Welcome to my second post about our recent trip to Asheville, NC. I'm going to begin today by showing two pictures of the area around our hotel, The Inn at Biltmore Estate. There were some walking trails that wound around the hotel and I think I mentioned that it was green and lush there. As you can see in the first picture, a shower had just occurred. Beautiful vistas.
Thursday, June 23, 2022
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
We recently returned from a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and this is the first of five posts where I'll share a bit of what we saw and learned in this 'new-to-us' part of the country. As you probably know, the house pictured here is the Biltmore Estate. It was built in 1895, I believe, and it's really grand. It was owned by George and Edith Vanderbilt. We stayed at the Inn on the Biltmore property and had a package that included an early morning tour with a guide and a very limited number of people. For us, that meant arriving before the Biltmore was open to others in the public. Our tour was conducted by a very knowledgeable young woman and included one other couple and us. Perfect! We were warned that there would be a lot of stairs (over 300) and a lot of standing (which there was), but it was very, very interesting. Our guide told us that she was from the Asheville area and that she had first visited the Biltmore when she was 12 years old. She said she knew right then that she wanted to work there. As I said, she gave a great tour.
I'm going to share several pictures below, but not write a lot of commentary. Today's pictures will show some of the more formal rooms and family bedrooms and tomorrow, I'll show the activity/exercise areas and the staff quarters. Plus I'll give a couple of pictures from the area of our hotel and also a bit about the 'Monet & Friends' exhibit that we saw the second day we were at the Biltmore. Hope you enjoy my little 'tour'.
The lion outside the Biltmore House. We wandered around a bit as we were waiting for our tour to begin.
This is the beautiful entry area at the Biltmore House. Light and greenery abound. As we began our tour, our guide told us that each room has a different type of ceiling.
I took a picture of the ceiling here in order to illustrate that our guide was correct. Every room was different.
This is the major dining room and I'm not sure how many could be seated at this table (expanded). There are 25 chairs at the table in this picture. Maybe 60 or so to the full extension. The dining room was massive and gorgeous.
The organ loft in the dining room. We were able to visit that loft toward the end of our tour. There is an organ there now and it plays throughout the day. The view from that balcony was just 'wow!'.
A smaller dining room that was used as a breakfast area for single visitors, both male and female. Married people had breakfast in their guest rooms, but apparently, Mrs. Vanderbilt was something of a matchmaker. Unmarried guests could chat together here with all propriety.
This is a shot of the library. It was massive and amazing. I've forgotten how many thousands of books the guide said are in the Biltmore. Not all are in the library. Books are everywhere.
Another shot in the library. I tried not stand on my head trying to see all the titles! Ha!
George Vanderbilt's bedroom, the largest bedroom in the house. It was indeed massive and made that bed look very small.
This was a hidden closet door off to the side of the bed in Mr. Vanderbilt's bedroom. It was one of many 'hidden' rooms that were found all over the house.
Edith Vanderbilt's bedroom was not quite as large as George's. Beautiful though. There was a family sitting room between their two rooms.
I show this picture as an example of a guest room for unmarried female guests. There was a private bathroom off each guest room and also a sitting area with a desk. Those beds looked very short to me though.
I had many more pictures of the tour, but can't post all of them. Way, way too many. This gives you a glimpse of the 'upstairs' part of the house. Tomorrow's post will show the staff areas and exercise rooms. Just think of how many people it would take to keep this Estate running. So many....
Monday, June 20, 2022
In every person's story, there is something to hide...
The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman's terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who'd happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.
Before I share what I thought about this book, I'd like to share a picture of the setting for the beginning of the story -'The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library'. The first part of the tale talks about the 'green shaded' lamps at the communal tables and also about the lofty ceiling. Can you see it? Good! I was delighted to realize that when I visited the Boston Public Library a few years ago, I took a picture of the reading room and many other parts of the library as well. If you want to see some of them, you may go here.
Friday, June 17, 2022
Writers have intense and intimate connections with our characters. For many of us, the characters in our books are every bit as real as the flesh-and-blood people we interact with on a daily basis. We know more about them than we know about our spouses, our siblings, our friends. We think about them even when we’re not actually writing. Our characters talk to us when we’re taking a shower, walking in a park, shopping for groceries, and trying to sleep. They ride along with us when we’re commuting to work. They offer advice on cooking or fashion or how to handle our kids––whether or not we asked for it. They latch onto us and won’t let go. They become our constant companions (and yes, we even have a certain fondness for the bad guys). Being a writer gives us license to have imaginary friends, so if you notice us talking to ourselves, we’re not nuts. We’re simply having a conversation with our BFFs or testing out a bit of dialogue.
People often ask me where my characters come from. Occasionally, a reader insists he or she is someone I’ve written about in one of my books. I refer you folks to the disclaimer at the beginning of each novel that says something to the effect of: “This is a work of fiction. Except in the case of historic fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”
That doesn’t mean we writers won’t appropriate a particular tidbit we find intriguing, such as your $3,000 custom-made cowboy boots, or that port-wine birthmark in the shape of New Jersey on your thigh, or your habit of clapping your hands three times and circling widdershins before entering your mother-in-law’s house. Warning: Writers are thieves, so don’t do or tell us anything really cool unless you’re okay with it appearing in print. But no, we don’t usually reproduce the ordinary people we know in our novels––unless we’re trying to reap vengeance, but that’s another story.
Fictional characters want to tell their tales and make their marks in the literary world. Sometimes I give a character a bit part and she pushes her way into a starring role. Writers tend to fall in love with our characters. We don’t want to say goodbye, so we write a series. Agatha Christie’s Detective Hercule Poirot starred in thirty-three novels, fifty-nine short stories, and one full-length play. Naturally, the protagonist appears in every book in the series, but often subordinate or even minor characters turn up again and again, especially if the stories occur in a particular place, such as Louise Penny’s fictional town Three Pines.
In my Lizzie Crane mystery series, which is set in the mid-1920s, I invite a few historical figures to play cameos. This gives a period feeling to the stories, adds a splash of color, and in some cases furthers the plot. However, these real-life people are presented in a fictitious manner. The artist Edward Hopper comes to a party in the third book in my series (The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors, scheduled for release in August 2023). In the fourth novel (Running in the Shadows), Charles Lindbergh performs a daredevil aerial show. In the books, these famous folks do things they really did––yes, Lindbergh was a barnstorming stunt pilot before he flew across the Atlantic and into history books. But, of course, these famous folks never actually met my characters (at least, not to my knowledge).
Characters drive stories, they’re not just along for the ride. If we don’t connect with the characters in a novel, we probably won’t read more than a couple chapters. If we really, really like them, we’ll follow them wherever they go. They take us to places and time periods we might never know about otherwise. They present us with ideas and situations we might never have considered before. They teach us about courage, compassion, patience, strength, humility, tragedy, and triumph. They help us understand ourselves and the people we know better. By sharing their journeys with us, characters in books reveal to us the vastness of the human experience with all its complexity, richness, and magic.
Skye Alexander is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books. Her stories have been published in anthologies internationally and her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. The second novel in her Lizzie Crane mystery series What the Walls Know is scheduled for release in August 2022, and she’s currently working on the fifth one. Visit her website www.skyealexander.com.
Thursday, June 16, 2022
In the summer of 1925, ambitious and beautiful New York jazz performer Lizzie Crane and her troupe land a plum job that could give them their big career break: a week-long engagement celebration for the daughter of a wealthy (and shady) industrialist to a Russian count. But Lizzie barely has time to enjoy her good luck––which includes the amorous attentions of the heir to her employer’s vast fortune––before the group’s saxophonist is stabbed to death. The local police suspect her and her musician friends and place them under house arrest, where they’re at the mercy of the very people who have the most to lose if the murder is solved. As Lizzie delves into her slain colleague’s mysterious past, she discovers secrets worth killing to protect and risks her own life in the process.
Never Try To Catch A Falling Knife is the first book in Skye Alexander's historical mystery series featuring Lizzie Crane. Set in the 'Roaring Twenties', it's a fun and intriguing beginning to a mystery series. Lizzie Crane is part of a group of performers - singers, musicians, actors - that have been hired by a wealthy family to entertain for their daughter's engagement party. It's a party that is intended to last a week and Lizzie and her friends have many things planned. However, a death occurs and lives are put into a tailspin.
This book was published last year and I read it in late fall. The author, Skye Alexander, resides in my area and I was happy to get to talk with her about her writing and research process. She had a very nice event at our local library, dressed in 1920's style. Her picture is below.
I did enjoy Never Try To Catch A Falling Knife and could tell that Skye had done a lot of historical research. This book is set in Ipswitch, Massachusetts and 'Prohibition' is in full swing. The characters include 'upstairs and downstairs' individuals that are part of or work for the wealthy family. Lizzie's coworkers are also interesting and references to books, music, and fashion of the '20's was well done. I'm looking forward to the next book and hope this is a series that will go on for a long time.
The next book, What The Walls Know, is scheduled to be published by Level Best Books late this summer. Come back tomorrow and I'll have a guest post by Skye about 'where characters come from'.
Monday, June 13, 2022
Hey there! Remember me? Yes, I'm back from my break and am glad to have some things to share with all of you. It's summer! Did you know? Well, it might not be so bad where some of you reside, but in my part of the world it's hot, hot, hot. And, even worse, we are in an extreme drought. Our area normally has had about 12 inches of rain by this time of year, but in 2022 we've only had a little over 3 inches. It's getting a little scary. No rain in the spring means that the ground and environment is dry deluxe and that causes the summer temps to be higher. We've been having 'August level' temperatures in late May and early June. Not sure what will need to happen, but it sure would be nice if a bit of rain would come around.
No, the picture above is not from Texas. My husband and I just returned from a vacation (postponed from 2020) to Asheville, North Carolina. And I found our rain! It got mixed up and went to the northern parts. Who knew? Ha! Asheville was absolutely gorgeous - green and lush and cool and sunny and wonderful! I've shared just this one shot above and will tell you that if you follow that path for a bit, you'll come out to see a beautiful historical landmark. What is it? You guess and I'll tell you if you're right in the comments later.
I'm planning on a bunch of posts in upcoming weeks. In fact, I've got things scheduled until the end of this month. First of all, I'm sharing a review of a mystery I enjoyed last fall. It's entitled Never Try To Catch A Falling Knife and I'll also share a guest post by the author, Skye Alexander. She lives in my town here of Kerrville and her new mystery series is historical, set in the 1920's.
Next week, I'll share another review of a new book, The Woman In The Library, written by Sulari Gentill. I flew through that one and want to get it on your radar for reading later if you'd like. After that, I'm planning on 5 posts about our Asheville trip. Hope that won't be too many, but I have a bunch of pictures to share and also a lot of historical details from the area. Plus, I visited two bookstores in North Carolina and must, of course, share thoughts about those.Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson for this week's 'Mystery Book Group' and will be trying to quickly read Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann for next week's 'Talking Texas Book Group'. Whew! Oh, and I've got holds at the library coming in fast and furious. Don't you just love it when you have lots of books to read? Actually, I seem to be on a good pace with my reading and will be grateful for that.
I hope all of you are well and enjoying your early summer. Take care and please do stop back by and hear all about cool, gorgeous Asheville!
Saturday, April 16, 2022
I'm sharing another spring bloom picture here. Taken, as usual, on my morning walk. Seems that we're finally making our way into my favorite time of the year. We need more rain because we are in a serious drought in Central Texas, but there has been plenty of wind. And when we do have rain it only seems to come in little bits or with some serious storms that include tornadoes. The Austin area has had several of those in the last few weeks. Droughts bring such dry air though and the wind dries things even more. Fire bans are everywhere, but fires will get started accidentally and the potential for damage is really scary. One of our favorite vacation spots, Ruidoso, New Mexico, has had a wildfire going this week with a lot of damage and evacuations needed. So horrible for that small community. Please keep them in your prayers as they continue to battle the fire and then deal with the aftermath.
We've been busy here and I think I'm going to take an 'official' break from blogging for a few weeks. I always like to let my friends here know that I'm fine and well, but will be taking a step away for a bit. I hope to be back in a few weeks. I always continue to read your blogs, but my commenting is often sparse. Sorry about that. Hope everyone is having a nice Easter weekend and I also hope that we all get some April showers that will turn to May flowers. See you in a bit!
Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Hello everyone! Hope you are all well and that spring has come to your area. Hope you're getting to see some blooms. I have a couple of pictures from my morning walks to share. Spring is finally here! The picture above is actually from my brother-in-law's yard in the Austin area. And, yes, those are bluebonnets. He cultivates them every year and they were gorgeous. We travelled to Austin last weekend and saw lots of them along the roadsides. Not too many in our new town of Kerrville, but I'm still hopeful. Fredericksburg and Johnson City had loads of bluebonnets. I say 'thank you' every year to Lady Bird Johnson for making roadside wildflower seeding a 'thing' in Central Texas and indeed all over Texas.
I had to take a quick shot of this redbud tree that is blooming right outside the Kerrville History Center. Very cheerful and I've always loved these trees. I was heading inside that building to attend the 'Talking Texas' Book Group. I told the group members that I took a picture and several jumped up, headed out, and took their own pictures. Ha!
We've begun some of our renovations at our new-to-us house and we're glad of that. Other things have kept us busy, but I've been around reading your blogs even if I haven't commented too much. I've attended a couple of book groups since I last posted and enjoyed discussions there. March had a 5th Thursday, so that was a 'day off' of book group attendance. I'm busy reading a couple of the books that will be discussed in April and I've managed to read a few new books as well.
My reading list is below and I enjoyed all of them.
Nine Lives by Peter Swanson - A good one by an author that I've enjoyed in the past. Not my favorite of his, but I did listen to an interesting interview with him in a podcast. Our 'Shrouded in Mystery' Book Group will discuss an earlier book of his, Eight Perfect Murders, in May.
The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey - This book is the 3rd in Massey's Perveen Mistry series. I liked it very much and hope this series will continue. The protagonist is based on India's first female lawyer and it's set in 1920's India.
The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths - I just could not wait for the 14th Ruth Galloway book and so I ordered the hardcover from the UK. This series is published in the UK in early spring, February usually, and in the US in late June. I had a gift card and so...why not? Loved this one. I thought the author did a good job of including the pandemic in the story and there are some startling revelations about certain characters as well. Of course, this means that I'll have to wait longer for the next 'Ruth' book. Ha!
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye - This was re-read for the 'Historical Fiction' Book Group meeting that will take place Thursday. I had read and discussed this one with another group several years ago, but I couldn't remember a lot of specifics other than that it told of the beginnings of the NYPD way back in the 1840's. I remembered why I liked it so much. It is a little gritty and I'll be curious what other members of the group think about it.
I think that's about all the news I have. My husband has been going back and forth to Austin a bit for his 'so far' one-day-a-week in the office. We got to spend some time with family eating out this last weekend. It was nice to catch up with our daughter and son-in-law and my husband's extended family. We're looking forward to being able to host them here in a few months. Otherwise, all seems to be well. Take care everyone and get out and enjoy some 'blooms'!
Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Hello book friends! Can't believe that we are halfway through March! Where does the time go? Happily, I saw some flowers blooming a couple of days ago on my morning walk. Pretty yellow daffodils (right?). I hope that means that other lovely flowers are just around the corner. I have noticed that spring is a bit slower to show up here in our new area. It's curious to me that only a few miles west and a bit south and the climate is noticeably different. I'll adjust though. Really hoping that we've seen our last low temperature in the 20's for the season.
I think the last time I posted about my reading here I was doing some catch-up on a few mystery series that I enjoy. Since that time, I've read these books:
Reading update:Last Seen Alive by Joanna Schaffhausen (5th in her Ellery Hathaway series) - hoping it's not the last, but some storylines are mostly resolved. Really recommend this series.
The Deepest Of Secrets by Kelley Armstrong (7th in her Rockton series) - I think this might be the last of this series, but who knows? I do know that the author has a new series starting in a few weeks. It's A Rip Through Time and I'm on the hold list at the library for this one.
Miss Moriarty, I Presume by Sherry Thomas (6th in her Lady Sherlock series) - again, the series progresses and I'll be curious to see where she goes from this point. Not sure it's the end though.
The Appeal by Janice Hallett - this is the debut book by the author and I'm a bit torn about what to share here. It's an epistolary novel (which I normally love) and it's a mystery, but...it's more than a bit odd. A little tough to say exactly what it was in the end. Told in emails and texts and letters and having some quite annoying characters, I finished it and said, 'Ok, on to the next.' Take from that what you may. Ha! Have any of you read this book? Curious what others might get from it.
I missed the first two book groups in March. Out of town for one and had an allergy sinus headache for the other. The Historical Fiction book group discussed These Is My Words by Nancy Turner. I had read that one many years ago, but knew I would not be here. Didn't reread it. The book selected for April is The Gods Of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. I have also read that one in the past and plan to read it again.
The second week group is the Brown Bag book group. They discussed The Library Book by Susan Orlean. I had skimmed that one after having discussed it with another book group some years ago. Haven't talked to the librarian yet to see how it went. The April selection is Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson. Again, have read that one long ago, but I'll do a reread. I think this book was the author's first book.
Tomorrow afternoon is the Shrouded in Mystery book group and the discussion will be about The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. I just finished a reread of that book and enjoyed it thoroughly again. I really need to get to the second book, The Postscript Murders. Have you read The Stranger Diaries? Lots of Gothic fun. The April book for this group is After The Crash by Michael Bussi. And I haven't previously read this one. Yay!
The fourth week book group is the Talking Texas book group. I'm currently rereading Elizabeth Crook's Monday, Monday for that discussion. I was part of a group that discussed this book soon after it was published (2014) and we were able to speak online with the author about it. Not everyone has loved this one, but it does give a good account of Austin and surrounding area during and just after the University of Texas Tower shooting in 1966. The story tells of three students that were there that day and how that tragedy affected their lives for decades. I do think the book is better in the early parts and then kind of gets a little 'soap opera'-ish in the second half. Will be curious what others in the group think.
Think that's about all I have for today. In regular life, not much to tell. We're still back and forth a bit to Austin. My husband's company will return to the office next week for the start of their 'hybrid' work. We're hoping to be able to take a trip in early summer to North Carolina. And our renovations will one day happen. Have a good rest of the week! And I'll be back in a while with more pictures hopefully. Take care, everyone!
Thursday, February 24, 2022
First of all, I’m curious. Always have been. Even in my youth, my questions may have seemed a bit “off” because I often searched beneath the surface. (Not too popular with my dad, a World War II vet working hard to make up for the time he had lost.) What business did this prying little snoop have delving into his motivations?
But this inquisitiveness has taken me places, and names exude history’s intrigue. For example, why would someone name a location Loyal Valley?
Before I could unearth the answer, this name had me hooked. Wow—a pioneer German immigrant chose Loyal Valley to reveal the area’s loyalty to the Union despite Texas officially joining the confederacy.
This act required courage. After all, tensions ran high during that period, and the Nueces Massacre took place quite close. But John Meusebach possessed courage in spades.
Secondly, I love stories.
Perhaps my searches involve human story as much as historical fact. I’m hungry for instances of courage, fortitude, and determination. Perhaps my background plays a role in this as well. Growing up in a tense household on an isolated family farm gave me a feel for tenacity and perseverance, because Mom displayed these qualities every day.
The capacity to “grin and bear it” ran deep in her. She’d experienced hole-in-the-shoe poverty in the Depression and watched two older brothers go off to fight in the war.
Obstacles notwithstanding, she trucked on. And beside her, her second child wondered, asked, and sometimes nagged. Always pondering, nose stuck in a book at every opportunity, this girl surfaced with even more questions.
Though others might scoff at the way her mind worked, foundations were being laid stone by stone, cemented into place. And sixty years later, I take joy in leaving no stone unturned in my research. Which brings me to our third reason: the joy of discovery.
Often while I’m searching, an intuition arises, so I must see if history bears out this possible scenario. In researching the Fall of Bataan, I thought, “Surely, with over 70,000 Allied captives and such mountainous terrain, some soldiers must have escaped.”
A whole lot of reading later, evidence came to light. Indeed, some officers had escaped to fight with Philippine guerillas in the heights. Such satisfaction ensued—my instincts rode close to the truth, and my hero might survive being a POW, might even make it back to the States.
Fourth, (and last for this writing) I like to learn. Isn’t that one reason we’re still here on earth, to learn and grow? A person cannot study history without learning—just today, a bias I’ve held for decades against a certain politician dissolved. How did I miss his part in aiding Jewish individuals to emigrate to the U.S. before and after World War II?
Historical research takes you where you allow it to. And the best part? The process amounts to pure fun!