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The Dickens Calendar

The Dickens Calendar 1896

Quotes from the British novelist and social critic, Charles John Huffam Dickens, became the subject of a series of calendars produced by Raphael Tuck & Sons. The company sold pictures, greeting cards, and later, post cards to which they are credited with contributing to the “postcard boom” of the late 1890s and early 1900s.

The first Dickens calendar was published in 1896. Each month page of the calendar illustrates a quote from Charles Dickens. The individual pages are secured on two rings through pre-punched holes.

The Dickens Calendar 1896

Dickens is also known for his iconic hairstyles as evidenced on the January page of the 1896 calendar.

#dickens #raphaeltuck #vintagecalendars #charlesdickens


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The Nostalgic Fiction of Wendell Berry

Wendell Erdman Berry (born August 5, 1934) is a man of many talents including poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, novelist, and farmer. He is a very prolific writer with an impressive collection of poems, essays, short stories and novels. He has won countless literary awards from 1958 to present.

I am more familiar with Wendell Berry’s novels and short stories that chronical agrarian, rural life centered around the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. There is continuous connection of characters in the whole collection of stories, either by farming families or close -knit communities tied together by need, grace and emotional histories.

I never tire of Berry’s descriptions of times long past and the hard work that went into building relationships as well as small farms and communities. His novels evoke such imagery that you can imagine you are there, sharing in the struggles of Mat Feltner (A Place on Earth) or The Memory of Old Jack. I’ve shed many a tear reading these moving stories. Many times after completing a book and closing the back cover, I’ve sat and reflected on the characters to which I’ve felt a strong kinship and longing to go back to a simpler time.

I recommend starting with the very first Port William novel, Nathan Coulter, and continue from there. My favorite Port William stories include:

#wendellberry #portwilliam

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New Children’s Book Author

The ABC's of Morality

Lauran Southern is a documentary filmmaker and now a children’s book author. Her first Book, Henry the Sheepdog & The Wolf of Mossville, is a timely story with a message similar to one we’ve heard from Mark Twain; a lie has the chance to get all around the world before the truth can get its pants on. Appropriate for age 7+.

Henry the Sheepdog & The Wolf of Mossville

Lauran’s latest book, The ABC’s of Morality, is geared toward the same age group, but strives to teach us all how to think for ourselves.

The ABC's of Morality

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Tremble Chin, Poetry that Explores Everyday Life


It’s just a simple book of 19 heartfelt poems. More or less a journal of observations spanning a couple of decades of everyday life. The poems were inspired by scenery and personal events around rural Georgia in the Southeastern USA.

You may have witnessed similar experiences or have common memories. These storied compositions will no doubt provoke images that are delightfully relatable. Pick up a copy on Amazon. We’d love to hear your impressions!

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Terry Kay, A Great Southern Writer

The first book I read by Terry Kay was “To Dance with the White Dog” (1990).

I am just in awe at the author’s telling of this story. I felt the emotions when Sam Peck lost his wife of 50 years. I understood the worry of Sam’s children for their father and what a difficult struggle he was likely to have losing his love and life companion, Cora. I felt their concern when Sam begins to see a mysterious white dog that is never around when they are there. A great author like Terry Kay really puts you there… in the story.

I finished “To Dance with the White Dog” on a plane sitting next to my husband on our way to a ski vacation.  As I finished the last few pages, I could not hold back the tears. After I closed the back cover, I struggled to tell my husband why I was crying.  The book really touched me, I mean really touched me.  So much so that years later at a book signing, I choked up again as I handed my copy of “To Dance with the White Dog” to Terry Kay for him to sign.  He inscribed “For Kathy-who honors me by caring for The White Dog. Warmest Regards-Terry Kay 12-10-93” and said kind words to put me at ease.

Since then I have read nearly all of Terry Kay’s books.  They are all excellent, but here are a few that you simply must read.

Written in 1976, “The Year the Lights Came On” was the first. This tells of the Rural Electric Association (REA) bringing electricity to a small town in northeast Georgia. More importantly, this book paints a picture of rural America told through eyes of Colin and his brother, Wesley. Through this book you will experience friendships, loyalty, schoolground fights and drama, and what life was like on the wrong side of Route 17 and the railroad tracks.

The Runaway” (1997) is perhaps my favorite because it is reminiscent of another of my favorites, “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  It is set in the 1940’s where you quickly become a part of the relationship between 2 boys, one black and one white, Tom and Son Jesus. They love to daydream and will do anything they can to avoid work which is what brings them to find a mysterious bone.  They unwittingly unleash a murder investigation and a flood of racial conflict. The story is remarkable and the characters will warm your heart.

I read “Taking Lottie Home” (2000) fairly recently; I don’t know how I missed this one since we have a first edition sitting on our shelves. Ben Phelps and his high school buddy, Milo go off to play professional baseball. Milo makes it to the big leagues, but Ben is cut along with Foster Lanier who had success for a while until his injured leg and heavy drinking slows him down too much.  They meet Lottie on the train ride to their respective home towns. Lottie had run away with a salesman, but they part ways, and Lottie, Ben and Foster’s lives became intertwined for years to come.  Through deceit and hardships, it all comes together with doing the right thing. Thanks, my friend Janet, for lending me your copy of this book.

The Book of Marie” (2007) is a story about Cole and Marie.  They first meet in 1955 at Overton High School shortly after Marie transfers to the south from Washington, D.C.  Marie strikes a long-lasting friendship with Cole and in her valedictorian address, foretells of the coming social changes. Cole falls in love; Marie keeps her distance, yet in a funny turn of events convince their classmates they have a great romance. They meet again 15 years later at a high school reunion. The odd letters they shared over the years and the relationships formed as a result of the reunion tell a historical story of the influences of the time. Like all of Terry Kay’s books, there is a stark truth to the history and the character of people.

After Eli” (1981) is very different than any other of Mr. Kay’s books. To me it was somewhat mystical and somewhat dark. It keeps you enthralled! Michael O’Rear enchants 3 women in an Appalachian village when he comes to town; Rachel, the widow of Eli, her sister and daughter. Michael plays them and preys on them, spurred by the legend of Eli’s hidden treasure.

The King Who Made Paper Flowers” (2016) as of this blog post, is the most recent. It is the story of Arthur Benjamin who reluctantly becomes a “king” among semi-homeless vagabonds with a character all their own. A fun novel that will grab your heart-strings as well.

Thank you, Mr. Kay, for your fine writing and for sharing with us stories and characters that are true to life, that fill you with emotion, and make you feel richer for having read them.

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George MacDonald Fraser and the Incomparable Flashman

Pictured here is my well worn copy of the first Flashman novel I ever read.  It has since been around the block a few times.  Passed around and read by quite a few others, somehow it has always found its way back home.

It was early in my second year of college, and I was having difficulty getting into the swing of things.  Wandering aimlessly through the book store I came across what I soon determined would be just the elixir for my doldrums – Flashman at the Charge!
     “Winner of the Playboy Award for the Best Novel of the Year”.
     “The all-time ace of boudoir Olympics is back in action!”
Sold!  And so it proved to be the start of many hours of pleasurable reading over many years – not just the Flashman novels, but many of Fraser’s other works as well.
So, well into my enjoyment of these writings, when I first began to collect books, Flashman was the only logical place to start.  Not only were these books wonderful reading – exciting, often laugh-out-loud funny, and historically detailed – they were also wonderful to look at, with fantastic artwork on the dust jackets and always plenty of anticipation-rousing blurbs and reviews.  The cover designs of the first UK editions and the first US editions offered variances that made each worth owning.
In May of 2002 my wife, Kathy, planned a trip for us to the Isle of Man, where it just so happened George MacDonald Fraser made his home.  She talked to the owner of the B&B she had booked about the possibility of us being able to meet Mr. Fraser, and the gentlemen told her that he had once owned a bookstore and knew George MacDonald Fraser and would be glad to arrange a meeting for us.  This was exciting stuff.  I carefully packed a somewhat reasonably-sized carry-on bag with as many books as I could get into it.
When we arrived we learned that the B&B proprietor knew Fraser in the sense that he was aware of him.  He knew his books.  He had sold some of them in his book store.  He did not know him personally.  Nevertheless, at my wife’s prodding, he got out his telephone directory and got in touch with Mr. Fraser who agreed to meet us on Saturday afternoon at his golf club.
Mr. Fraser had recently turned 77.  He was just recovering from a cold.  That Saturday was a beautiful sunny afternoon.  I’m sure he had many things he would have preferred to do, likely including spending time with his grandchildren.  Nevertheless, he graciously came to meet us.
We arrived early.  He arrived soon after.  We sat comfortably in a lounge area with very large and well-cushioned chairs and convenient tables.  He chatted cheerfully while signing every one of the books I had hauled in.  He commented that some of the books I had were actually quite valuable now.  He seemed particularly pleased that I had included a copy of Hollywood History of the World and informed me that an updated edition had been issued in paperback only.
He sat, signed, and talked for almost an hour.  I was a bit awestruck, but he made it very easy to feel at home and enjoy the moment.  I remember him telling how as Flashman got popular he fairly often got calls from young fellows, usually college age, asking all sorts of details about Flashman.  The calls came at all hours, but he would take them and talk as long as they wanted to talk, at times somewhat to the consternation of his wife.  He would take the telephone out into the hall and sit on the steps and listen and talk.  And that’s the way he was.  On the day he met with us he seemed genuinely delighted that we cared enough for his work that we would want to visit with him.
We were there during the Isle of Man TT Races.  These are motorcycle time trials that draw enthusiasts from far and near.  At that time as well, Mr. Fraser’s new book “Light’s on at Signpost” was just recently out in book stores.  Signed copies were available, so I bought one for my collection and to carefully read on the flight home.  I learned that the title is a reference to the TT’s.  Multiple laps are run during a time trial.  When a contestant has one lap remaining, there will be a light on at the signpost to signify so.  Similarly Mr. Fraser knew that at his age he had ridden quite a few laps and apparently perceived the light to be on at signpost.  But that is all in the book, and he tells it far better than I.
After we got home, I wrote a letter to Mr. Fraser thanking him for his kindness and hospitality.  In the book I had just read, Mr. Fraser had apologized in advance to all the people who might write to him because he knew he would not be able to personally answer all of them.  Nevertheless, not long after our letter, my wife and I received a response from him.  A short but very nice thank you note, it was unexpected and is now one of our prized possessions.
Then, in November a package arrived one day from the Isle of Man.  Inside was a copy of the updated edition of Hollywood History of the World that Mr. Fraser had told us about during our visit.  He had signed it on the title page and included a brief note, “The revised version, with compliments & all good wishes to you both – George Fraser.”
Wow, what a kind and generous man.
I will always be grateful to my wife for planning that trip to the Isle of Man.  It’s a beautiful place, and even without the meeting, we had a wonderful time.  Still, she planned the trip knowing what a fan I am of Mr. Fraser and took all the extra steps to make a dream come true for me.

And I will always be grateful for the many happy hours provided me by Flashman and the incomparable George MacDonald Fraser.

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Patrick Rothfuss, More Than an Epic Fantasy Writer

Courtesy of Kyle Cassidy

Although Patrick Rothfuss writes fantasy novels, his epics have the feeling of historical novels. They are written in such a way that you can truly believe the characters, their culture and language, their tools, and that the events in the stories really happened.

His first novel, The Name of the Wind, was written in 2007. It is the first of a three volume series called the The Kingkiller Chronicles. The series is told as a 3 day autobiography dictated from Kvothe to The Chronicler, Devan Lochees. There are some present-day events in the story tying into an unresolved evil from the past that interrupts the transcriptions.

Kvothe was the only survivor of a gypsy-like troupe who is murdered by a cruel unseen people. When he comes back to camp and sees his family murdered, he vows to find the killers.  Kvothe’s father taught him to be a gifted fiddle player which helps to lift him out of poverty. After 3 years living on the streets, he finally garners enough money and knowledge to earn him a spot in the University where he will learn history, medicine, languages, alchemy, and most importantly, various forms of magic. Kvothe is a quick learner and becomes skilled at most anything he touches. Even though he is a larger than life character, Kvothe is likable and not arrogant, unlike his nemesis, Ambrose.

Reading the first novel will make you thirst for the second.  Those who read The Name of the Wind when it first came out had to wait 4 years for Wise Man’s Fear. Day 2 of the Kingkiller Chronicles is written as skillfully as Day 1. Rothfuss’ attention to detail (hence 722 pages for Day 1 and 1120 pages for Day 2) can at times be a drudge, but it is never long before you are drawn back into the amazing and fantastic world he has created.

Day 3 of the Kingkiller Chronicles has not yet been released. The working title is The Doors of Stone and has no projected completion date as of this blog post. In the interim, Rothfuss is working on 2 novellas and a novel about characters from the Kingkiller Chronicles. One of the novellas was released October of 2014. The Slow Regard of Silent Things brings us into the world of Auri who lives among the dark, ancient passageways underneath The University and who Kvothe befriends at night on a hidden rooftop.

Even if you are not a reader of fantasy novels, Patrick Rothfuss’ stories are highly entertaining and sure to capture and hold your attention. They are so realistic you will believe he is writing about a place and time that really existed.  Here are the books to-date on Amazon:

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Robert Sabuda and Pop-Up Books

Robert Sabuda is a gifted artist who has experimented with many forms of illustration. His most notable body of work centers around pop-up books. His mastery of pop-ups and movable paper is remarkable.

Sabuda, born in 1965, is a native of Michigan who attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which is known for architecture, interior design, and industrial design fields of study. Sabuda gained recognition for his pop-up books starting with his first in 1994, The Mummy’s Tomb.

The pop-up book themes are geared toward children, but seeing a young child with one of Sabuda’s pop-ups will make you cringe in hopes that nothing will be damaged. Everyone can appreciate the beauty of his creations. The detail and his artistry is truly amazing. Typically every page has a primary pop-up and 1 or 2 pop-ups on the side to contribute to the story. His latest pop-up is The Little Mermaid.

It brings the under-the-sea tale to life!

Sabuda’s Encyclopedia series is very educational, but please don’t let your children abuse them.

We have “Winter’s Tale” in our personal collection which we bring out once a year with all our other Christmas decorations.

The pop-up’s in this book are all in white except for the last page which includes colored lights that brighten the snowman’s house.

We have a few Christmas cards from his collection as well.  I love Robert Sabuda’s pop-ups and love to share them with our seasonal visitors.
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A Fun, New Murder Mystery series by Steve Hockensmith and Lisa Falco

I recently learned that Steve Hockensmith has a new book out. 

The White Magic Five & Dime is a contemporary mystery with a tarot theme and is co-written with Lisa Falco.
While perusing the shelves in a local bookstore some years back, I’d guess 2007, I came across a colorful book with an interesting title, and after reading the blurbs decided to give it a chance. 

Holmes on the Range introduced me to the writing of Steve Hockensmith and to the Amlingmeyer brothers, the central characters of the book, and to the four books that followed. There’s a signed first edition of the book on ABE Books.

My wife and I usually have a designated book that we read aloud together – on car trips or when we just feel like reading together.  I enjoyed Holmes on the Range enough that I recommended it to her.  After that, each book in the series became our designated book.  We followed the Amlingmeyer brothers through adventure, drama, close shaves, and laughter in:  On the Wrong Track, The Black Dove, The Crack in the Lens, and The World’s Greatest Sleuth.

If you like a mystery, especially light-hearted with humorous dialog and cliff-hanging situations, you likely will enjoy this series of books.  The Amlingmeyer brothers are cowboys turned sleuths, and a classic pair of brothers they are.  Opposites in most ways, but each with attributes that complement the other’s in their endeavors at sleuthing and fighting their way out of tight situations. They are usually at odds with each other, but always looking out for each other.  As you ride along on their adventures and laugh at their disagreements, you also learn their backgrounds and their family history, and you see the relationship between them evolve.  Good fun, good reads.
There is also a book of short stories titled Dear Mr. Holmes that adds to the background of the brothers as well as some additional adventures.

Steve Hockensmith has been a prolific and diverse writer over the past eight or so years.  In addition to books already noted he has written several zombie-themed novels and co-written a series of quirky novels for middle-grade kids.  Add to that a couple of books of mystery short stories titled, Blarney: 12 Tales of Lies Crime and Mystery and Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime.

The zombie books include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:  Dawn of the Dreadfuls which is a prequel to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a Jane Austin revamp.  Hockensmith followed that with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:  Dreadfully Ever After.  He also published Cadaverin Chief:  A Special Report from the Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse.

The middle-grade books were co-written with Bob Pflugfelder and include:  Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab, Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle, Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage, and Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove.

I have read only the Amlingmeyer novels and short stories.  The others are outside my normal reading genres, though I am sure Hockensmith’s writing skills would serve them well.  The new mystery novel (The White Magic Five & Dime) is one that I plan to read, and I look forward to meeting some new characters from the source that gave us Big Red and Otto Amlingmeyer.