Category Archives: Books

Septic System Problems, Snow-Gauge Clif & and a Review of Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
—Joni Mitchell

The past two weeks have been hard ones. First we lost our beloved cat, dear little Ms. Watson. Then, our septic system decided to stop working—toilets wouldn’t flush, and showers wouldn’t drain. As I’m sure readers can imagine, this was no fun at all.

Being Mainers, we tried to fix the problem ourselves. Clif used his trusty plumbing snake to see if he could find a clog. He couldn’t, and we set up a camping toilet in the big bathroom. We used a dishpan for washing up, dumping the water into a bucket and then emptying the soapy water outside. (In the summer, when we haven’t had rain for a while, I sometimes use the gray water on my perennials.) So we had a system, albeit a primitive one.

Eventually, Clif gave up and decided to call the plumbers. I am happy to report that they came came swiftly as did the folks who pumped our septic tank. Finally, after the second time the plumbers came, they found the problem, and with their much larger plumbing snake, they were able to dislodge a big clog that Clif had mistakenly thought was the edge of our septic system.

I thanked the plumbers profusely as they packed up their truck to go off to help someone else with a problem. Smiling, they indicated it was all in a day’s work. For them, I suppose it was. For us, it was something akin to salvation.

Now, the toilets flush, the shower drains, and life is back to  normal. The quotation at the beginning of this piece sums up how Clif and I felt about the situation.

Joni got it exactly right.


Plumbing problems or not, Clif was out with his trusty snow gauge to measure the snow.

Here he is in the front yard by the driveway and then on the walkway leading to the front door.

Over the past week, the weather has been warm and sunny, and the snow has actually gone down a bit. Here are last week’s pictures for comparison.

And here is Clif in the backyard.

Again, last week.

The path to the compost bin was actually muddy this week, and I had to step carefully so as not to lose my Sloggers. In Maine, this counts as progress, but up the East Coast, a nor’easter is blowing, and tomorrow’s forecast is for another foot of snow.

Dang! Snow-gauge Clif and I are ready for the snow to melt, not to accumulate.



Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Note: There are moderate spoilers in this review.

With its spare, beautiful writing, this gem of a short novel—set in the 1980s—is nearly perfect. In the Irish town of New Ross, Christmas is coming. Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, works long hours to ensure his customers have enough fuel to stay warm over the holidays. At home, his wife Eileen and their five daughters bustle to get ready for Christmas. In her own way, Eileen is as busy as Bill is. I’m guessing many women will identify with Eileen and the hard work of getting ready for Christmas. I know I did.

While making deliveries, Bill reflects on his life as an illegitimate child raised by a single mother who worked as a domestic servant for “Mrs. Wilson the Protestant widow who lived in the big house a few miles outside town.” Mrs. Wilson, frugal but kindhearted, provided Bill and his mother with a warm, stable home and even helped Bill as an adult. Fortunately, in New Ross, there is little antagonism between Catholics and Protestants.

There is, however, a convent in New Ross where on one side is a school and the other side a home for unwed mothers. The convent, in many ways, is important to the economy of the town and especially to Bill, whose daughters go to school there.

In a tense, heartbreaking way, Bill’s reflections of his childhood converge with bringing coal to the convent and what he discovers. Then Bill must must make a decision that will reverberate with his family for years to come.

I’ll certainly  be reading more of Claire Keegan and have ordered Foster through interlibrary loan.


Snow-Gauge Clif & Book Review: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

During the past week, we had three snowstorms, and the last one, on Saturday, was a corkah as we Mainers would say. Clif measured thirteen inches with his snow gauge, and the snow was wet, heavy, and hard to move. Our electric snow-thrower, Snow-Joe, just barely managed, and I did a fair amount of shoveling. Nature’s gym, as I like to call it.

Here is a picture or our car before we cleaned the driveway. Only a sliver of red shows through the snow.

More red in the snow as Mr. Cardinal comes to the feeder.

Now, on to Snow-Gauge Clif, who stood in a different place so that readers could see the tunnel that is our path to the front door.

Here he is in his usual place in the driveway.

And in the backyard.

It’s funny to think how in January there was so little snow that we were worried Snow-Gauge Clif would be out of a job this year. But Mother Nature said, “Not so fast,” and we now have snow aplenty. Good for the water table and the plants, but I think we have enough snow. I hope Mother Nature agrees.


I want to thank everyone for the notes of sympathy I received in the comment section of my post about little Ms. Watson. I really do appreciate it as did the rest of the family. A lovely example of how kind words of support really do matter.



Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

Note: There are moderate spoilers in this review.

Recently I have begun following a wonderful blog called JacquiWine’s Journal, which is mostly about books and a little about wine. For a book nerd like me, this blog is sheer delight. Jacqui especially likes novels from the mid-twentieth century, and so do I, particularly if the writers were women. These novel chart the ways women’s lives have changed over the twentieth century, and much of it is for the better. In one book I read, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Beautiful Visit—set in the early 1900s—a young girl’s parents forbid her from becoming a librarian because it doesn’t seem genteel enough to them.

Jacqui has introduced me to many good writers, and one of them is Barbara Comyns. Our Spoons came from Woolworths is a harrowing novel of living in poverty in the 1930s in England. The novel has autobiographical elements, and it follows the marriage of Charles and Sophia. Charles is a painter, and, among other things, Sophia works as a painting model.

A more hapless couple you will never meet. Charles thinks only of his painting and cares about little else. Sophia is innocent in most every way, including on how babies are conceived. As a result, Charles and Sophia live in terrible poverty, just barely scraping by. Not surprisingly, Sophia becomes pregnant, and there’s a harrowing scene of labor and delivery in a hospital where poor women go to have their babies. The woman are marched, literally, through the system and are left in their bloody shifts for far too long. In short, there is little tenderness, and the care is  minimal.

Sophia’s fortunes improve because of an inheritance, but once that is gone, life becomes even worse.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is a gripping read. Sophia’s voice is plain, steady, compelling. Through it all my sympathies were with her, despite her poor judgement. For her selfish husband, Charles? Zero.

The end is a bit like a fairy tale, but I have to admit it comes as a relief.


The Polar Punch Pastes Our Public Library

What a difference a week can make. On February 10, Allison Finch, of AccuWeather wrote, “In a remarkable weather turnabout, [in the Northeast] temperatures throttled up from the lowest levels of the year to late-March levels within a week.”

She was absolutely right. Here was the temperature at our house on Friday, February 3.

And here it was one week later on Friday, February 10.

A case of weather whiplash, that’s for sure.

Unfortunately for our town’s library, the polar punch did its dirty work before it left the state on Sunday, February 5.

In the Kennebec Journal,  Richard Fortin, the library’s director, explained what the librarians found on February 4: “We came in around 8:30 on Saturday morning and the building smelled like heating oil. We went into the furnace room and basically found that the oil filters and oil lines were encased in ice. There’s a fresh air vent in that room, and that extreme cold just came in and froze those lines.”

Frozen lines, of course, spell trouble.

“[Fortin] said this caused the oil’s consistency to resemble sludge or mud, so it was not able to get through the lines. This backed up the system and caused a major oil leak.

“The entire boiler was basically encapsulated with oil,” said Fortin. “It leaked through the cast iron. And the nozzle was spraying oil into the room.”

Not good. Not good at all. The library was closed for a whole week as the problem was dealt with. On Wednesday, The Maine Department of Environmental Protection “determined…the harmful materials in the air had dissipated enough that the library [was] safe.”

But the library still reeked of oil—the children’s section smelled especially bad—and there was major rearranging to do so that the library could open today, Monday, February 13.

Most of the books I read come from the library, and this polar punch incident at the library made me realize, yet again, how much I love my library and how much it gives to me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the library is a cultural mainstay for me. Because of the library and its interlibrary loan system, the world of story and ideas is completely open to me. I don’t have to worry about cost or bookshelf space.

Whenever I go to events and sign my own book, Library Lost, I always add “Love Your Library.”

I certainly do love mine. I am so glad it’s reopened.



The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This murder mystery novel is as airy as a chocolate soufflé and just as delicious. At an upscale senior retirement village in England, four friends—Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron—meet weekly on Thursday to talk about unsolved crimes. Naturally murder strikes, not once but twice, and the sleuthing seniors sally forth to discover who the killer is.

There are several storylines that converge in a satisfying way. Two detectives, Chris and Donna, become involved in investigating the murders. Although Chris and Donna aren’t fools, the seniors are always several steps ahead of them.

Osman has a deft touch that snaps the story along but allows for character development, a must for me as a reader. And although The Thursday Murder Club could be categorized as a light read, the novel touches on many aspects of aging—physical and mental diminishment, loneliness, regret, and grief—that are not so light.

However, friendship and community provide solace and bring purpose as well as happiness to Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron.

There are two more books in the series—both on the bookcase in my living room—with another slated to be published in September 2023.

Thanks to Barbara at Thistles and Kiwis for bringing Richard Osman to my attention. One of the great joys of blogging is to be introduced to writers I’ve never heard of. The same is true for television shows, movies, and podcasts. I really enjoy getting suggestions.


At Last, a Proper Snow Storm & Lolly Willowes

Weather Report

This January has been warmer than average. However, cold weather from the Arctic is forecasted to blast us this weekend, with a projected temperature as low as -20°F (-28°C). With the windchill factor, it might even drop to -40°F. That, my friends, is cold even by Maine standards.

Good thing, then, that we got a proper snow storm last week. Otherwise, my perennials would be in serious trouble when the cold snap hits. There’s no telling how many plants I would lose. As it is, they are covered by a nice insulating blanket of snow, at least ten inches.

Here are some pictures of our yard during the storm. My beds and the perennials are tucked under the snow.

I like the way the snow-covered fence ripples with snow.

As I shoveled the pathways to the compost bins and the bird feeders, I stopped to take a picture from backyard to front yard. No hanging laundry until spring.

Little Gideon, the guardian of our yard, is nearly buried beneath the snow.

The lantern out front has a cap.

And the snow on the porch rail curves like a wave of water.

Another picture of our home nestled in the snow.

With so much snow, Clif had to clean the roof. Otherwise ice dams form on the eaves, and this in turn leads to leaks inside.  I took this shot through an open window, which is why everything is at a slant.



Today I received this lovely card from blogging friend Jodie Richeal. If you have time, do check out her snappy website, Poppiwinkle, that features her work. Jodie wrote to tell me how much she was enjoying my recent book Of Time and Magic. Do I spy William Shakespeare on the lower right-hand side of the card? I believe I do. Many thanks, Jodie!


Reading: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Spoiler Alert: I can’t discuss this book without revealing crucial elements in the plot.  If you haven’t read the book and would rather not have spoilers, now is the time to stop reading.

Lolly Willowes, published in 1926, is a novel full of oddities and curiosities. The first half of the book is realistic to the point of almost being dry. The second half crackles with the supernatural.

The novel is about Laura Willowes, who was brought up on a country estate in Wales. When Lolly Willowes opens, Laura’s father has just died—her mother died years earlier—and it’s decided that twenty-eight-year-old “Aunt Lolly” should move to London with one of her brothers, his wife, and their children, Fancy and Marion. In the London Home, Laura is given the smallest spare bedroom as the larger one can’t be spared. This decision sets the tone for how Laura is treated, not cruelly, but as an afterthought, to be put up with rather than cherished.

And so it goes for twenty years with Laura trotting unobtrusively through domestic life with her brother’s family. Fancy, as an adult, wonders why her Aunt Lolly didn’t set up housekeeping by herself. After all, when her father died, she was left with a comfortable income. Fancy concludes, “How unenterprising women were in the old days.”

What holds Laura back? The traditions and conservatism of her family, which she accepts without question. It will take something very big to knock Laura off track.

In short, it takes demonic intervention. First, the devil, an invisible force, leads Laura into a small shop with homely items that remind her of life in the country and how much she longs for that life. This longing tips something in Laura, and against her family’s wishes, she up sticks to the countryside, to a small village filled with witches who don’t seem to do much. Mostly they roam at night and tend to village business by day.

All goes well until Laura’s nephew, Titus, visits her and decides to settle in with his aunt. Once again, Laura must put the needs of her family first. The freedom she longs for is gone.

It is then the devil really comes into it. Laura makes a pact with him—she will serve him if he keeps family away. This the devil does in a way that is more humorous than menacing. Soon Titus is gone, and Laura is free to be herself. The devil, having made his conquest, leaves her alone.

After finishing the book, I puzzled over the ending. Did Warner believe that in 1926 women could only be free if they shucked family ties and made a deal—symbolically, of course—with the devil?

Laura had the financial means to be independent. But it seems she did not have the emotional means to break away and could only do so with supernatural help.

This slim book certainly made me think about the role of women.


Winter Has Arrived & In the Woods by Tana French

In Maine, it seems that winter has finally showed her frosty face. It is snowing today, and it snowed last week when I took the following pictures.

The backyard looked serene in its muted colors,

and birds came to the feeder to eat.

A female cardinal,

a woodpecker,

and a chickadee.

Out front, the shovel and the buckets of salt and sand waited,

and Clif used Snow Joe to clean the driveway and walkways.

I know you all enjoying seeing our red home nestled in the snow so after the snow was cleared, I took this picture.

On the weekend, after all that snow, I figured we deserved a little treat, and I made these chocolate vegan muffins.

Actually, snow or not, I would have made these muffins. After all, what is life without treats? Six days a week, we eat a low-carb, low-calorie diet, but one day a week we splurge. While the muffins might be vegan, they are certainly not low in calories or carbs. But, as my Yankee husband might say, they are pretty darned good.



I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I especially like ones that cover books, movies, and television shows. A few weeks ago, on Slate’s Culture Gabfest, Julie Turner, one of the hosts, recommended the American-Irish writer Tana French, who writes crime novels. This is not my first choice of genres, but Turner praised French’s writing, her craft with words as well as her ability to tell a ripping good story.

I decided it was time for this old reader to learn a new trick, and I requested French’s first novel, In the Woods, through my library’s interlibrary loan system.

In the Woods is about two crimes that happen twenty years apart on the outskirts of Dublin. In the 1980s, three children go into the woods—only one, Adam Ryan, comes back. Adam’s memory of what happened is completely gone, and he is unable to help the investigators. Adam and his parents move; he takes his middle name, Rob; and the past recedes. Rob becomes a detective in Dublin and befriends fellow detective Cassie Maddox.

Then twenty years later, along comes another murder in the neighborhood where Rob grew up, and he discovers that the past is never really past. Are the two murders connected? Will Rob’s memory return to help him solve the original crime? Will Cassie and Rob’s relationship move past friendship?

I will not answer any of these questions, but I will note that although the middle sagged a bit, In the Woods kept me reading, and I raced through the  last fifty pages to see how the story would end. I was not disappointed by the ending, which somehow managed to be both surprising and unsurprising.

French is indeed a good writer, with a pleasingly understated—at least to me—style. Both Cassie and Rob are prickly, flawed characters that I came to care about. Also, French describes Dublin in enough detail to give a sense of place but not so much that it becomes tedious.

I’ll be reading more Tara French, even though crime thrillers are not my preferred genre.












A Little Snow & More Gifts

In Maine, this winter has been an odd one—relatively warm with little snow, so sparse that Clif hasn’t had to use Snow Joe. A scoop and shovel have been enough. There has been an upside: Clif hasn’t had to worry about scraping the roof.

On Friday, we did get a bit of snow, a dusting as we Mainers would call it. Still, the light snow was better than nothing, and I took a few pictures of the lovely gray day.

Here is our Christmas wreath with a few twinkly lights. Yes, I know Christmas is over, but I do love the sparkle of those wee lights. (Still haven’t taken down our Christmas tree with its enchanting blue lights.)

Standing at brave attention, these phlox stems are sentinels from warmer days.

Finally, I was caught by the pattern of snow on the hedge.


Now to the gifts. Thanks to my blogging friend Gerrie from Canberra’s Green Spaces, my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything is officially in Australia. What a thrill to think that Maya has made it that far. Truly, one of the great pleasures of blogging is to make connections with like-minded folks all over the world.  Again, many thanks, Gerrie.

Betsy, another blogging friend, sent me a box of citrus picked from her very own backyard. How cool is that? It must be such a thrill to have citrus trees in your backyard. Thanks so much, Betsy! (She doesn’t have her own blog. Otherwise, I would have provided a link.)



With this post, I plan to to make Reading a regular feature.  I am an avid reader, and I read one or two books a week. I really enjoy learning what other bloggers are reading and have often added their suggestions to my TBR list. I am what you  might call an eclectic reader. While my favorite genres are fantasy and literary fiction—yes, I consider that a genre, too—I am open to any genre that features good writing and vivid characters.

Last week I read:

  • The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean. This is a  horror/fantasy/supernatural tale featuring book eater Devon—she actually eats books and can eat nothing else—and her brain-eating child, Cai, who, you guessed it, can’t eat anything else but brains. As it turns out, there are families of book eaters and brain eaters scattered around England. Drugs have been invented that suppress the urges of brain eaters, but the family that developed the drugs has fallen into chaos, and the drugs are no longer readily available. The book tackles a thorny question: What would you do for your child?


  • The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery. This is a true-life story about a woman and the runt pig she rescues from certain death. The pig—Christopher Hogwood—thrives and grows and grows, bringing much joy to Montgomery’s life, opening it up in a way she had never envisioned. I am not ashamed to admit I cried at the end.




One of the Highlights of My Year

On Saturday, I went to The Art Walk in downtown Winthrop. It’s a lovely shop that features handcrafted items from local artists, authors, and crafters.

As it turns out, The Art Walk features my books, and I am happy to report that my novels have been selling well there and in many other places, too. So well, in fact, that almost every day, UPS comes by with another box of books to replenish our supply.

While I love to go to The Art Walk to buy special gifts for family and friends, last Saturday I was there for a book signing. (In between signing books, I did manage to buy several presents.)

As I sat by my table and listened to Christmas music and the happy chatter of holiday shoppers—somehow small stores have such a good vibe—two women, a mother and daughter, walked in and came right over. I am friends with both on Facebook, and I knew they might be coming, but because it has been thirty years since we last got together, it was such a treat to see them. Thirty years ago, the daughter was a little girl. Thirty years ago, they lived in Winthrop. Thirty years ago, the mother helped me bake a peanut butter cake for Clif’s birthday.

But then, as such things happen, they moved out of town, and we lost touch with each other. I know there are a lot of bad things about Facebook, but thanks to Facebook, we reconnected.

And here’s the most wonderful thing—we chatted as though we had met as recently as last week. There were no awkward silences, and the conversation just flowed. As the title of this post indicates, seeing them was one of the highlights of my year.

They bought books, and I signed them. Before they left, I promised to have them over next summer for lunch on the patio when the flowers in the back garden are in bloom.

The mother promised to make a peanut butter cake to celebrate finally getting together after thirty years.

Can’t wait! I’m already planning what I will make for them.


Presenting: Of Time and Magic

It wasn’t that time stopped in the library. It was as if it were captured here, collected here, and in all libraries—and not only my time, my life, but all human time as well. In the library, time is dammed up—not just stopped but saved.                                                                                                          ~The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The big day is here with the release of Of Time and Magic, Book Four in the Great Library Series. Of Time and Magic concludes the story begun in Maya and the Book of Everything, when Maya began her fateful journey on that train from New York to Boston and gained possession of the enigmatic Book of Everything.

Already the response has been excellent, and I’ve begun receiving orders.

If you would like to order a paperback copy of Of Time and Magic, this link will bring you to our Hinterlands Press website. Shipping is free in the U.S., and I would be more than happy to inscribe your book.

Even though the ebook is available through Amazon, the paperback book is not yet available through them. Unfortunately, we have been having problems with Amazon, and the issues are yet to be resolved. But Of Time and Magic is available through Ingram, which means that you should be able to order the book at your local bookstore.

Finally, dear blogging friends, you might be interested in knowing that Of Time and Magic is dedicated to you.

Here is what I wrote:                                                                                                       Of Time and Magic is dedicated to my wonderful blogging friends. Because of your support and encouragement, my Great Library novels have traveled all around the world. No small feat for an indie series.

Many, many thanks to you all!

Maya and Mémère: The Strange Case of Life Imitating Art

Last weekend, Clif and I took our books to a big craft fair in Gorham, over an hour from where we live. Neither Clif and I are morning people, and we had to get up at God-awful-o’clock in the morning to go to Gorham and set up before the show opened. This we did, with only a bit of fuss. After all, Clif and I are no longer spring chickens. Even with a cart, lugging boxes of boxes, the table, and chairs is a lot of work for us.

But how worthwhile it was. Not only did we sell quite a few books, but I also met a customer—a woman about my age—whose story tickled me silly.

Coming over to the table, she smiled at me. “I want to buy the first book in the series.”

“Great” I replied.

“It’s for a girl named Maya.”

“Oh, nice!”

“And I’m her mémère.”

Delighted and nearly speechless, I stared at the woman. Now, I have had many grandmothers buy books for their granddaughters, and there have even been a few named Maya, but as far as I know, not one of the grandmothers went by the Franco-American term mémère.

A brief backstory for readers unfamiliar with my Great Library Series. Maya, as the title of the first book suggests, is the main character in the series. When Maya and the Book of Everything opens, Maya is traveling by train from New York to Maine to spend the summer with her mémère. (On that train, Maya gains possession of the mysterious Book of Everything.) Mémère becomes an important character in the series, and in Library Lost you might even say that she kicks butt.

Naturally, I related all this to the woman, and she was as delighted as I was. Unfortunately, in Maine—where at least 30% of the population are descendants of French Canadians—very few novels  feature Franco-Americans who have mémères and pépères. To say Franco-Americans are underrepresented in Maine culture doesn’t even begin to describe the situation.

Although my books are fantasies, they are also rooted in reality, and it was important for me to bring my Franco-American heritage into the stories.

In my upcoming book, Of Time and Magic, Maya’s mémère continues to play a big role in the story. The series begins with her and ends with her.

It might even be fair to state that the Great Library books are a love letter to mémères everywhere.

And the Winners Are…

For the past month, readers were invited to enter a contest where my upcoming fantasy novel, Of Time and Magic, Book Four in my Great Library Series, would be given away. Also included in the contest were three calendars featuring a map of Samaras Island—home of the Great Library—and Watertown, the small city across from the island.

Designed by Clif Graves and made with


In the post where I announced the contested, I noted that I would send the book anywhere on this planet. I encouraged readers from away to enter, and enter they did, from Scotland, Wales, England, South Africa, Singapore, and Australia. What a thrill to have readers from around the world enter my contest. I also had plenty of entries from the United States and Canada, and that, too, was gratifying.

And the winners are…

A copy of Of Time and Magic—Betsy Stevenson

The calendar—Burni Andres, Donna Lambert, and Oscar of the blog Hermits Door.

Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to all who entered.

In the next two days, I’ll be in contact with the winners to confirm addresses.

Of Time and Magic is at the printers and copies should be available in a couple of weeks. Or perhaps sooner. I’ll keep you posted.

The calendar is also at the printers, and like the book, it should be available in a couple of weeks.

Again, many, many thanks to all who entered the contest.