Big Brother is Watching

I just finished rereading Sense and Sensibility. John Dashwood, the eldest brother who, in his greed, impoverishes his stepmother and sisters got me to thinking. Of all the men I’ve encountered in my reading, which ones would I actually choose to call big brother?

The hero Ulysses is my idea of a great older brother -- much older. The amazing gifts he would bring on his infrequent trips home! His stories of exotic locations and fantastic adventures would fuel one’s dreams. I can see him -- huge, well-muscled, rough and unshaven -- sitting back to the fire, weaving tales of his adventures for a crowd of listeners. There he is, trapped in a cave by the huge Cyclops Polyphemus. The cleverness and daring by which Ulysses and his remaining men escape would make him a larger-than life hero for any girl to worship. From afar. He’d be much too wild and out-of-control to live with day in and out.

If you had a biggest brother like Ulysses you'd want someone steadier to stay home and watch over your interests. A responsible older man with good judgment. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice comes to mind first, or Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. (Until he married Marianne. She’d be a tough pill to swallow as sister-in-law, while Elizabeth Bennett would be a slam dunk.) But those are the easy choices. What about Sir Percy Blakeney, otherwise known as the Scarlet Pimpernel, dashing, intelligent, organized, with a tremendous capacity for compassion? He’d do whatever necessary, even risking his own life, to rescue you from trouble; going out on any proverbial limb when you needed help. Maybe sometimes he’d go TOO far, though. Were his amazing cleverness and luck to fail him he could end up losing his head to Le Madame Guillotine. Where would we be then? What a difficult choice.

I don’t see myself going to Mr. Darcy for advice on love. Here you need an older brother who knows his way around the dating world --  knows who to consider marriage worthy and which men you’d better not follow into a dark corner or empty carriage. He'd have to be a young man who's familiar with all the tricks, (probably because he’s used them himself at one time or another.) Young Laurie Laurence from Little Women might do. Brought up strictly, with a rebellious streak that got him into some real trouble, he knew the vices young people could fall into. He expected better from the four girls  next door, however. That protective streak led him to scold Meg during her one foray into the world of society. Her dress was cut too low, there was rouge on her cheeks, and what would her Mother or sisters think of her now? A bit hypocritical, yes, but his heart was good, and you could trust him to keep you on the straight and narrow. (Assuming that was where you wanted be.)

On a more modern vein, John Farrel is a roguish international spy who always manages to take good care of Mrs. Pollifax, be it in Albania or South Africa. He’d be a useful big brother if your romantic adventures tended to result in you being kidnapped or held at gunpoint.

Finally, no ideal family could be complete without the typical trouble maker for a  brother. He’s the one who cracks a bad joke when things get too tense at the dinner table and keeps all of you, including your dates, from taking yourselves too seriously. Not Tom Sawyer, though he’s the first scamp to come to mind. Actually, I can’t think of anyone to fit the bill in the classics. I have to go with Fred and George Weasley. Life is just more interesting with them around. Seldom malicious, their practical jokes are doled out equally, no one person exempted or immune. Genuinely affectionate and fond of their family, they can be counted on to come through in a pinch. And isn’t that what a real family is about?  

So here are my choices, a motley crew of literary guys I’d like to put in my family. Now that I look at them all together though, I suspect I’ve assembled a group of brothers guaranteed to drive any girl crazy. I may have to revisit this list. What do you think?

Read Well, Friend     

Sense and Sensibility insight edition, Jane Austin, Bethany House
The Odyssey, Homer
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austin
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gilman
Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling


Medieval History/Mystery Hash

As far as nouns go, I’m not certain of the definition of mush, but it sounds noxious and unappealing. Mash, in the same form, makes me think of  whiskey, (sour), or the leftover scraps of food used to swill pigs. So I’m using the word hash in my title, as I certainly don’t mean to imply repugnancy, only something mixed together, unordered, messy.

My mystery/history hash began in the Newport News, VA airport. I usually can’t read books in crowded planes or noisy airports, but I knew I might have to wait an hour or so to be picked up on the Memphis end of my trip, and trust me on this, the Memphis airport at 9:00 pm is as deserted as they come. So I picked up a book. Agincourt, by Bernard Cornwall. I love his Sharpe books, love history, and knew nothing about Agincourt. (I’ve never even read Henry V.) I thought it was a no brainer. It turned out to be quite the opposite.

Agincourt revolves around Nicholas Hook, an archer of exceptional skill. It seems that archers were the deciding factor in the small English army’s victory against a much larger French force in that battle in 1415 France. Those archers didn’t use just any bow, but the famous war bow, known today as the longbow. That rang a bell. I remember the longbow because my Granddad Richards was from Wales, and the Welsh were known to be the best longbow archers in the British Isles. (I read this somewhere, so it must be true.) According to Cornwall, the longbow was widely used in the 1300-1400s in certain parts of Britain. What we commonly call medieval times.

reminded me of another book I’d been wanting to re-read, set in the same time period, The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb. It’s the first in a series of mysteries about Owen Archer, a Welsh bowman turned spy. He too shot the longbow. It turns out, these books are set in the 1360’s, about 50 years before Agincourt. I decided to check if Brother Cadfael, a Welsh soldier turned monk, was solving his cases at the same time. But, no. Ellis Peters set her books over two hundred years earlier. That surprised me, because I'd always imagined that when Owen Archer was out of York, unable to consult apothecary Lucy Wilton or Brother Wulfstan for a salve to soothe his disfiguring scar, he might turn to Brother Cadfael instead. That idea was blown, since neither of these novels include time travel.

I realized I had made hash, Medieval History/Mystery Hash -- a confused, messed up understanding of British history gained from assuming all medieval mysteries covered basically the same time period. I did study British history in college about uh-hum decades ago, but obviously things have gotten murky since then. This was driven home when I compared dates from other books on my shelf. Sister Fidelma -- mid 600s. Ursula Blanchard -- 1560. Brother Athelstan -- 1360s. Robin Hood I knew was earlier -- last half of the 1150s,  Sister Frevisse -- 1430s. Robin Hood and Cadfael reference the Crusades, others allude to various kings, queens, and factions. But besides knowing Edward III had to have been born sometime after Edward II, that didn’t help me much. And, oh yes, where does Braveheart fit in? It includes a King Edward, as do the Owen Archer books. The same one, perhaps?

Now I’ve made hash a couple of times. I don’t care for finely dicing all the roast beef and veggies to get what is basically a pot roast with fixings. But sometimes I just crave an excuse to pour ketchup over everything and be done with it. So I have made it. On purpose. This most recent hash I had made inadvertently and it didn’t please me at all. When was the medieval period, anyway? And what about the so-called Dark Ages? Where in the world do my mysteries fit in?????

It didn’t surprise me that there are no hard and fast rules for when those historical time periods are considered to begin and end. History is fluid and rarely  fits into neat boxes. It turns out  medieval and Middle Ages are the same; the Dark Ages may or may not be included. (Merriam-Webster doesn't capitalize medieval, BTW.) In Britain the Dark Ages generally run from about 476 to 1066. The 1066 is obvious -- William the Conqueror and the Norman invasion of England, against which all British history may be measured. England’s 1776, if you will. But 476? Of course, my daughter said, wasn’t that the fall of the Roman empire? She was right. Show-off. So that means the Middle Ages begin roughly at 1066, but when do they end and the Renaissance begin? That depends. It depends on what country you’re looking at, for one thing. After that, take your pick. Perhaps it ends with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, or the end of the Hundred Years’ War, both 1453. You might prefer citing Gutenberg’s movable type, 1455, Columbus and 1492 or the beginning of the Reformation in 1517. To name a few. Oddly, the end of the Middle Ages in England is often cited quite specifically, August 22, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth. Richard III is killed and the Tudors take control of the throne. Cool. Now I know exactly where Richard III fits, at least.

So how was Cadfael’s England different from Brother Athelstan’s or Nicholas Hook’s? I’ve decided to make a timeline using each historical mystery series I read to help me get a clearer picture of what happened when. I expect that to take me a while, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Read Well, Friend

Main Character and Author --
Dark Ages
Sister Fidelma, Peter Tremayne
Middle Ages/medieval
Robin Hood, Howard Pyle first and foremost
Brother Cadfael, Ellis Peters
Brother Athelstan, Paul Harding
Owen Archer, Candace Robb
Nicholas Hook, Bernard Carnwall
Sister Frevisse, Margaret Frazer
Richard III in Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
Ursula Blanchard, Fiona Buckley
(Anyone know where I can find a good book about the Battle of Bosworth? I don’t know anything about it, either.)


Welcome To The World!

William Lauren Kelsey
1/13/2010 @ 2:01 pm 
8lb 9oz, 20.5" 
Langley AF Base hospital
Newport News, VA  

Congratulations Calvin and April
Aunt Betsy
Great Aunts Sue and  Beth
Grandma Teri Kelsey (That's me!!)
Great Grandparents Don and Jean Kelsey 
                                  and Joan Quiggle
And all the rest of the family

And Thank You, Lord, for Your Grace and Blessing on our Lives.


What in the World is Going On Here?

One of the best books ever written in the English language is Dickens’ story of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. You can disagree with me if you want, but you'll never persuade me to change my mind. I first read it in 6th grade, horrified by Madame Defarge, seated at the foot of the guillotine, knitting and knitting, splashed over and over in blood and gore from decapitated heads rolling at her feet, day after day endlessly knitting a secret list of those doomed to die as traitors of the French people. My heart broke at the cruelty of a young child run over by an aristocrat’s racing carriage. The only reaction --he  cursed the boy for being in his way. The sweet, delicate nature of Lucie Manette blew like a rose-scented breeze over the squalid atmosphere. Is it any surprise Charles Darnay became the hero of my young dreams? Or that Sydney Carton’s final sacrifice and dying utterance thrilled me for years? (OK. It still does.)

The thing is, other than the gruesome details and high romance of those few characters, I really had no idea what was going on. Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety were vaguely familiar, but didn’t interest me one bit. I skipped huge portions of text while searching for the names of my favorite characters so I could just read those parts. So I missed a lot -- I did know that A Tale of Two Cities was a sweeping adventure full of pathos, tragedy and romance. And I knew I wanted to read it again. The next time I picked up Dickens’ tale I had the basic plot down so I understood more of what was happening, read more slowly and picked some of the subtleties. By the third reading the phrases were coming alive, and the depth and scope of the book became clear. But it definitely took time.

My summer between seventh and eighth grade I picked  a two volume set of Les Miserables from Grandad’s shelves. Don’t ask me why. I think I was impressed by the size and red leather binding. Not to mention the mysterious title. It was definitely a grown-up book. And, oh, poor Jean Valjean, suffering for 17 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Fortunately he’s taken in by a kindly bishop, who lies to keep him from returning to prison for stealing again. He promises to go straight, and go straight he does, becoming an inventor and the mayor of Montreuil, rescuing Fantine from imprisonment for prostitution and saving her daughter Cosette from abuse. During all of this time, the relentless Inspector Javert doggedly pursues Valjean for theft. All of that, and I still had another volume to go!

I wanted to ‘get’ this book, but it was too much for me. Part way through the first volume Valjean changed his name and went into hiding. His new name? Madeleine. My brain turned to mush trying to remember that no, Madeleine and Montreuil were not women, nor was Fantine someone’s last name. To top it all off, by the end of the first volume it seemed that almost all of the characters I’d been following were dead. I read half-heartedly to the end, unable when I finished to give any but the most basic explanation of plot. Who could blame me -- Les Miserables is hardly Middle School reading. When I heard they’d made a musical of it, I was flabbergasted. Singing bishops and police officers? Betrayed women and dying prostitutes? I couldn’t imagine how in the world could they hope to portray that sprawling story in a stage play. I still don’t know because I haven’t seen it yet. At least I’ll have some idea what’s going on, though, having waded through it once. And I have put Les Miserables on my read-again list. I just need to find it in bigger print!

Those Middle School years -- we called it Junior High back in the old days -- were a time of adventurous reading for me. The Three Musketeers, Wuthering Heights, The Leatherstocking Tales, everything by Sir Walter Scott I could get my hands on ….  I know I didn’t understand all I was reading. I raced through one story to get to another. But you know what? I don’t think that was a bad thing. I developed a taste for great literature -- good writing, real characters and excellent plotting. I learned not to be afraid of thick books, or writers with names I couldn’t pronounce. Most of all, every time I encountered these books somewhere else they were already friends. I didn’t have to figure out who was who and what in the world they were talking about at the same time I took true/false and short answer tests too. I got the chance to fall in love first. Even if I didn’t know what was going on.

Read Well, Friend

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
The Leatherstocking Tales, James Fenimore Cooper


Book Goals, 2010

Forget diets and exercise and keeping in touch with Uncle Morty. Here are the resolutions that really matter....

1. Discover one new-to-me great mystery series.
    For years mysteries were my favorite genre. I was introduced to them by some Agatha Christies at Grandad G’s house. He was an avid, very intelligent, serious reader, and his library was the gateway to many fantastic writers: Sir Walter Scott, Thoreau and Emerson, Dickens, Coleridge, classic poets, etc. The Christies were the only genre books I ever saw on his shelves. Reading them introduced me to a long line of detectives. like Lord Peter Whimsey, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn, and Ellery Queen. Over the years I’ve found new writers to enjoy. Anne Perry, for example, and J. D. Robb. As I read, historical and cozy mysteries became my favorites. Unfortunately, the new series books I’ve read in the last few years have disappointed me. In some of them I knew who the killer was in the first few pages -- before anyone had even been killed. (I‘m serious.) Speaking in generalities, it seems that all a cozy needs these days is a weird hook -- and recipes. They no longer require plot, characterization, or an actual puzzle. I can only re-read so many books before I go crazy, so I’m on the prowl to discover a truly good mystery series writer, not a one-hit-wonder or someone who’s all gimmick and no substance. Any suggestions?

2. Read something new by Charles Dickens.
     I’m ashamed to admit I’ve really only read A Christmas Carol, Tale of Two Cities and The Pickwick Papers all the way through. This year I’m determined to read at least one more. The problem is, I don’t like books with cruelty in them, and his bad guys are really really bad.

3. Memorize a poem a month.
     I love poetry -- you may have guessed that already. But my memory’s lousy these days. I want to work on it and enjoy some of my favorite poems, so a-memorizing I go! I haven’t decided what to start with.

4. Read a non-fiction book a month.
     I love non-fiction, I adore non-fiction, and there’s a long list of books I want to read. The problem is, I tend to not pick them up. I’m not sure why. However, I just bought The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester, subtitled The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name. I don’t usually spring for hardbacks, they’re too expensive and take up too much room on my shelves. I broke my rule for this one, though. I love history, I love maps, I love gorgeous antique style books with deckled edges. How could I resist? I'm eager to get at it.

5. Continue to build up my collection of Newbery award winners and read the ones that are new to me. 
    (Truth to be told, I'll probably re-read all my favorites as well. Fortunately I'm a fast reader.) I recently started adding to my personal Newbery winners collection. I want to build up a library of great young peoples books for my grandkids to read when they come to visit. (As my first grandchild isn’t born yet, I should have some time to work on it.) Or maybe I'll read them out loud. One of life’s best pleasures is reading wonderful books to those you love.  As I’m collecting them, I’m realizing how many I never read, and I want to correct that.
BTW -- I’m making the same collection of Caldecott winners which are harder to find and thus more expensive. But it hardly takes any time at all to read them!

6. Blog twice a week.
    This will be the hardest resolution to keep, as time slips by me. I always seem to be about 10 days behind everyone else, which is why I miss hair appointments, and church training meetings (oh, what a pity), and occasionally birthdays. Also, this blog is fun tro write, but sometimes pretty challenging. There are days when it's a lot easier to think about what I read than to write about it! I definitely want to keep it up, though. To be honest, I need this blog for me. I appreciate that so many folks have decided to follow it, and I hope I don’t waste your time, and I love comments and conversations, but really I write here for me -- my very own personal reading journal on-line for all to see. Go figure.

7. Keep track of how many books I read next year.
    This is for my own enlightenment, not as part of a challenge or anything. I’m just curious to see when I read the most, and how many books it will really add up to. This will be hard, too, as I tend to put things off, thinking I’ll do it later. Then I forget, of course. (see #6)

So, this is my list of book resolutions for the new year. What about yours? I'd love to see them.

Read Well, Friend

Click this for link to reading classics.
This site even lists mystery series by character name. Let's see, who did write those books about...
Read Dickens for free.  
All the Newbery and Caldecott books are here.


Welcome Elie Wagner!!

Welcome to the World, Elie Jane Wagner. 
Born today, Jan. 1, at 9:02 am. 5lb 4.2oz. 
Congratulations to Mom and Dad, Brad and Julie, and Lucy and Joshua.
"You formed my inward parts; you wove me together in my mother's womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made...
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret...
Your eyes saw my substance being yet unformed."
Psalm 139;13-14 
(Brad is my husband's nephew.)