Sunday, December 22, 2013

Joyeux Noel

This is a re-post of a post from three years ago about two DVD's, one a favorite opera, and the other a foreign film, both set in the Christmas season, and both set in Europe. The first is an opera set in Belle Epoque France; the latter is a 1914 war story that really is an anti-war story.

The opera was one I've written about before (when Sacramento Opera performed it in Spring of 2010): Puccini's La Boheme. In this case, La Boheme, the Movie, stars Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon as Mimi and Rodolfo. Both their voices are lush and lyrical, as if the composer wrote the music with them in mind, and their acting brought the story alive. All the cast was good, and the costumes and sets made scenes seem like impressionist paintings in motion. This is such a layered story, each time I hear and see the opera, I have a new appreciation for the breadth of understanding Pucci was able to convey in the music. I marvel how composers achieve on musical scores what I struggle to achieve in just words. I can never can see or hear this opera too many times, and I plan to buy the DVD.

The second movie was Joyeux Noel, a 2005 film that was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. The individual stories highlighted were fictitious, but the over all story is based on a true happening on a Christmas Eve in 1914, in the theater of war, rather than in an opera theater: Scottish, French, and German troops agreed to a cease fire, and put down their weapons to celebrate Christmas Eve, even warning each other of planned shellings the next day and offering refuge in each other's trenches when the shellings occurred. For all three military groups, the only thing that saved troops from being tried for treason was the fact that 200 or so in each case would have to be tried. Instead, all the participants were transferred to other fronts to make sure it wouldn't happen again. It was a remarkable film, and a story I won't forget.

So here it is, the New Year, and the Christmas message hovering still. Best wishes for the coming year, and for a time of peace, when people can be united again in their common humanity.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Free Kindle Download of The Fourth Wish.

With the holidays drawing close, I'm offering a second free Kindle download for The Fourth Wish, this time for three days: Sunday, December 15th through Tuesday, December 17th. The last one put the book as #1 in its category. But what made me happiest was the prospect of so many young people being able to read it. Here is where to go on those dates:

This story takes place over the winter holidays. It involves magic and wishes, complex family situations, and I've been told it's very humorous. A good read for both boys and girls, ages 8 to 12.

I hope you will check it out.

Meanwhile, what are some of your favorite titles for readers of that age group?

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Dawg and His Person

Here they are: Clyde and Dawg

Author, Lori Mortensen
I'm taking time out from posts about the cruise to share a charming picture book that would make just the right present for a young child in this gift-giving season: Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, by Lori Mortensen. (It would make a nice library addition for big people, too, if they are dog lovers, as I am.)

The story starts with Cowpoke Clyde cleaning house and innocently deciding the finishing touch would be to give a bath to his dog, who is named, appropriately, Dawg. What happens when Clyde tries is hilarious. I really don't know how much to tell without giving the story away. Let me just say that bathing Dawg is no easy thing. The two leave chaos and commotion in their wake as Dawg gives Clyde the runaround.

Three things about the writing make this a stellar picture book for me.
1. The tone and "bounce" to this lively story make it one kids will want to read again and again. (Those who are too young to read will want you to read it aloud again and again.)
2. It's funny. I've read it three times, now, and each time leaves me grinning.
3. The rhyme scans so well! I have great admiration for the ability to write a rhyming stories. They are not easy. Often the rhyme feels a little off, and you feel a writer got away with it because the story was so good. Well, this story is "so good," and the rhyming is too!

As for the illustrations: With acrylics and colored pencils, Michael Allen Austin has made Dawg into the most lovable mutt you could find—and the other animals on the ranch are pretty captivating, too. Cowpoke Clyde is pawstively endearing.

School Library Journal has calledthis book, "A first purchase for most libraries."

Two other rhyming picture books by Lori Mortensen are: In the Trees, Honey Bees, that has won all kinds of awards, as well as the award-winning Cindy Moo. She's also written a non-rhyming biography about Léon Foucault, Come See the Earth Turn. 

Foucalt's Pendulum'

Hey, diddle-diddle.
Find out about the secret
life of bees.

You can read my review of Cindy Moo for Sacramento Book Review HERE.

And Lori was kind enough to give me an interview HERE.

More information about where and how to buy these books can be found on Lori's
 WEBSITE HERE. Visit the site, too, to read more reviews of these books.

What are your favorite picture books? Do you prefer rhyming books or unrhymed stories?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Cruise, Part 2: Prince Edward Island

After our first night on the water, we docked at Prince Edward Island, of Anne of Green Gables Fame, and, in two buses, toured the complete island.  We had a really good guide, but unfortunately, I didn't think to get her card. She gave us so much information about the island, and made sure we had ample opportunities to get out and see the area firsthand.
Leaving Quebec City
Anne, the Island's unforgettable
heroine. (Visit my other blog HERE for
a post about author L.M. Montgomery)
Our guide on the left and our
bus driver on the right.

The whole tour took a good part of the day. We toured the island, but stopped for lunch at a unique restaurant in New Glasgow in a building called Prince Edward Island Preserve Company, owned by a beaming man named "Bruce," who greeted us and saw us off afterwards, wearing his traditional Scottish kilt. (About 50% of the islanders claim Scottish ancestry and, adding those of Irish and Welsh heritage, about 80% of the island is of Celtic descent.)
Prince Edward Island Preserve Company
Bruce, happy to see us come.
Bruce, happy to see us go?

As exciting
as it was to tour the island, this stop was quite a highlight, with a fabulous lobster lunch, served by a friendly staff 
Yes. This guy was on my plate.
And I managed to eat most of it!

Friendly staff. 

Dale, showing Rajan and me
how to eat a lobster.
But it didn't stop there. We had the pleasure of being entertained by Mike Pendergast, aka "The Music Man." Mike sang ditties and folk songs, acting out various parts, while playing his guitar sometimes, and sometimes his accordion. I could have listened to him all afternoon.

Mike Pendergast

"The Music Man"

A slower song on guitar

And, after several song that had everyone's toe tapping and some singalongs, he asked for volunteers. Yes. You guessed it:

Ernie participated with gusto.

He had a serious moment . . .

But not for long.

Now for a few island highlights. Prince Edward island is one of the prettiest places you will ever see. Whenever I read the word "bucolic" in the future, I will think of Prince Edward Island. Among other things, it has the reddest soil you'll ever see, and an unending coastline that loops in and out around its generally crescent shape. Bays and harbors, and fishing villages and farms. It was like stepping into a world long gone -- except it isn't gone. It's scenic beauty continues to exist. We went to Cavendish Bay, Charlottetown, Summerside, and other spots whose names elude me. And with so much to see, I lost track of which was where. Just enjoy them for the way they convey the island atmosphere:
One of many lighthouses

Along with the fishing, this is an
agricultural place. Potatoes from
PEI are famous.

Notice the red soil. Very good clay
for ceramics from the area.

Made me think of a storybook village.

You can see we had good weather!

One of many harbors.

More surf and red soil.
These are lobster traps. A lot of the
fishing on PEI is lobster fishing. You
can see why we had such a good lunch.  
Conferation Bridge, connecting PEI
to New Brunswick, is 8 miles long.

Foxes on the road! My husband was
able to get a couple of photos. What
a beautiful animal!

There were actually two foxes, but one
walked away while my husband was
taking these pictures.

And then, last, but not least, the famous house that inspired the popular Anne of Green Gables series.  (You can read more about whose house it really was HERE.) Anne has been a favorite character of mine, and she's still popular with new readers today.
The house of Green Gables where it all started.
Hope you enjoyed this little tour of a fascinating island. Like so many places on this cruise, it was a "one of a kind" experience.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Cruise - Part One

Holland-American lines: This
ship was the Veendam.
This ship held 1200 passengers and
a crew of 400.
My husband, Rajan. You can
see from his size, the size of
the cruise ship!
 As I mentioned earlier, my husband's business partner planned an 8-day cruise to celebrate 20 years of the business. The cruise began in Quebec City, Canada, And we set out on Friday, hoping to have an evening visiting with friends before the cruise left the following afternoon. On leaving QC, the ship would travel along the St. Lawrence River, stopping at Prince Edward Island, Sydney and Halifax in Nova Scotia, Bar Harbor, Maine, ending in Boston in time for us to catch a flight home. It was a wonderful time for all. How could it not be when organized by our fearless leader, Ernie Pucci?

Ernie, his lovely wife, Liz, and their son, Anthony("Tony") 
You know that, traveling with these folks, nothing 
but good times are ahead!

Getting to Quebec City was an adventure, however: In Washington D.C., just before boarding time in the evening, our connecting flight to Quebec City was cancelled. By the time we worked out standby status for the next morning, it was past 10:00 p.m., too late for taking taxis to and from a hotel with only toothbrush packets from the airline and no change of clothes. We decided to sleep in the airport. Long story short, we got on the standby flight and arrived at QC a little after 1:00 p.m.—but our luggage didn't. After lunch with friends and a quick shopping trip to buy a change of sweaters and some toiletries, we boarded the ship and went to our cabin, hoping our luggage wouldn't be chasing us from port to port. Never did a hot shower feel so welcome!

Afterwards, we spent the afternoon and evening socializing with friends from far and wide (this is an international company) and catching up with news. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of the first evening, but Rajan and I had signed up for a shore excursion in Quebec City the next morning, a three &1/2 hour trip with two stops: The Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre (I've mentioned before that Rajan loves to photograph old churches and cathedrals) and Montmorency Falls, at a breath-taking height above the Saint Lawrence river.

First the Shrine of SainteAnnede Beaupre: Quebec City is a very Catholic city. Most of the churches are Catholic. I was used to seeing churches dedicated to St. Mary, but this was dedicated to Mary's mother (Jesus's grandmother.) The shrine is in a village of the same name about 23 miles northeast of Quebec City. The church was first built by shipwrecked sailors—sailors often became shipwrecked off a nearby island on their way to QC and Sainte Anne is the patron saint of sailors. It has been a major pilgrimage center for 350 years. The church has been re-built many times, since early versions were of wood and easily burned down. This one looks here to stay, though!
The basilica, looking up from
the front steps. How small I felt!

The basilica seen from side & rear.

Scala Santa Sanctuary, a separate building.
                  As you can see, Quebec was
enjoying a splendid Autumn.
There was also a monastery, and a gift shop, but the major thrill was seeing this incredible building, inside and out.

We entered the building through doors that had intricately worked copper-bronze panels.

Look closely at the scenes.
Inside, we saw one wonder after another. Truly overwhelming beauty at every turn. Everywhere we looked, we saw mosaic tile work, stained glass, gilt pictures depicting stations of the cross, and statuary. 

Downstairs was the Immaculate Conception chapel with a statue of Mary, a low-ceilinged room compared to upstairs, decorated pale blue, studded with golden stars. In a special alcove we saw a  replica of the Michelangelo pietà that is housed in Saint Peter's basilica in Rome.
A closer view..

Notice the huge pipe organ.
I am not Catholic, but religious art moves me. In an age when art could only take religious form, the artistic spirit worked wonders in stained glass and marble and stone, and this replica captures the beauty.

There were other highlights of the shrine, but there's not enough space in one post to show all of them. So. On to  part two of the excursion—Montmorency Falls.

Montmorency Falls is roughly 7 & 1/2 miles (12 km) from the heart of Quebec City. It is 270 feet high, 98 feet higher than Niagra Falls, although not as wide. It is a remarkable force of nature to view up close, as you can see.
The falls from one angle.
The falls from another angle.

The bus stopped first at the Manoir Montmorency, an elegant former mansion that now has a restaurant, a bistro, and a gift shop. Then we walked up a slope until we came to the recommended point to see the falls above.
Manoir Montmorency

The manor, shot from a  gazebo
some distance away.
There wasn't enough time to go inside the manoir and take tea, or to walk across the suspension bridge or take the tram down to the river and back. But I'd love to return for the tea. (Not too crazy about heights.)

To get a better view of the park surrounding the falls, we returned by way of a lower boardwalk. You can see how beautiful the scenery is. And then, at the little gazebo, from which I took the long shot of the manor, my husband also took a picture of the rock on which the viewing points are fixed. We were on a platform below those!

Me on the the boardwalk, still
 innocent of wht the viewing
platforms look like from afar.

Yup. We were on a platform below
the ones you see here.

Whenever we were on the bus, our guide, Jacques Baillargeon, did a wonderful job of informing us about life in Quebec. Before this trip, I had heard of the French-speaking part of Canada, but I naively assumed French was a second language for locals. Not so. French is their first language, and their English has a pronounced French accent—although Jacques is quick to point out that they don't think so in Paris. He kept us entertained with stories of his visits to Paris, where every time he tried to ask questions in French, he was encourage to speak English. "Movies from Quebec are subtitled in Paris," he quipped.
Jacques, a guide with a
 great sense of humor.
All too soon, the excursion was over, although an afternoon and evening of socializing and fun lay ahead on board the ship. Meanwhile, should you decide to go to Quebec City, I would heartily recommend Jacques Baillargeon for your guide (, and Autobus Laval for your tour bus.

Meanwhile, stop by my other blog HERE to learn more about my free giveaway of The Fourth Wish 
(good middle grade fantasy that takes place over winter holidays.)