Friday, February 17, 2012

Daschunds, Plantagenets, and Mystery

February is my least favorite month. It usually is a snow-laden month one just has to get through until the March promise of spring. This year that promise has come early. We've had such a mild winter here. But that means dogs with muddy feet tracking up the house. Oh, well.

Speaking of dogs....we've had a fourth dog for a week. Bud's daughter, Stephanie had a business conference to go to, so we had Tater, a mini long-haired daschund. Poor thing missed Steph so much, she just wasn't her usual perky self. Archie was not pleased either. Tater is very much a ladies' dog and loves laps. Archie was displaced and I received many disappointed and puzzled looks. Here's Tater in the yard last summer.

She's a definite cutie and super sweet, but like most daschunds, she's a bit of a diva. She rules the roost and all must be attendant to her needs. I don't mind at all, but Dusty, Brandy and, particularly, Archie are not amused. They get along, there were no fights, but distance is always preferred.

So, along with being Keeper for four dogs this month, I've been racing (well, trying to race - these are long books) through Sharon Kay Penman's Welsh Trilogy. I've gotten through the first two: Here Be Dragons and Falls the Shadow. They are fascinating historical fiction tracing the friction and wars between the Welsh Princes and the royals of England during the 13th century. The intricacies and bloody cruelty of inter-related noble families abounds! And we think we have family friction, black sheep and power plays today! Yikes! I shuddered over each time that a marriage took place between a thirty to fifty something man to a ten to fourteen year old young girl cousin! Ick! But it was all too common back then.

There was so much to cover in these books that I wonder if Ms. Penman might have been better served to focus more than she did and break the trilogy into a longer series. Her writing is best when focusing on the relationships of Llewellyn Fawr of Wales and his wife, Joanna, King John's daughter in Here Be Dragons or Simon de Montfort and his wife, Nell, King Henry's sister, in Falls the Shadow. But so very much happens around them and their families that I don't know if it would have been possible to do. These books were an amazing accomplishment and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in the Plantagenet reigns.

Now I'm heading into some lighter reading before I read the last in Penman's trilogy. I just started Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy mysteries. I'll let you know later what I think of them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January Musings

Wow. It's heading towards the end of January of the new year already! Seems I just blinked and Christmas, Bud's and my birthday and the first big snow of the season flew by. My days seem to melt one into another lately.

Let's see, what has happened? Archie tore out one of his right hind foot toenails, poor baby. He limped awhile, but now all is well. Bud and I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes for our birthday. We both really enjoyed that. I found out that I am going to be a first-time Grandma in June to a little boy. I'm so excited! I started a short story set in the same world as "Snow's End" and "Bloodstone." The main character is a monk who came to me when I woke up one morning and insisted his story be told. And I've been plowing eagerly through three new-to-me series of books. Bliss!

All three series are historical mysteries. The first series is by Laurie R. King, the Mary Russell series. The first book in the series, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, grabbed me immediately and I've been greatly entertained by the pairing of a young woman of the post-WWI era and an elderly Sherlock Holmes. I've always been fascinated by WWI and the 1920s as that was the era in which my parents spent their youths. Add mystery and Sherlock Holmes and, boy, I'm hooked. Ms. King's bright and witty writing makes everything sparkle, even when the two are traipsing the more sordid sections of London, the dusty roads of Palestine or the foggy and gloomy Dartmoor.

The second series I latched onto is by C.S. Harris, the Sebastian St. Cyr books. We're back in the Regency era with a character Ms. Harris describes as, "think Mr. Darcy with a James Bond edge...." Well. Yes, that pretty much describes Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. We follow him through the drawing rooms and fetes of the nobility (including those of "Prinny," soon-to-be Prince Regent George, son of George III) as well as the slums and brothels of London solving gruesome mysteries within the elite milieu. How can one not enjoy the dashing antics of a nobleman who cannot keep a valet because of the deplorable state of elegant clothing with which his employer returns each day?

The third series takes me back into the tumultuous days of Henry VIII's reign. C.J. Sansom brings us the Matthew Shardlake series. Shardlake is a hunch-backed would-be reformist lawyer who gets reluctantly drawn into the devious and mysterious political machinations of Thomas Cromwell, the Roman Catholic church and a host of other familiar historical figures of the day. Add a stately and brilliant Moorish monk apothecary and a scapegrace young "assistant" who has a tendency to call everyone an "arsehole", and Matthew Shardlake's adventures into the labyrinth of the 16th century Tudor reign can become addictive.

So, that's what I've been up to so far this year. It's 2012? How did I get here so quickly? Weren't we just all babbling about Y2K?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Childhood Christmas Memories

What memory from your childhood do you miss the most?

Mine actually happened before Christmas in preparation for our Christmas Eve Swedish dinner with my dad's side of the family. Sometime in the week before Christmas my dad and I would make a trip to a little Swedish delicatessen in what was once a Swedish neighborhood on the Southwest side of Chicago. Mom would bundle me up in two pair of red corduroy pants, red rubber boots, my grey coat with black velvet collar and cuffs and white mohair knitted mittens and matching ear warmer hat tied under my chin (it itched fiercely). Dad wore his grey overcoat, black rubbers over his shoes and the obligatory hat that all men wore in the 50s. We'd trundle off in our green '55 Chevy into the city from the outskirts (not a suburb, but still considered "the sticks" by most of the family).

We'd arrive at this small shop situated on a corner and have to search for a parking spot somewhere down the street as folks waited in a line outside the door until they could enter into it to purchase the goodies inside. We shuffled and chatted with our fellow customers puffing out clouds of condensation into the frigid December air. Well, dad chatted. The conversation was mostly in Swedish which dad answered in English. I clung to his hand in amazed awe at his understanding what was being said. Dad was tall, just under six feet, but he always grew at least a foot in my estimation at his ability to understand Swedish. That was the beginning of the magic that surrounded him and the delicatessen. When we finally entered the shop, with the little bell over the door announcing our presence,  the sights and smells of wonderful goodies folded me into its magical embrace. 

The women behind the tall, glass covered counters filled with a variety of fish, sausages, meats, and salads seemed like fairy godmothers dressed in large wrap-around white aprons. Their faces, pink-cheeked and glistening, smiled, laughed and called to each other and their customers in Swedish. Dad would point me to the shelves on the other side of the shop and I had to search out jars of lingonberries (oh, the delight of those deep red sweeties!) and large round-wheeled packages of kneckabrod (hardtack to most folks). He would order potates corv (potato sausage) and a fairy godmother would hold up a circle of links and ask (in Swedish, of course) how many he required. Then he'd proceed to order the silta (pickled herring), head cheese, bruna beenar (brown beens) and bundost (a wonderful cheese with caraway seeds). Then the piece de resistance was ordered - Lutefisk! (And if you haven't heard of Lutefisk, look it up. A very unprepossessing delicacy that is not to everyone's taste, but considered the absolute necessity at these celebrations.) Another fairy godmother would come out from behind the counters and approach a line of small wooden barrels against the shelves. She'd crack open a lid, reach down with a pudgy bare hand into salt brine and raise for my father's consideration a long, dripping plank of the white fish. After a couple more of her dips into the barrel dad would settle on what he estimated the right size for our group of 20 or more family members.

All of this would be wrapped in white butcher paper or tucked into white take-out boxes and lovingly place in brown paper bags for us to cart home. I hated to leave that little shop, but other customers were still shivering outside the door so we'd both leave with smiles on our faces and bundles in our arms for the ride home in the Chevy. I felt I had been allowed to share in a magical way a peek into my father's own childhood. Today I'd call it a time warp or a step out of the Doctor's Tardis. Back then it was just plain magic!

***Excuse the phonetical spellings of the Swedish. I never learned it and always wish I had.

Happy New Year blessings to you all!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

November Hangover and an Excerpt from Bloodstone

November was a devil of a month!

No, I did not win NaNoWriMo. Far from it. But! It did stoke me to continuing writing! Lir and Simon have been with me in my waking and sleeping since the first day of NaNo. In fact, I think I've written more in the last week than in the entire month of November.

The cleaning and preparation for Turkey Day near did me in and left little time for writing. But it was worth it! The Loomis Clan Plus ate, laughed and laughed some more, and told their stories. Hilary, my daughter-in-law, positively glowed with the completion of her first trimester of pregnancy. It was the first time she and my son, Critter, met the Loomis bunch. Our little house overflowed with family, friends and dogs (who simply wriggled with delight and were as exhausted as we were when it was over). On the Friday after T-day I could hardly move, but it was a good feeling of exhaustion and aching muscles.

And then there came the demise of the vacuum cleaner and the death of the garage door opener. Ugh. Money and Bud's Holiday Cheer (which is always in short supply due to an understaffed Post Office) flew out the front door. Ah, well.

Anyway, here is another excerpt. This one is from last night's writing.


It was a great relief to have Caddy take charge. Lir envied the children she greeted as she headed toward the sleeping caves. No responsibilities, all the time in the day to have fun, and Caddy to stroke and kiss the hurts away. She pulled the curtains back that surrounded her bed-shelf against the cave wall. Her groan of pure relief echoed against the wall as she slipped off her boots and wiggled her toes. Then she fell, face-first, onto the wool-filled pallet atop the shelf. Her mind still whirled with the days events, though, so she turned onto her side to face the wall. She reached out her hands and placed them flat against the chill stone. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, cleared her mind as well as possible, and sent her prayer into Euphmum, the Mother.

       Mother, fold and embrace Onodath Zumcar into your loving arms
                                           as we send him to you. 
      Hold Caddy, Cort, Torn, Simon and all the children here in the Caves
                          in your fierce protection and abundant love.
      And give me strength, Mother, to face these days - to face [spoiler here] - 
                              and to do what is best for your children.
         If it be in the best interest of ALL, please ease these burdens I carry.
                    Help me find my place within the Weave and live it 
                                   with strength, beauty and love.

Lir felt the familiar warmth of the Mother’s love and energy flow from the stone into her arms and through her body. It had been this way since she was old enough to leave the cradle and sleep upon this shelf-bed. Each night before sleeping she would pray herself and her small problems into the Mother through the stone of the Cave walls and be filled with comfort, assurance and strength for the next day. She hadn’t known until she was about eight summers old that not everyone did this. She’d taken it for granted. No one had told her to do it. It just came as natural as breathing to her. She’d flattened Purdis, a portly youth apprentice to the Foundary, for teasing her about it. No one bothered her about her odd habit of praying into the Cave walls after that.

It was not that praying was unusual in the Caves. Indeed not. Caddy had instructed them all from the time they were tots to give thanks to the Mother for their food, shelter and friends with the usual prayers at meals on the first day of a ten-day. She had told them the stories of the Weave. They celebrated the festivals of the Winter Moons, Spring Blossoms, and Harvest Moons. But most of the children took them as “Caddy’s tales” and had little understanding of their importance in the history of the people of Euphemric.

Lir lay back and snuggled down into her pallet. She pulled her ragged quilt up under her chin. She had struggled to make that sorry quilt under Caddy’s frustrated tutelage. She had no patience for needlework. She wanted to be running. She had squirmed and complained the entire time of the making. It was moot who was more thankful for the quilt to be done - her or Caddy. 
She now fingered and stroked the pitifully embroidered symbol of the Weave that decorated the top of the quilt. [Describe the symbol]. A small, gentle voice whispered in her head and it wasn’t Simon’s voice. It was a voice she’d heard most every night of her life.

You are an important strand in the Weave, my daughter. A strong and vibrant thread. I am with you. Take heart. 

She had always thought that voice was the mother who had given her birth, [spoiler].

She suspected she had been mistaken.


It always amazes me how things pop up while I'm writing that I never could have expected. That symbol, fer instance. I have no idea what it is. I suppose I will have to draw something? Or have someone draw something? I don't know. But I'll leave that until later and just go on writing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

ArabellaArabella by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd never read a Georgette Heyer book before. It was delightful! I'm not sure why I didn't give it five stars. Perhaps because I had to look up so many words! So many Regency era British colloquialisms! There were passages where I hadn't a clue what was being said! At the same time, I was in awe of what must have been some exceedingly serious research into the era.

When I checked into the copyright year I was also in awe. 1949 - the year I was born! 62 years old and this book could have been written yesterday. Again I was in awe. Timeless! The characters are vivid and strong. The plot, while not tremendously original now, still stands because of those characters. Loved it!

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Way Behind, but Still Plugging....

Here's another excerpt:

She had all she could take of being bed-ridden and cooped up in that bedroom. She had been “allowed” to sit in the kitchen in front of the hearth for an hour the last two days, but that had only made her more anxious to be up and about. Her coughing had subsided. It was not altogether gone, but her chest was no longer tight. She slid from under the covers that had been so welcome a short time ago and searched the room for her tunic and trews. She could not find them, anywhere. She stood in one of Torn’s threadbare, but clean, nightshirts non-plussed and beginning to fume.

“Torn! Torn!”

She heard the thump of his boots in the kitchen after a few minutes. The door opened. He stood there with his shopkeeper’s apron tied around his waist and two boxes under one arm. “What? What is it? Are you all right? I was busy with a customer.” His broad brow crunched into an annoyed frown. A honey-brown curl of hair drooped on his forehead.

“What have you done with my clothes?” Her arms crossed her chest and a bare foot tapped the floor impatiently.

“Your clothes?” By the Mother….I thought you’d fallen or fainted or…. Lir. I’m busy with a customer. I’ll bring your clothes when I’m done with him.” He slammed the door behind him as he left.

“You’ll bring them now!” she called through the door. “Or I’m coming out as I am! See what your customer thinks of that!” She opened the door and stomped through the kitchen to the doorway of the shop.

When she saw who was the customer, she quickly darted back into the kitchen. “Damn.” She whispered. It was Zumcar’s twitchy orderly. She closed her eyes and sent a quick prayer to the Mother that he hadn’t seen her. 

He didn’t see you.
She opened her eyes to see Simon sitting on the back rung of one of the kitchen chairs. He was tottering a bit as the bird was a bit more weight than the chair could balance, so he hopped onto the table.

You won’t tell Caddy I stood on the table, will you? She does like to harp at me for that. Seems I bring disease and destruction and she doesn’t want me poisoning your food. Huh! 

Lir could swear the Rakthat actually rolled his eyes. She grinned. “Sounds like Caddy.”

So, why are you being so hard on Torn? He does have a business to run. And why are you afraid of that simpering fool of a customer?

Lir pulled out a chair and sat. She put her head in her hands. “I don’t know. I’m just fed up with being sick, I suppose. I know he has a business to run.” She looked up at the bird. He toddled over to her, bent his sleek head and began grooming her blonde curls with his dangerously fierce beak. “But he took my clothes!!” she groaned.

He did. He took them and threw them into the fire.

“He what?” Lir stood so quickly that her chair fell backwards. “Ouch!” She looked down at Simon on the table. He held a generous strand of white-blonde curly hair in his beak. She rubbed at the sore spot on her head.

He dropped the strand and eyed her with a sharp, beady one-eyed glare. Well! That’s your own fault you know.

She righted the chair and sat back down. “Yes. But what am I supposed to wear now? I can’t be a Runner in this.” She pinched the front of the nightshirt and drew it from her even thinner body.

Caddy actually told Torn to burn the clothing. Then she sent him out to purchase new things for you.

“Oh, frag. I do hope he hasn’t brought back a dress. He’s always going on about how he’d like to see me in a dress. He didn’t get a dress, did he?

No, he didn’t. He and Caddy already had that argument and she won the day when she managed to convince him you couldn’t be a Runner in a dress.

She grinned. “I wish I had heard that argument.”

Oh, it was a grand one! Simon bobbed his head several times and did a little dance on the table. Now, about that customer….

“That customer was Zumcar’s orderly. I met him when I went to the Castle for Zumcar’s message. Weasely kind of fellow. He made me quite uneasy. If he had seen me in this nightshirt here I can’t imagine what stories he would have taken back with him. And he might have guessed that I was not what I pretended to be. I can’t afford that.”

No. No you can’t.

So, Lir and the story are moving on, albeit a lot more slowly than I'd like. Thanksgiving is next week and I've a house to clean. But I will keep on....

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day Nine of NaNo

So, yesterday and today I got some writing done. Not a humongous amount, but I'm pleased with it. Tonight, before I sleep, I will ask Lir to show me more. That's what I do. Then the next day I have things lined up. It works for me.
 Of course, I know generally where all this is going, but it is totally amazing to me that I am continually surprised with the details, pertinent sidetracks and new characters that pop up. It makes me feel like I am both writing and reading. My characters lead the way. I think this is what makes writing so exciting for me
 Here's an excerpt from today's writing:
by B. Navta
Copyright 2011

  Lir awoke several times, although she was unsure whether she was awake or still sleeping. She’d been dreaming fever dreams of a man with a huge bird head who spoke softly in her ear and a Guard who continually beat her with a club that turned into a bucket of water that nearly drowned her with its impact. She coughed and spluttered trying to get her breath in the deluge. When she’d awake she was definitely struggling to catch her breath and coughing painfully. Then she’d drift off back into her disturbing dreams. 

 She finally awoke and became somewhat cognizant of her surroundings. She was covered in sweat and shivering uncontrollably. She turned her head which pounded fiercely with her movement to see that a fire in the hearth had died to a few coals. How long had she been sleeping? And for that matter, where was she? She tried to shake her head to clear it, but moaned at the racking pain that movement sent through her whole body. She settled back and tried to think. She didn’t close her eyes as she knew she’d be back dreaming bird heads and buckets quickly.

 She lay still, only moving her eyes over what she could see and that in itself was painful. A house, obviously. A ruin of a house. That meant she wasn’t back in the Caves. A house. How’d she get here? She listened to hear if there was anyone else in the room. All she heard was rain pouring down on the roof and dripping somewhere. She heard no other movement, no tell-tale breathing. Alone, then. But she somehow knew she hadn’t been alone. 

 Let’s see. She tried recalling her movements. I had a message. A message for….ah! The gem mines. The gem mines….I ran to the gem mines. I got to the gate and….and I wasn’t alone, was I? I looked up to the top of the palisade and…. 

 “Simon!” She bolted upright. “Ohhhhhh.” She began coughing and coughing. Her head spun and she was nauseous. She leaned to the side of the bench she was on and retched. When that was done, she limply slid herself cautiously back down to lay on the bench. 

 “Simon,” she whispered. This time she closed her eyes, but a myriad of images flooded her. Simon at the gate of the castle. Simon flying with her as she ran to the mines. Simon swooping down from the porch of the Commander’s quarters. Simon hovering over her in the rain and leading her to this house. 

 Where was Simon? 

 And then another thought struck her. She had seemed to take Simon’s presence and his talking - well, thinking? - to her in stride. That was so unlike her. She was a questioner and suspicious. Life in the valley had taught her that was the only way to survive. Why had she just accepted that a bird could converse with her? Perhaps Simon was the dream? There was no bird here. But then how did she get here? 

 “I’ve gone mad. That’s the answer,” she whispered to herself. “Completely and totally mad.”

She felt she had an answer, maybe it wasn’t exactly the answer, but right now it sufficed and she let herself slip into a blessed oblivion. She felt as if a gentle and warm black blanket surrounded her within loving arms. She smiled. “Mother.” And then she knew no more.