Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review: India Black and the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr

Well, it's settled.

The India Black: Madam of Espionage historical mystery series is officially the best thing since sliced bread.

I've spent the last week devouring the latest installment from Carol K. Carr, India Black and the Gentleman Thief. It's glorious. Truly.

Let it be known that Miss India Black, the fabulously flawed madam of Lotus House, wastes no time when there's trouble afoot.

Fresh off a stint as a faux-anarchist, this lovely London spy has has become embroiled in yet another dangerous affair.

India, assisted by the dashing Major French (that poncy bastard!), is hot on the coattails of an international arms-smuggling ring assisting rebels in Ganpur, India.

One would think that managing a house full of high-class wenches whilst performing espionage work for the crown would keep her busy. In addition to the unending trials and tribulations of India's work life, she has suddenly found her home overrun with an army of street urchins, a pack of rather coddled dogs and a long-lost aunt who quite happily turns India's life upside-down.

Carr has outdone herself in this newest novel. Her grasp of the era shines through her writing, and makes the reader feel as though they're standing alongside India on the foul-smelling docks of the Thames. Carr teases the reader as a practiced Lotus House employee would, with tasty tidbits of romance and some rather macabre scenes, mixed with plenty of humor and suspense.

The character development in this novel is superb. Though India's self-confidence can be irksome at times, ultimately, she is charming. I was equally pleased by Vincent the street urchin, whose own self-importance is certainly deserved.

French, however, is as stodgy as ever, though I cannot fathom how a man so handsome as he can have such little fun. I look forward to the development of India and French's relationship in the next installment!

This latest addition to the India Black series is the best, yet.

I've been fortunate enough to receive advance copies of each India Black mystery, 
through work. My coverage of Carr's entertaining novels can be found here:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Valentine's Day Surprise

I'm in the midst of a minor FREAKOUT. featured my paper orchids in their Booklover Gift Guide for Valentine's Day.


So far, it's resulted in lots of traffic to my Etsy Store, and a lot of spastic flailing as I celebrate at the bookshop.

I'm thinking about making a new business card... 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Friday, January 3, 2014

Quick January Update

Thus far, I've avoided a half-assed 2013 reminiscence post on Facebook, but I must admit that the past year has been pretty nifty. For the sake of posterity and internet stalkers, I shall recap the year's major events.

The Year in (Relatively) Major Life Events:

This summer the husband and I made the move from City to Country and began renovations on our very own money pit. We bought the ugliest house on the block, thus setting the bar low. Any change made is a substantial improvement. We'll slap some fresh paint on her this spring, and I'll add to the front flower beds (theme: purple!). She'll shine up real nice.

Began putting down roots! We've been busy cramming plants into the ground. At last count, we've planted 13 trees on our property (which was mostly wooded, to begin with). Apples, cherries and currants are the latest additions. I suspect we have a rogue mulberry bush/tree near the house, and I spent hours picking black raspberries in the woods. They need some cultivation, but unknowingly acquiring two acres of tasty little berries was a wonderful surprise. I have big plans for the 2014 Garden.

Dog: Acquired. GillyDog is a wild beast and a snuggle bunny. She's a keeper.

Bought a new (used) car... and just in time! In doing so, I've become relatively good at driving a manual transmission. Just after purchasing our hot new ride, we blew the transmission in the poor ol' pick-up. Until we scrounge up enough extra money, the truck will be our finest lawn ornament.

Survived SolsticeStorm2013, though our little forest suffered major damage. It seems that our young apple trees will survive, as will the little evergreens and currant bushes. Let's hope the straw atop my strawberries is thick enough! We completely winterized the house (drained everything, even the water heater) and snuggled close to Mr. Buddy for a few days. For Christmas we "abandoned ship", packed the car full of gifts, cats, GillyDog and dirty laundry, and joined the other storm refugees at my parents' house. It was quite an adventure.

Managed another Handmade Christmas, though losing power for a week threw a wrench in my plans.

My wee baby sister is a bride-to-be! OMGSOEXCITING

Successfully completed another year of baking bread. We did, admittedly, buy a loaf or two when life got too crazy (moving, Renovation Week and the ice storm). Still, I must have baked 100 loaves of bread this year, not to mention the countless crumbles, cookies, biscuits, muffins and other treats.

2013 was also another year without TV (though plenty of Netflix and internet videos), a year of fabulous vintage fashion finds, my most successful year as an Etsy artist, a good year for the bookshop, a relatively healthy year for me (mind, body and spirit), and a year full of delicious homemade, home-preserved foods.

Favorite Books of 2013:
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (2013 publication)
The best new fiction novel of the year! It's inspired me to try my hand at quilting and reawakened my interest in Quaker history. (Yes, I'm an odd duck.)

Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link (2013 publication)
LOVED IT! My favorite new nonfiction memoir -- and it's by a Michigan writer/historian!

Libriomancer by Jim Hines
This fantasy novel is a hoot! References to MSU's library and a certain, quirky East Lansing bookshop made it a real blast to read, even though some of the science fiction references sailed clear over my head. 

The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy (Recommended to me by LeighAnna, who rocks!)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (LeighAnna recommended this one, too.)

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
This novel will haunt me for years to come. It is beautiful, fantastical, clever and creepy. An excellent adaptation of an age-old fairy tale.

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Steamboats. They're pretty rad. Though I don't indend to read the Game of Thrones series, I certainly consider myself to be a Martin fan after reading this historical, dark fantasy. I dig it.

Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West by John Ralston Saul
Finally, finally, I've finished reading this historical/philosophical whopper! For two years I've savored and avoided this beast of a book. It's the sort of book I'm leery of lending, because I've become quite sentimentally attached to it. Still, I have a special person I'd like to foist it upon. We'll see how he likes it...

The Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson
For the past month or two I've been gobbling up these massive dystopian novels. They're hard to describe, but I've settled on "dystopian steampunk alternate-universe philosophical fantasy" which would be suitable for a fan of Harry Potter, looking for a darker, more adult saga. It's good stuff, y'all! 

I have big plans for 2014. 
With luck, we'll add chickens to our little homestead this spring, as well as countless new garden beds.
A good deer fence is needed, and we'll set up our rain collection system, too.
One of my favorite garden experiments is seeing which saved seeds I can convince to germinate. Fingers crossed for onion blossoms, melons and a huge variety of Marigolds!
I'd like to focus more on working from home, which seems like it'll be surprisingly easy to achieve.
My sister and I really ought to launch our neat website, though it is still in the planning stage...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Folklore, Fakelore and Poplore: Quotes from Marshall Fishwick's 1967 Saturday Review Article

"Folklore is the country mouse talking. Taken to the city, cheapened by charlatans and opportunists, folklore became fakelore, as the mass took over from the folk. For some, the sad tale ends here. But wait - there's another mutation. Using the new urban material with its chrome and kitsch, imaginative artists, ad men, and script-writers are developing a poplore which is as true to its environment as was folklore to an earlier one. Call it poplore, and ask if it doesn't complete the circle."

 - Opening lines of Marshall Fishwick's fascinating article, "Folklore, Fakelore, and Poplore" from the August 26, 1967 issue of Saturday Review

"Studying the meager Bunyan material in 1920, Constance Rourke concluded that there was no live prototype for Bunyan, a conclusion with which Professor Daniel Hoffman concurred a generation later. Paul owed much of his fame to a free-lance advertising man, William B. Laughead, hired by the Red River Lumber Company to sell their products. When other ad men and promoters joined in, Paul came to symbolize the cult of bigness and power in a booming chauvinistic democracy. He mirrored a bumptious, optimistic nineteenth-century robber baron - the collective state of mind of people whose primary task was the physical mastery of nature. Bunyan was company fakelore - in a business civilization, the most likely to succeed." - Fishwick, "Folklore, Fakelore, and Poplore"

"Thus fakelore is to folklore what the pseudo-event is to the real event. And thus the emergence, in the Eisenhower years, of a new Gresham's law of American public life: counterfeit happenings will always drive spontaneous happenings out of circulation. Poison tastes so sweet that it spoils our appetite for plain food. When the gods want to punish us, they make us believe our own advertising."  - Fishwick, "Folklore, Fakelore, and Poplore"

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Step Away from the Screen: Psychopolitics, the Boston Marathon Attack and Books

Big news stories, like the Boston Marathon attack, tend to make folks... obsess.

I get it.
I, too, am easily hypnotized by the unending stream of information provided by our amazingly futuristic media systems. It's easy to get sucked in, and then feel compelled to "keep up" with the updates like it's our duty.

Don't think you're intelligent just because you can rattle off the timeline of events in Boston, or stayed up late to watch a high-speed car chase. Knowing the latest gossip about the Tsarnaev brothers, Syria, or the Kardashian sisters, or whatever cable news is pushing, does NOT make you a productive citizen.

To be well-informed, and thus to construct your own opinions and share them with others, you have to know more than what is supplied by mass-media. Do your own research, be aware of what you're consuming and make use of the myriad information portals available.

I've learned to turn away from the screen(s) during major events, at the point when the facts are laid upon the table. At some point the news changes,  and the only "new" information consists of various people asking "why," speculating, grasping for answers. I turn away from this unending carousel of mumbo-jumbo and tap into a different sort of resource. I talk to people, and I turn to books for answers.

Following this latest American terrorist attack, I picked up my copy of Psychopolitics, gritted my teeth and made some pretty interesting discoveries...

I know, you don't have time to join the Audrey Book Club. Instead, snack on this selection from Psychopolitics. I've transcribed the closing statements of Chapter 2: War and Terrorism. The bolded bits are deserving of your attention, but I recommend reading the entire dialogue presented for a better understanding -- the big picture, if you will.

Psychopolitics: Conversations with Trevor Cribben Merrill by Jean-Michel Oughourlian
(Translated from the original French by Trevor Cribben Merrill, MSU Press, 2012)

Jean-Michel Oughourlian: "From a Girardian point of view, popular terrorism is situated in a presacrifical time: this time, violence has seeped inside the community, as was the case before the advent of the scapegoat mechanism. The enemy is everywhere and nowhere and is by definition impossible to identify before it acts. Soon everyone is the enemy of everyone else, and we find ourselves in a sacrificial crisis, with blind and undifferentiated violence spreading everywhere.

Contrary to conventional warfare, in which it was necessary to defeat the enemy and conquer his territory, at stake in the war against terrorism are the members of the population. Machiavelli, after having recognized cynically that 'men willingly change their ruler, hoping to fare better,' warned: 'no matter how powerful one's armies, in order to enter a country one needs the goodwill of the inhabitants.' Obviously, MacArthur had read Machiavelli, and Bush had not!

David Galula observes, for his part: 'What, then are the rules of counterrevolutionary warfare? ... Very little is offered beyond formulas - which are sound enough as far as they go - such as, "Intelligence is the key to the problem," or "The support of the population must be won."'

With terrorism, the mutual respect between soldiers, the respect of Napoleon at Austerlitz for the two emperors he was fighting, even the respect of soldiers like Montgomery and Eisenhower for a soldier like Rommel, is replaced by contempt.

The loyalist forces or the occupying army have contempt for the terrorists and do not apply the laws of war in dealing with them. During World War II, the Germans shot the resistance fighters, whom they deemed terrorist, without hesitation, while respecting the laws of war when dealing with military prisoners.

The resistance fighters (from their point of view), deemed 'terrorists' by the reigning government or the occupying forces, also have profound contempt for the soldiers of police against whom they are fighting and whom they qualify as 'forces of repression.'

In an insurrection or a war of the type now called terrorist, the noble feelings that predominated in conventional wars are replaced by degrading feelings: as we have just said, the enemies feel contempt for each other, but also hatred, resentment, envy, jealousy. From a Girardian point of view, in mimetic psychology, the enemy is viewed as a model-rival or even a model-obstacle, who inspires nothing but negative feelings.

To these feelings is added another that is even more deleterious: suspicion. The enemy is within, among us, he can be anybody, even my next-door neighbor. Therefore I have to be suspicious of everyone. Suspicion corrodes social bonds: the English were horrified to discover that the terrorists who blew up buses and subways were British citizens! They stoically bore the brunt of the V1 and V2 bombardments, which were far more destructive, but to discover that some of their fellow citizens , who lived among them, detested them, felt contempt for them, and wanted to kill them, scandalized them in the extreme.

After generalized suspicion comes fear. This fear is dirty, it plagues the population, and it is fear that gives to this type of conflict the name terrorism. The population may indeed become terrorized, and the government may adopt degrading measures in order to 'terrorize the terrorists,' and humanity retreats on every front. As Galula writes: 'Some counterrevolutionaries have fallen into the trap of aping the revolutionaries on both minor and major scales, as we shall show. These attempts have never met success.'

Insurrection, revolution, and now terrorism spring up on rotten ground: poverty, humiliation, resentment, frustration. Terrorism is a deferred reciprocal violence, that is to say a form of vengeance. The study of vindictive processes and vindicatory techniques teaches us that violence cannot erase vengeance; only money can: 'blood money.' That is why I hazard a hypothesis; terrorist violence, which is a terrible vengeance, is soluble in a single substance: money. Instead of spending astronomical sums on arms, let us spend instead on roads, hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, to create jobs and so on. Instead of financing war, let us purchase peace.

On this point, I am in complete agreement with Guy Sorman: 'In the year 328 before our era, and if the Roman historian Quintus Curtius is to be believed, Alexander the Great attempted in vain to conquer Afghanistan. After some savage but inconclusive battles, negotiations began between the tribal chiefs and the Greek general. The latter wanted to arrive in India. "Why are you fighting us?" said the Afghans, "when it would be enough to buy us off?"

What is extraordinary is that all of the values of war that we spoke of earlier, courage, heroism, and so on, are perverted by terrorism in the sense that terrorism is the result of humiliation, poverty, weakness. He who wishes to fight against terrorism is plagued by suspicion, poisoned by negative feelings: after suspicion, fear. He becomes in a certain sense paranoid, because he suspects everyone, is afraid of everyone.

TCM: If we go a step further, as Jacques Attali writes in a recent book, toward creating nanotechnologies and miniaturized nuclear weapons, we are going to mistrust the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, medicine, vegetables, the animals that we eat, we are going to mistrust literally everything, and life will become untenable. The terrorists must laugh when they see the most important figures of the West standing in line with their shoes in hand, undressing and getting dressed again before getting on the plane: it's ridiculous. (pages 21 -23)

My goal is to share philosophical theories with you, not to frighten or start an argument.

Buying into the fear won't help, but rational discussions with a firm grasp of the situation, and an open mind, might just make things better.

Making Things Better, my friends, is the goal.

It's the sole purpose of humanity.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

George Bernard Shaw on War

"Until a war has produced its final results, no one can tell whether it has been worth while or not ... War is always wasteful, cruel, mischievous, destructive, demoralizing and detestable to every humane instinct; yet it is not always unavoidable; and often it effects social changes that occur only under its terrible pressure. The war of 1914-18 made an end of four empires which might have endured for four centuries more at peace. Whether it was worth the bloodshed and devastation it cost depends on whether the new republics make their citizens better than the old empires did. But if they do, it still remains true that it would have been wiser to make the changes reasonably than violently."

-- George Bernard Shaw, in an interview with Octavio Novaro for the January 1, 1944 issue of "Pic" magazine (Vol. XV, No. 1)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

House Hunting and Etsy Avoidance Issues

Sean and I are about to begin our house-hunt in earnest.
We're spending the afternoon with our agent, touring some of the houses on our ever-changing list.
Properties are selling fast, it seems, but many more are being listed.
We're anxious, hopeful and kinda freaked out!

I took advantage of this unexpected day away from the bookshop to introduce a new batch of pretty things to my Etsy shop, Hobgoblins!

I'll readily admit that I have been ignoring my poor Etsy shop these weeks following the Valentine's Day rush. Virtual must-do's have piled up in my absence. What was meant to take an hour or so somehow turned into three hours of shooting, writing listings and responding to messages.

Check out the new Etsy stuff here:

I plan to add more neat items, like vintage ladies magazines like Mademoiselle, Glamour and Charm (from the 1950s and 1960s), as well as cute black and white photos of schoolgirls, later this week.

Finally, a use for my pink tablecloth.
These magazines are a bit musty-smelling, but their advertisements (which greatly outnumber the articles) are wonderful! Here are a few teaser shots to whet your palate:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brief Book Review // Brief Life Review

Audrey's quick review of When Darkness Falls, by C.S. Harris:

It's always a pleasure to read a book as prettily crafted as this lime-and-black hardcover. The dust jacket is equally attractive, and made me feel quite edgy while reading on the bus. A clever cover is what sells a book, and the jacket artist deserves a cake for this pretty little number!

Harris's latest Sebastian St. Cyr mystery was richly detailed and well-crafted. Jewel thieves, Prinny, mixing of London's poor and wealthy, hookers, fashion, private gentleman's clubs, street sweeps and the seediest corners of Seven Dials all received a bit of the limelight. Harris deftly made use of interesting figures from the era, including French revolutionaries and London's burgeoning ton.

This well-researched historical (Regency) thriller featured The Hope Diamond, a gem whose monetary value my life will ever equal. And I'm okay with that. The lead characters, Sebastian and his shockingly-independent new wife, Hero, made for delightful reading. The book culminated in a wild rooftop chase that left me guessing until the very end. It's hard not to enjoy a well-written novel with dark intrigue and scenes of such heart-pounding suspense!

On with the show...

Hectic. That's how I would describe life, this week. Productive, though. Tuesday marks the beginning of The Great House Hunt. Sean and I are excited, but scared witless at times.
We can do this.
We can do this.

The bookshop is, as ever, a wild mess of wondrous people and things.

I think I'm getting a Subaru.
I'll miss the Jeep.

I'm out of wine, out of brown ale, and out of time.

Enough with this word nonsense.

Here are some videos which have captured my attention, this week:

A video by Dennis Trainor, Jr., and not just Rand's filibuster. Worth your time!

Inappropriate. Clever. Palmer Squares. Terminal Knowledge. Chicago.

Watch this, then make these noises at a loved one. It's worth it.