ewein2412: (e Wein)
I thought what I’d do for World Book Day is a My Favorite Books post; but to make it a little different, instead of a list of my all-time favorites, I’ve tried to pick really off-the-wall favorites and near-favorites in Ten Random Genres. Because I read in a lot of different genres.

Apologies for the lack of pictures. By the time I’d included all the links I’d run out of energy. This might be the longest book post I’ve ever made!

Urban Archaeology, for example!

Hands down, it’s got to be The Lincoln Highway by Drake Hokanson. A customer ordered this book when I was working in B Dalton Bookseller in Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, in 1987. He’d heard about it on NPR. It sat on the customer order shelf for three days before he came in to pick it up and I couldn’t keep my paws off it. I think it was the photographs. The book sparked an obsession with early 20th century auto travel that I have never really outgrown. (I am a charter member of the Lincoln Highway Association and have got a small academic acknowledgement in A Pennsylvania Traveler’s Guide to the Lincoln Highway by Brian Butko, of which I am very proud.)

Middle Grade Horror

Again, NO QUESTION. It’s got to be The House with the Clock in its Walls by John Bellair. OMG this is the creepiest book I have ever read. I still have to put it down when I get to the chapter where his dead Aunt Mattie cranks the mechanical doorbell in the middle of the night. I love the depiction of small-town 1950s Michigan (I am actually a fan of all the books in this series). The magic tricks are off-the-wall and some of it is just fantastically atmospheric. The platonic partnership, or friendship, or what-the-heck-is-it between Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann, who has a doctorate in magic from a German university! It’s just a fabulous spooky magical adventure with a very sympathetic small bereaved nerd for a hero and loads of quirky supporting characters.


My mainstay is the 1963 edition of The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (which edition I can’t find on Goodreads and am too lazy to add), and I’m probably personally responsible for the global success of Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell, so for this entry I’m going to plug the Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book by J. George Frederick - originally published in 1935 as The Pennsylvania Dutch and Their Cookery. Most of the recipes in here are uncookable (I do try from time to time) but they’re great reading. I have dog-eared ‘Dutch Festival Doughnuts (Fastnachts)’ and reproduce the recipe in whole under the cut for those of you who are really very ambitious.

One to plan for next year )

Also includes such delights as Pea-Pod Soup; Dandelion Eggs (essentially eggs Florentine only with dandelion in place of spinach); Tangled Jackets (here’s the recipe in its entirety: ‘1 pint of sour milk, 3 eggs, 1/2 teaspoonful soda, 1 teaspoonful salt, 1 pound flour. Mix and cook in deep fat.’); Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup (The ingredients begin: ‘1 veal joint, 4 pounds tripe…’ The recipe begins, ‘This is a two-day job of cookery.’ You have to boil the tripe for ‘7 or 8 hours.’); and Dutch Pretzel Soup.

Now I am really hungry for Pepper Pot. If only someone else would make it for me.

Poetry for Small Children

All Join In by Quentin Blake is probably the most memorable poetry book of my children’s toddlerhood. This book isn’t very long, but Sara and Mark, who are now an oh-so-mature teen and preteen, can still recite ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’ and ‘Bed Time Song’:”

We don’t want a lullabye,


Toddler Picture Book

Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is a CUNNINGLY DISGUISED window into life on the Home Front in urban Britain during World War II. OMG this book kills me. It’s a peekaboo book aimed at kids who can barely speak and takes you through the daily routine, from waking up till bedtime, of a tiny tot in a pushchair. But the discerning reader will spot Spitfires and barrage balloons and bomb damage in the background throughout the book. It doesn’t at all detract from the casual everyday cheeriness of the story. The picture of the baby being carried up to bed by his harassed mum and his Air Raid Warden dad, reflected as a very cozy and safe happy threesome in a hall mirror, has ALWAYS made me teary. It makes me teary writing about it.

One of the other things I have always really, really liked about this book is the slovenliness of this family. Their kitchen is chaotic. The mother of three is clearly exhausted. It’s not a big house and the granny lives there too. Bathwater has to be heated on the stovetop and poured into a washtub. There is drying laundry hanging everywhere. They are clearly battling entropy as far as cleanliness is concerned - in every picture someone is washing windows or dishes or children.

Everything I’ve just described to you is subtext I’ve extracted over many years of studying the pictures. The text is a simple riff on the couplet, ‘Here’s a little baby, one-two-three… sits in his cot, what does he see?’


I’ve been plugging A Childhood in Scotland by Christian Miller so much lately that I’m going to take a more modern and more personal tack here and recommend Jessica Handler’s Invisible Sisters. This is the wrenching story of the life and death of Jessica’s two younger sisters, Susie and Sarah, stricken with ‘diametrically opposed illnesses’ — leukaemia and Kostmann's Syndrome (it's a white blood cell deficit). The nuclear family didn’t survive the blasts. It’s a witty, heartbreaking read from a talented writer who’s keeping alive a family tradition of crystalline prose.

The personal interest I mentioned is that Sarah — the baby of the three sisters and the one with Kostmann’s — was one of my best friends in high school. She died when we were 27. Part of my love for this book is that, 20 years after her death, it gives me a little bit of Sarah back, in a tantalizing filling-in-some-gaps-but-not-others way.


I don’t think I’ve reviewed or recommended Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Listen! The Wind lately. It’s the very first of AML’s books that I ever read and (the genius of Gift from the Sea notwithstanding), I think it’s probably the most masterful. It documents ten days in the middle of an attempted flight across the South Atlantic in the 1930s on a route-finding trip with Charles Lindbergh. Anne was along as the radio operator and co-pilot. They got stuck in the Cape Verde islands because of the wind, and then had to backtrack to Bathurst in Gambia to wait for a favourable wind for the 16-hour-flight to Natal, Brazil. Loneliness and isolation and the desperate need for communication is an underlying theme of this book, and it’s dealt with so gently. Two incidents stand out in my mind — the decoded Morse radio message from the airbase at Porto Praia in the Cape Verde islands, where they’d been stuck the week before, as they pass over on their final trip out — ‘We listen you all time’ (they never heard from them again) - and how, in the morning after a long night of solitary flight while sending Morse messages to a radio operator on the German ship Westfalen, their flypast over the Westfalen the following morning - with the entire crew standing on the deck waving.

Roaring over her, for one second we were in her world. She there, we here; separated from each other by days of slow sea-travel but for this second together, sharing the time, the place…

I held up my arm and waved frantically, conscious of that supreme thrill of communication. It is the most exciting thing in life anyway, whether you find it in a book or in conversation or in the understanding of two minds. But this, the momentary synthesis of two kinds of communication, was almost unbearable in its intensity. All night and all day I had been struggling to speak over a radio. I had been able to contact people only through my fingers, and my ears, like someone who is blind. But now, suddenly, I could see. A veil had dropped away. I could see, face to face. One of those men waving on deck was the radio operator I had been talking to. I raised my arm again — wonderful!

They climb away. She signals to them in Morse, Many thanks all help.

Mainstream Fiction

Probably my favorite ‘adult’ fiction read of the past ten years is Ian McEwan’s Atonement, but one of the also-rans has got to be Paul Torday’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. In some very mysterious mystic way this book was written for me. It may be the only book that I ever saw in a bookstore window and walked in and bought just because of the title.

While it is true that half my novel The Lion Hunter and all of The Empty Kingdom are set in ancient Yemen, and also true that the dream of Fishing in the Desert features in the latter, it is not obvious (I don’t believe) that in my books this is a reference to the Grail Legend. But the title Salmon Fishing in the Yemen just screamed ‘Fisher King Parable’ to me and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s about two men whose lives cross - one a British civil servant, one an Arabian prince - who both share a vision of fishing as a means to break down cultural barriers. The prince is convinced that if he seeds the dry wadi valleys of South Arabia with salmon during the rainy season, the fish will run, and warring nations will flock to catch salmon there together. The two men make the dream come true. It doesn’t end well in one sense; it does in another. It’s a goofy, surreal book, driven by the earnest but somewhat cracked characters, and honestly, it is the only book that has ever made me cry over FISH.

I gave it to a dear friend whose brother used to write for one of the big angling magazines under the pseudonym Kingfisher - and he actually recognized obscure references in this book to people he knew.

Graphic Novel

Technically I suppose Literary Life by Posy Simmonds is more of a graphic collection of short stories than a graphic novel, but in many ways it is the bridge leading to her masterpieces Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe. Worth the read if only for the glorious ‘Cinderella,’ where the residents of the retirement home get turned into a collection of tearaway youth, splendidly outfitted in the fashion and accessories (smoking like chimneys) of 65 years ago. And any writers who read it will laugh and cry at the horrible book launches and wasted ink.

…Something a bit more multicultural, since it is World book day, after all

The book is called The Children of Ananse and it’s by Peggy Appiah. It was given to me by an Oxford-raised woman of Indian descent, married to a Jamaican, who happened to be the parents of my best friend when we lived in Jamaica in the 1970s. Ananse is a Jamaican national hero so we were all familiar with him as kids, and this book tells the story of his real Ghanaian roots. It was one of my favorite books as a beginning reader, read and re-read, and it remains pretty clear in my mind. It frames all the standard Ananse tales within a modern story of a child who is a descendant of the first Kwaku Ananse, his strange life in the hidden jungle village where animals can talk, and how he assimilates into modern culture by going to school and learning to read SO THAT, as the headman agrees, he will be able to RECORD the fabulous history of his village. I got all my knowledge of Ashanti culture from this book and made reference to it in a short story published some time ago in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine

You’ll notice I haven’t linked you to the book. It hasn’t got much of an internet footprint, so instead I’ll link you to the author’s Wikipedia entry: meet Peggy Appiah. An English society girl, she married Ghanaian statesman Joe Appiah in 1953. This is the first time I’ve ever found out anything about her and I am overwhelmed by this fabulous woman and her fabulous husband.

Hope some of these are tempting - good luck tracking them down - and happy reading.

CNV linky

Feb. 12th, 2012 02:29 pm
ewein2412: (verity text)
collected all in one place, wow!


Last Monday's live interview on BBC Radio Scotland (no longer live):

Bookcafe page

Programme page for Mon. 6 Feb. (last day available!)

Podcast for Mon. 6 Feb. (available for 25 more days)


Blog tour posts:

Booktrust: On the theme of friendship in CNV

I Want to Read That: my personal encounters with wartime aircraft

Bookbabblers: Apparently I am their "author in residence" this month (news to me), so my footprint is all over this site:

My favorite books (oh brother):

Author interview (the osprey gets a mention):

On the inspiration for CNV:

Over at Finding Wonderland, Tanita Davis has essentially put up a CNV review every day for 3 days running:

On War Stories

I Don't Do History: the Case for Historical Fiction

Turning pages: review of CNV

Daisy Chain Books - on the real people who inspired CNV:

Booksmugglers - Literary inspiration behind CNV (I really like this post):

Booksmugglers review (they gush. I have refrained from commenting because it is rather overwhelming).

Scottish Book Trust - inspiration, work in progress, and Why I Live in Scotland:

if you hunt for it, you CAN find Verity's real name revealed on line (not in this review, despite outward appearances). Her real name isn't really a spoiler. But most people are treating it as one. I LOVE THIS.


Not part of the tour but fun:

Chachic's Book Nook: Nice review with a boatload of interesting yet spoiler free discussion in the comments:

Lovely and emotional review here at By Singing Light:

[livejournal.com profile] estara is auctioning a copy of CNV (with author-signed bookplate) in support of Con or Bust: Fans of Color Assistance Project here:


And Books for Scotland has chosen CNV as their Children's Choice of the Month. They're the ones who called me an "American born Scottish author"!


If you want to order it yourself and don't have an independent bookstore where you can go demand it in person, the Book Depository ships free anywhere in the world.



Set Europe the world ablaze!


ewein2412: (Default)

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