m not going to be able to pick up the amount of reading that I was enjoying back before my promotion. Less reading will probably translate into fewer titles on my blog, so I hope you are OK with that. I used to be able to juggle one classic, one non-fiction title, and one fiction title all at the same time, but sadly, I must cut back out of this through necessity.

So – I’m back to reading one title at a time (instead of multi-tasking) and I’m actually fine with that. I’m enjoying what I’m reading as I go, AND I even returned all my library books as they were just sitting in a pile haunting me about not spending time with them. So – now, I feel as though I have more space in my head for the things that I can and need to fit in there. It’s a really good feeling.

You know that I’m all about words and writing, and so to support my writing a bit more (and to see if I can curb my absolutely terrible handwriting), I have plunked down some cash for a new fabulous ink pen, cartridges, and a snazzy Moleskin note book.

I have been yearning for a posh Moleskin notebook for ages, but couldn’t fork over the cash (read: too mean), but I won a gift certificate in a photography exhibition and used that to purchase the pen and notebook. And wow. Do I love writing with my ink pen…

It flows so smoothly and I just love to write with it. With the ink being what it is, I have found out that I need to write on some pretty nice thick paper (or it comes through to the back page) and there comes in the Moleskin notebook. Fountain pen + lovely notebook… Oh joy and be still my heart.

Anyway, I haven’t forsaken the reading word and I certainly haven’t forsaken the written word. I just have to balance my life at the moment in terms of cutting back on titles a bit.

And – if you haven’t tried a fountain pen since your messy-fingered* youth, I recommend taking another look at it.

It’s really fun now.

* That might have been only me who got ink over everything though. :-)

Aurora Floyd – M. E. Braddon (1863)

book354

Mary Elizabeth (M. E.) Braddon was a prolific writer (approx. 90 (!) books between 1860 and 1915) and her output consisted of plays, poetry, essays, novels and a number of literary magazines. She had also been an actress in her earlier days, an experience which is said to have helped with her sensation novels published later. (Both Lady Audley’s Secret [1862] and Aurora Floyd [1863] were wildly popular, so much so that certain groups were threatened by her writing and she was criticized as a “purveyor of immoral fiction.”)

Sensation novels were a literary trend in Victorian times usually characterized by mystery, strong passions and opinions (unseemly at the Victorian time) and intricate plotting, all of which are there in large quantities during Aurora Floyd. (See here for a review of her earlier novel, Lady Audley’s Secret.) If you know to expect over-the-top everything going in, it’s a great ride for the reader. It’s a roller coaster ride which speeds along and then ambles in places, but it’s always enjoyable.

The novel spins its tale of murder, intrigue and family over three volumes (at least in my Kindle copy) – this sounds long, but it’s a fast experience as a reader. It’s a fun tale of Gothic romance, incredible coincidences and massive amounts of overwriting, but it worked.

The plot involves the titular Aurora Floyd, the young beautiful daughter of a rich widower in northern England who married a ne’er-do-well husband in her early years, a decision that comes back to haunt her and that involves blackmail, secret-keeping, and loads of money. (You can just feel the frisson that was felt by well-bred Victorian ladies reading this behind their fans in the drawing room on a rainy Monday while their husbands checked the Stock Exchange numbers.)

Typical of sensation novels, Braddon runs a lot of different lines of plot throughout this read, but as each string is added one after another and then linked back, it’s surprisingly easy to keep track of who is doing what to whom. (“Dickensian” was the way that I’d describe this although this was much more Mills and Boon without delving into the hard-hitting social issues quite so much at all.)

ME Braddon in her younger years

I enjoyed it also as a look into the world of domestic life slap in the middle of Victorian times, for a look at rural vs city life, and also to see how slow and difficult murder investigations must have been before the inventions of cars, telephones, forensic evidence and the internet.*

It’s a fun read, and one that I kept returning to before, during, and after vacation, so it obviously kept my attention and interest. If you’re in the mood for anything Gothic, murder, fainting heroines, black mail, and dastardly husbands, you would probably enjoy this. It’s nothing too deep, but it’s a fun read and I recommend it.

(*Slightly relevant historical side note: The concept of professional police (as opposed to private paying for whoever was willing to do it) was officially introduced in England by Sir Robert Peel when he became Home Secretary in 1822. His work led to the Metropolitan Police Act 1829 which established a full-time professional and centrally-organized police force for greater London are known as Metropolitan Police. By the 1850’s, police forces were established nationally across England, Scotland and Wales.

Peel had this philosophy based on “The police are the public and the public are police” (or “policing by consent” as it’s known in UK circles). These “Peelian Principles”, as they are known and upon which an ethical police force are based, are as follows:

  • Every police officer should be issued an identification number to assure accountability for his/her actions
  • Whether the police are effective is not measured on the number of arrests, but on the lack of crime
  • Above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount (thus the idea of “policing through consent”)

(Interesting aside #1: UK police used to have a height requirement for all applicants: at least 5 ft. 10 inches until 1960. [Ah-ha: That’s why Dixon of Dock Green was so imposing…] This was not removed until 1990 when minimum height requirements were dropped. The shortest recorded UK police officer is PC Sue Day of Wiltshire Police at 4 ft. 10 inches.)

Well then. Now you know these things….

(One more slightly interesting aside #2, this time related to the book: There is a 1912 American silent movie of Aurora Floyd which was quickly followed by another US version in 1915. And if you were alive in 1863, you could have seen a stage version in London whilst BBC Radio 4 did a radio version with Colin Firth called A Cold Embrace in 2009 if anyone caught that. Luckily, no one has attempted to do a version only doing mime just yet.)

DixonofDockGreen (Above) This is Dixon, of the TV show “Dixon on Dock Green” which was on the BBC from 1955-1976 and featured the daily life at a London police station.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 88

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 88: Workout bag.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 88: Workout bag.

Editor’s Note: Now this image above may look as though Cowboy has been comfortably sleeping in my work out bag for hours, but she’s faking. Not one minute before this pic was taken, the bag was zipped up on the floor doing its own thing. Getting ready to W/O, I picked up the bag and put it on the bed to put my things in it. I turned my head for two seconds, then looked back and there’s Cowboy fake-napping. Two minutes later, this bag (with her in it) accidentally fell off the bed so I think she may have been cured of this particular Bag Curiosity, but we’ll see. Cats, cats, cats…

Background Note: Cowboy, as you may know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) — all of which traits help with this ongoing project I have…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that.* It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

* Sometimes we do other things as well…

Letter from New York – Helene Hanff (1992)

book357

What a complete joy this little read was. It almost popped my socks off in its charming-ness, and I’d like everyone who reads this blog post to leave right now and get yourselves a copy somehow. It’s that lovely.

It’s a very quick read, understandable as it’s a collection of some five minute radio broadcasts that Hanff did on the BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour during the 1980’s (after the publishing success of her earlier book, 84 Charing Cross Road. (Again, if you haven’t read the Charing Cross Road book, this epistolary true story of the friendship between Hanff and an English bookseller is super, and I highly recommend that you do.)

Anyway, each of these brief radio broadcasts tells about Hanff’s life in New York City, where she lived in a block of apartments, a place that she calls “community living” as many of the other tenants were also her friends and make appearances in her columns here. (Oh, and don’t forget the friends’ dogs. There are lots of dog stories in here, but not enough to cross it over into Crazy Dog Person Land.)

If you’re familiar with any of Hanff’s writing, you’ll know that she writes in a breezy optimistic style about the minutiae of living in New York as a self-employed writer. (Interestingly, there is not a lot of talk about her actual writing. Lots more focus on her life and what Hanff notices around her, which to me is a lot more fascinating in this particular case.) She’s very down-to-earth, has an interesting group of friends (with their dogs), and lives a full life of museum visits, concerts, and stories about her own particular neighborhood.

The columns are organized month by month and cover about three or four years, so the reader is taken through the seasons. She is such a good writer and really engages her reader in her slice-of-life descriptions as she recalls them here. I bet that this could fall into the epistolary category as well, as each column reads as though it is a letter from a favorite auntie (or similar) just to you. As you can probably surmise, I adored this quick read and think others of you might as well.

Seriously – one of my favorite reads so far this year.