Faithful and My Sweet Vidalia Reviewed

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FAITHFUL by Alice Hoffman

There are certain books about which you discover, I needed to read this book at this very momentFaithful is such a book.  Shelby Richmond’s life has been derailed by a sudden tragedy for which she feels responsible, and the rest of this amazing novel is an atonement, a story of redemption and forgiveness, of moving forward in the most literal sense.  It is raw and beautiful, not overly dramatic, but always honest.  “She is vindictive, even when she’s the guilty party,” Hoffman writes.  “Perhaps it’s always true that when you wreck your own life, you blame everyone else for your misfortune.”  Shelby is a complicated character, pushing love away because she doesn’t deserve it, burying her feelings, shrinking into a pale, bald-headed, empty vessel.  That’s what I took away, but the writing is too beautiful to be captured in these trite descriptions.  At Alice Hoffman’s deft hand, Shelby Richmond is also worthy, understandable, honorable, a young girl set adrift, but one who will ultimately find her shoreline.  I give nothing away by saying that Faithful is tragic, optimistic and highly recommended.

MY SWEET VIDALIA by Deborah Mantella

One of my favorite reads this summer, MY SWEET VIDALIA, has the most unique point-of-view since Death narrated The Book Thief.  Though Vidalia Lee Kandal Jackson loses her unborn baby through an act of spousal abuse, Cieli Mae, the “determined spirit child,” will not leave her mother’s heart and psyche.  She stays on with the poverty stricken young woman through successive births and abuses, giving advice and moral support to her “Sweet Vidalia.”  Only an author as talented as Deborah Mantella could pull off this technique in such a seamless manner.  Cieli Mae becomes a cherished confidante to her mother and a delightful character to the reader.  You will root for this family and the colorful array of secondary characters too.  The well-plotted story reminded me a little of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFÉ with its southern charm and suspense.  Kudos to Deborah Mantella.  Can’t wait to see what she writes next!

A Man Called Ove and The Alliance

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A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

Imagine Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino (the movie, not the book). Ove’s kind of given up on life except for these pesky neighbors who are foisting their problems upon him. Now put him in Sweden, give him an interesting backstory and suicidal tendencies (that are comical—stay with me here) and you’ve got A Man Called Ove. I loved every page of this quirky book. If you’ve recently lost a spouse, it might not be the book for you, but otherwise it’s a winner. You will love Ove, appreciate his OCD-edness, admire his loyalty and laugh at his ability to say the absolutely wrong thing at the right time. FoxTale’s book club read it, and there was not a bad mouther in the group. A Man Called Ove is a book to be universally loved.

THE ALLIANCE by Jolina Petersheim

In the category of “write what you know,” Jolina Petersheim has met us halfway. What she knows is growing up Mennonite. What she doesn’t know is what happens if a Mennonite community has its values challenged by a society run amok by an EMP (electromagnetic pulse,) rendering all things electrical now useless. Would those who have learned to live off the land be attacked by city dwellers who are so dependent on the technology they are now deprived of? Would a pacifist community fight to protect its own? It’s an interesting premise and one that Jolina explores with a deft hand. My only criticism is that The Alliance is the first in a duology of books, and I’m dying to read the next one already! For readers of Hunger Games, and lovers of dystopian novels, dive into Petersheim’s The Alliance and got lost in another world that might be ours one day.

Lilac Girls and Vinegar Girl

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Diametrically Opposed Books About “Girls,” by Ellen Ward

LILAC GIRLS bylilac girl kelly York Times Bestseller List has already declared Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel a book to be reckoned with.  But let me add that, in the opinion of this bookseller, LILAC GIRLS is one of the finest books I’ve read all year. 

Expertly told from the point of view of three women who experienced the holocaust in different ways, you cannot help but be drawn into their stories.  The American, Carolyn Ferriday, and the German doctor, Herta Oberhauser, are historical characters; their backgrounds have been meticulously        researched by Kelly.  The third story is fictitious, but all too real among the atrocities of war; in this case, Kasia, captured as a young girl, is the victim of medical experimentation at a concentration camp, Ravensbruck, an actual all-women’s camp known for hideous surgeries on its prisoners.

It’s a dark time in history, but much seems relevant to today’s highly charged political climate:  xenophobia, propaganda, and a glaring naiveté to what is happening right in front of us.  Still, Lilac Girls is oddly hopeful.  In the end there is forgiveness, rebuilding and enduring love.  We all know the story of the Holocaust and how it ends, but reading this award-worthy novel will give you sparks of enlightenment, contributing to an awareness that may keep us from repeating the past.


VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

Ivinegarn this thin volume, Anne Tyler does what she does best—develop quirky, loveable characters with lives trapped in the mundane.  Whether it’s a mother walking down the beach and never coming back, or a businessman who writes travelogues for a living, Tyler’s characters are stuck in motion, defensive about their quicksand lives until they see freedom on the horizon.

Kate Battista is the Vinegar Girl, and Pyotr, her father’s lab assistant, is freedom, no matter how unattractively it’s packaged.  Tyler’s novels are not so much surprising as they are pleasantly familiar, like catching up with a good friend you haven’t talked to in years. VINEGAR GIRL is a quick read with a satisfying story but nothing that will keep you up at night pondering its philosophical implications.  What makes this Anne Tyler novel unique is that it is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.  Those who enjoyed READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND will jump rightinto the plotline of VINEGAR GIRL. Signed first editions are available at FoxTale Book Shoppe.

Where All Light Tends to Go

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You have to meet David Joy, all 6’5” of him, to really appreciate the irony of his new novel which is so at odds with his personal life.  Where All the Light Tends to Go is a story on full throttle, about rotten-toothed meth heads, bad cops and parents so pathological they make Honey Boo Boo’s mom look like a saint.  (David’s parents were at FoxTale, ever-so-proud of their author son, resembling main character Jacob McNeely’s folks not in the least.)  And David is quick to tell you his debut novel is not autobiographical.  So what’s the author’s inspiration?   “They’re my people,” he says of the grittier side of North Carolina; clearly Joy understands—even respects—their desperation, although he doesn’t share it.  Joy brings a sense of optimism to an otherwise bleak existence and makes the reader care about the possibilities of redemption and escape, the power of hope and sacrifice.  Where All where all the lightLight Tends to Go is a tale that’s described as Breaking Bad meets Winter’s Bone, so don’t read it if you simply must have a PG-rated story.  But if you’re looking for beautiful writing in the vein of Larry Brown or Ron Rash or Andre Dubus III, where there’s still light in the darkest corners of God’s green earth, this is a book that will make you think.  It is a real story, raw and painful with a beauty all its own.  With a unique literary voice and this powerful debut novel under his belt, I predict we will continue to hear great things from David Joy.   I, for one, am already hooked.


“I love that story.”— Kevin Costner

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Fox Ellen and Kevin Costner discuss his new book, THE EXPLORERS GUILD

Fox Ellen and Kevin Costner discuss his new book, THE EXPLORERS GUILD

Book Shop Owner Meets Movie Star

Yes, Virginia, that’s me with Kevin Costner, actor, director, musician, conservationist, author.  Stop the bus . . . . AUTHOR?  More on that in a minute.  First let me tell you how this all came about.

The Foxes sometimes get tickets for movie premiers in Atlanta, so it wasn’t unusual for our Simon and Schuster rep, Barbara Roach, to send some our way.  Atlantic Station was to host the movie, Black Or White; both Costner and co-star Anthony Mackie would be there, I was told.  “Maybe you’ll get to meet Kevin Costner.” Barbara knew he was one of my favorite actors.  But what were the odds of actually meeting him?  When pigs fly, I thought.

We arrived to find our seats in the “Guest of Costner” section, the first clue that this would be no ordinary evening. Monica Kauffman and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed introduced the stars who talked for a few minutes about the movie.  Then we sat back in premium seating to enjoy the show.

Costner is at the stage of his career where he can invest in projects he believes in, without stressing about commercial success. Black or White is that kind of worthwhile project, he says, because it sends a message he is passionate about.  Both Costner, Mackie and Octavia Spencer (alas, she was not present at the star-studded event) delivered fine performances that turn stereotypical expectations upside down.  The story addresses racial conflict, but not with the same tired knee-jerk reactions we’ve grown accustomed to from Hollywood.  It’s a story that transcends politics. Black or White is a breath of fresh air with an honest, thought-provoking script and flawed, all-too-human characters struggling to do the right thing.

After the movie, Costner’s long-time friend and business partner, Rod Lake, invited us to the “top of the stairs” to talk and possibly meet Costner.  For several minutes we talked about the importance of books, how we despise e-readers, what he, Rod, read as a child, that Kevin Costner had written a book, the first of an adventure series.  Wait.  Did you say Costner has a new book coming out?  Would he, could he, will he . . . . tour for said book, and if he does, would he consider MAYBE coming to . . . FoxTale?  Then, smooth as silk, Kevin Costner was standing with us looking tan and handsome and younger in person than the man we’d just watched on the screen.  He waited patiently while I tripped over my tongue complimenting the movie and telling him—yes, I actually said this—that I had grown up watching his movies. (He’s a whole year older than me, but whatev, Kev.)  I asked him about his book and he said it was an adventure story, the kind he liked to read as a child, in the style of Rudyard Kipling.  The Explorers Guild, Volume One: A Passage To Shambhala, will be published later this year, and he hopes it will appeal to both a young-adult and mature audience.  It may also be a feature film in which Costner will star and produce.

I reached in my purse and whipped out a FoxTale Book Shoppe bookmark which conveniently had Foxy names and contact information listed.

“I know you may not remember this when it’s time,” I told him, “but we’d be honored to have you visit FoxTale with your new book.”

“I’d love to,” I think he said.  “I won’t forget.”  Then Rod Lake took the bookmark and stuck it in his breast pocket and said that FoxTale would be among the stores they visited this fall.  This fall!

Next came pictures, and I was so relaxed by then that I told Kevin Costner something I have been embarrassing my son Sean with for many, many years.

“So my son, Sean, is 23 years old, and he hates it when I tell this story.  But he was actually conceived the night that I saw Dances With Wolves.”

Kevin and I continued posing for cell phone pictures, and there seemed to be a slight delay in response while he absorbed what I’d said.  Then he flashed that famous Kevin Costner smile at me.

“I love that story,” he said.


THE PARIS ARCHITECT by Charles Belfoure

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paris architect

“A beautiful and elegant account of an ordinary man’s unexpected and reluctant descent into heroism during the second world war.” –Malcolm Gladwell

Since Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors, I was particularly attracted to THE PARIS ARCHITECT, though I am a little burned out on all the World War II novels as of late.  This story is from the point of view of a French architect who participates in the war effort in a very creative way, designing elaborate hideaways for Jews and taking pleasure in outwitting the Gestapo.

This is Charles Belfoure’s debut novel, and he tells a compelling story rich in architectural details. (He is an architect by profession, specializing in historic preservation.)  I enjoyed the author’s unique perspective and his explanation of stereotypical French values (or lack thereof) regarding mistresses, traitors, and wartime courage.  While Belfoure displayed a convincing knowledge of European architecture and gave an interesting historical context for architect Lucien Bernard to demonstrate his talents, I found the characters to be a little too cookie cutter good/evil for my tastes.  An experienced novelist paints a picture and allows the reader to draw his/her own conclusions about morality, but Belfoure too often spelled out the obvious, taking a character from anti-Semitic philandering mercenary to courageous humanitarian. “He thought he didn’t have it in him to help another human being.  But to his great surprise, he did.  He was proud of it.  And he had proved his father wrong.”

Despite the somewhat amateurish portrayal of characters, the unique story line more than carried the novel, and I found it to be quite a page-turner. Belfoure is not of Ken Follett caliber, but the two authors do have similar styles.  Fans of historical fiction and suspense will find THE PARIS ARCHITECT a satisfying and entertaining read.

Tired of London? Tired of Life.

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That’s what the Brits say, and I can see the truth in it.  Our weekend has been a blur of amazement with these highlights:

Notting Hill—There were no Hugh Grant spottings, but the quaint charm of the area, the fabulous shopping and the food equal @110 Woodstocks packed into about the same geographical area.  There are tons of open air market-type shops selling antiques, china, rare books (yes, right on the street!), silver, jewelry, umbrellas, scarves.  It’s flat-out overwhelming in magnitude.  There are permanent shops there too, and on the weekend they all sort of spill out onto the street.  And that’s not even mentioning the food of astounding variety, with all

Lutyens & Rubenstein

Lutyens & Rubinstein

ethnicities represented.  Megan and I had freshly grilled fish with vegetables and a killer sauce, wrapped in pita bread along with a cooked-on-the-spot cream-filled doughnut.  This was inhaled while sitting on the steps of someone’s flat since every other square inch is occupied by someone selling their wares.  We also bought a lemon tart which we were too full to eat, so guess what’s for dinner tonight?  Of course we found bookstores, two amazing ones in fact.  Lutyens & Rubinstein is a couple years younger than FoxTale, opened by two literary agents who allegedly cut deals downstairs behind a pair of sliding bookshelves.  We had great conversation with Caroline that day, and she is sending a friend (fellow Brit, new to Atlanta) to FoxTale for some southern hospitality.

Books for Cooks

Books for Cooks

Books for Cooks is Ana Raquel’s kind of place with 8000 “cookery books” and a test kitchen where you can buy lunch or take cooking classes.

Jack the Ripper Walking Tour—Megan has inherited her weird tendencies towards the bizarre from me, so we were super stoked about walking in the footsteps of London’s notorious serial killer on the seedier side of London and not disappointed in the least.   Our guide, Jamey, with a jaunty little Sherlock Holmes hat, had the necessary flair for drama and a gadget where he projected images onto the wall, showing all the gory details.  “You may want to look away if you have a weak stomach, but then again, you most likely wouldn’t be on a Jack the Ripper tour if you do.”  We walked along “the most dangerous street in London” where even the police wouldn’t intervene during Jack’s reign.  More disturbing to me than the murders were the poverty and desperation and degradation of women during the late 1800s.  Prostitutes, called “unfortunates,” lived in “doss houses” for pennies a night (when they had them) under the most deplorable conditions and were truly doing what they had to do to survive (sometimes even sent out by their husbands to market the only commodity left to sell.)  Disease was widespread, and at least one of JTR’s victims was already close to death from tuberculosis when her life ended.  The tour was an historical eye-opener to a time we hope never to revisit and a grisly, spunky way to spend an evening.  Afterwards, we walked up Brick Lane, home to dozens of Bangladeshi-owned curry houses, in search of the perfect meal.  The area is famous for its touts, which in British English, describes people who solicit business or employment in a persistent and annoying manner.  The touts were in full force, offering free drinks, appetizers, discounts.  “Lady, look here!  Ladies, come in here, you have to eat food!” We stopped at Aladdin, recommended by our guide Jamey, and feasted on curried lamb and coconut chicken and vegetables and jasmine rice.  This part of London is being threatened by gentrification, and Megan has vowed to support each and every curry house with her pounds (or does she mean pounds?)

High Tea at The Wolseley—To be honest, they don’t have anything over Tea Leaves & Thyme in terms of menu, but we had to experience high tea London-style for atmosphere.  Finger sandwiches, fruit scones (served with clotted cream and strawberry jam, but none of Kim Jordy’s delicious lemon curd!) and a host of small desserts.  Very filling, in fact we took our desserts with us in a cute box with the Wolseley imprint on it.  So very posh (and expensive,) dahling!

A Comedy of Errors at The Globe—OMG.  We actually saw Shakespeare performed in The Globe!  This may have been the highlight of the weekend, though it was all wonderful.  Megan and I were too wussy to opt for the “groundling” tickets where you stand for the whole

Globe Theater

Globe Theater

performance, rain or shine, so we were seated on the benches that form leveled seating in the shape of a horseshoe around the stage.  What can I even say about the performance?  It was authentic, funny, magical, delivered with lovely, hard-to-decipher British accents (oh yeah, they don’t have accents; we do!)  Food props were thrown into the audience and thrown right back onto the stage.  Actors addressed, sometimes even heckled, the audience, remarking on one man’s bald pate for several minutes.  As in the days of yore, the audience brought in food and ate during the show, so we pulled out our little box of Wolseley sweets and tried to look common.  Overhead was the night sky, a clear night, but breezy.  During Shakespeare’s time, performances were only held during the day, but lighting makes it possible to see evening performances now.  Still, no amplification for the actors, and if it rains, the show goes on!

Still in awe, we crossed back over the Thames, taking in London, St. Paul’s Cathedral straight ahead, the Tower Bridge to our right, Megan calling out the familiar landmarks:  The Gherkin (looks like a pickle,) The Shard (looks like a shard.)  Over there Picadilly and Covent Gardens and Chinatown and . . . that way, Westminster and Buckingham Palace, there the Royal Opera House.  “They say ‘if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.’  I don’t know if a year will be enough to do all I want to do,” she said.  “I don’t know if a month is enough for me,” I answered.  Megan was wrapped in a heavy scarf turned shawl, and I reached under it to tuck my arm into hers, seeking her warmth, her certainty.

Flat-footed, sure-footed, she is taller than me now.

Last Stop, Cockfosters

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There’s a scene in the old European Family Vacation movie where Chevy Chase rams into a car while driving through England on the wrong side of the road and an old British man gets out and, instead of being furious and cursing him, jovially says he was done a favor because the car was old anyway, and he thanks Chevy Chase for destroying it to the point that he will be able to buy a new one.  Until my visit to the UK, I never realized why this was funny, but it’s true, the British are unfailingly polite.  Even the announcements on the train are polite, “Mind the gap,” one will say so you don’t step into the eight inch space between the train and the platform.  “Last stop, Cockfosters,” politely, with nary a snicker.  And when my husband, in a rare fit of indecision, got hung up in the door while trying to decide if we were at the right station, the kindest, most non-judgmental voice said mildly, “Someone is interfering with the closing of the door.”  The train door itself was not so kind and left rubber track marks on the side of Kevin’s face and ear, but the announcement was polite.

My daughter Megan has immersed herself in this kinder, gentler culture.  Before I place something in the recycling bag, to be picked up outside her door, I am to rinse it or shake out the crumbs.  In other words, make sure the garbage is clean so as not to offend the handlers.  (There are no trash cans on the street due to bombings that occurred here in the past.)  Megan’s flat, in the heart of a busy Chelsea neighborhood, is noisy with traffic, but absent of horns and shouts from the drivers. Even emergency sirens are only used in bursts to get through traffic, then politely turned off.  On the street are painted reminders to “Look Left” or “Look Right,” as it would not be proper to step in front of an unexpected vehicle.  If you happen to be in a museum at closing time, there is no obnoxious loud speaker announcement, no “five minutes to closing,” just a guard who waits patiently at the door until people move on.

Restaurant service is quite different from home.  Wait staff are paid normal wages and do not rely on tips.  Though restaurants will suggest a 12% service charge which is printed on the bill, it isn’t mandatory, and you are not expected to leave anything more than that.  One waitress asked me to pay up front or at least hand over my credit card until the meal came, but she said it so politely that I paid without question.  In London, you will not be hovered over.  No “Hi, I’m Bambi, and I will be your server today!” No fake intimacy with the Brits.  One day last week, I finished the book I was reading, an advanced reader’s copy of the new Mitford book by Jan Karon, while

Jan Karon's Newest, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Jan Karon’s Newest, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

eating lunch at a café.  I asked my waitress if she would like it, and she enthusiastically accepted, thanked me several times and said she would read it straightaway.  She was fair-skinned with auburn hair, a pretty girl in her twenties, and she didn’t tell me her name.  I wished I’d had a FoxTale bookmark to put inside, but then decided that might have been considered too forward.  The American tendency to act with the expectation of return is diminished here, and it’s refreshing.

John Sandoe (Books) LTD

John Sandoe (Books) LTD

Yesterday I visited John Sandoe (Books) Ltd, a pleasant walk from Megan’s flat down King’s Road.  It was a beautiful little store on three levels with creaky wood floors and narrow staircases.  Once again, there was no immediate interaction when I came in, but my request for information about how the store was laid out was answered in full, and the clerk went so far as to put a book in my hands when he saw me looking over the titles of Haruki Murakami.  While I browsed, an older gentleman came in seeking a recommendation for a gift, and the clerk—a young man in his twenties—was once again polite and helpful.  The older Brit was clearly a regular customer, as there was conversation about putting the purchase on his account and talk of ordering another book.  “Can you ring me up when it comes in,” he asked.  But of course.  Like in the states, booksellers in London order from wholesalers to meet special orders, and the turnaround time was just a matter of days.   After a couple hours of leisurely browsing, I purchased The Hunting of The Snark, An Agony in Eight Fits, by Lewis Carroll, a beautiful little hardcover book for my new Brit Lit Shelf and Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (the British version.)

Because we have tickets for The Comedy of Errors at the Globe, l wanted a small version to refresh my knowledge, but John Sandoe was out of it.  So was the next bookstore I tried (perhaps all the ticketholders had the same idea,) so I reluctantly tried Waterstone Books, the London equivalent to a Barnes and Noble.  In fact, it was laid out exactly like a chain store in the U.S. with “Buy One, Get One Half Off” books for many popular titles.  Among them was our friend Tom Franklin again, but this time A Tilted World was categorized as New Crime.  Jamie Mason’s Three Graves Full was there too.   Still, no copy of The Comedy of Errors was to be found, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything else at a chain store.

Chocolate TO DIE FOR!

Chocolate TO DIE FOR!

Along the way I discovered a wonderful place, Rococo Chocolates where I sampled passion fruit crème chocolate, a salted caramel and—my favorite—rose crème chocolate.  To die for, and shop was so European and wonderful

.  Just down the road, I stopped into an old fashioned stationery shop which had all manner of paper and journals and cards and things to write on.  I also found a rubber stamp shop with Stampington magazines and thousands

Green & Stone, An Art Lover's Delight

Green & Stone, An Art Lover’s Delight

of stamps and ink pads of everything photo(20)imaginable, perfect for art journaling.  But my favorite place yesterday (non-bookstore retail) was Green and Stone, an old world art shop with paints and inks and art desks and ephemera, enough to make Karen Schwettman weep with passion.

With all my travels, I didn’t make it to Victoria and Albert Museum, so off I go again today.  The charm of London is what you find on the way to where you thought you were going.

London: A Bookseller’s Journey

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It’s hard to fathom a city brimming with bookstores, some more than a century old, a town where newspapers are free, where commuters read real honest-to-God books, where you can spot as many book posters as movie trailers in the train station.  Yes, London is a bookseller’s paradise, and I am officially indulging, even overdosing on the cultural niceties of this amazing city.

Today was my first solo day in London, my daughter Megan having jetted off to Dubai, leaving me to my own devices.  I grabbed my Oyster Card (a pre-loaded bus/train pass,) downloaded my route and took off for “a literary walk around Bloomsbury.”  Coincidentally, I have been reading an advanced reader’s copy of VANESSA AND HER SISTER by Priya Parmar, a Random House book out next January about this very part of London where Virginia Wolfe (Vanessa’s sister) lived and socialized with other writers and artists.  Also associated with Bloomsbury are TS Eliot, Sylvia Plath, WB Yeats and Charles Dickens.  Oh, the history in this town, and what a place to get lost in!

As has become my habit in London, I started with an indie bookstore.  In this case, the London Review Bookshop.  (I have yet to find it spelled Shoppe in England.  And we Foxes thought we were being so cleverly olde world with that spelling!)  LRB was less intimidating than some bookstores I have visited here because it was not opened until 2003, making it just four years older than london review bookshopFoxTale. Compare that to at least two bookstores I’ve visited which are over a century old.  Like us, LRB seemed to have a pretty busy event calendar.  Unlike FoxTale, they charge attendance for these book signings, usually ten pounds ($16.27 U.S.,) and this seems to be the norm in London.  Popular authors command double that amount, and events get sold out quickly.  Around town while I’m here, Sue Monk Kidd will be signing The Invention of Wings (€20.)  Lee Child is sold out at several different bookstores.  Unknown-to-me authors also come with a price tag, though I may do it just to experience a British book signing.  Unfortunately I missed a free “party” at, of all places, Slightly Foxed, a bookstore which produces an anthology from contributing authors (customers?)  Spotted a copy of The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly—one of my Fox Picks—while at this cute bookstore.  I am considering seeing Ken Follett next week if I can work him into my busy schedule between a performance of Comedy of Errors at the Globe and The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theater.  (A first world problem to be sure, but I will come home as poor as a Dickens pauper.)

But back to the British trend of charging for book events.  No worries, we won’t be upping the ante for our author events at FoxTale, but it’s interesting to note the difference.  Do the Brits value books and authors more, or is it part of their philosophy that “nothing should be free,” as one Londoner explained to me?  Book prices seem consistent with the U.S., with maybe more of a preponderance of paperbacks.  Yet there are wonderful markdowns to be found, and I have almost filled a suitcase with what will make up a British Shelf at FoxTale when I return. Other differences?  London Review Bookshop was neat and well-stocked but—dare I say—lacking in the eclectic charm of FoxTale.  Also of note, there is little interaction among store clerks and clientele.  I’ve heard no enthusiastic book recommendations, witnessed no warm hugs, no passing out of garden vegetables to customers, no raucous laughter, no tattoos and dancing to the hokey pokey in the kids room.  Definitely British booksellers are more, ahem, refined than the Foxes.

british museumThen, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon I was off to the British Museum, directly across the street, where the history was absolutely staggering.  The museum itself was established in 1753, and some of the more than 13 million works are dated over two million years old.  How is this even possible?!?  I spent most of my time in the Egyptian/Greek section which housed parts of the Parthenon and the Rosetta Stone.  Yes, the Rosetta Stone.  (The Magna Carta is in the nearby British Library; more on that institution later.)  I seriously had trouble wrapping my head around room after room of ancient grandeur.  If it was younger than say, 3300 BC, I just walked on.

I ended the day in a pastry/tea shop where I ordered a pot of tea and a scone with clotted cream.  (The Brits charge a bit extra if you are eating in as opposed to “take away.”  Nothing’s free.)  I had no idea what clotted cream was, but envisioned a nice dollop in my tea.  My scone was the size of a bagel, and it came with a large portion of butter and jam, or so I thought.  The tea was served with sugar and cream that did not look clotted in the least.  Curiosity overcame me and I asked two delightful ladies sitting beside me to define clotted cream.  They said it was not to put in tea, but to spread on scones, that it was rather, well, clotted and the color of butter.  The more talkative of the two pointed at what I mistook for butter and said, “rather like that.”  The two ladies coached me in the “proper” way to apply clotted cream to my scone which was to spread it liberally (“more, more, put it on”), top it with jam, then put yet more clotted cream on top of that.  If Kim Jordy is not yet serving clotted cream at Tea Leaves and Thyme, she must do so immediately!

The two British ladies, whose table was almost touching mine, had been talking politics prior to my interruption.  Scotland is threatening to secede from the UK, causing a bit of alarm in England, and the Brits seem to be taking it personally.  Joan, the quieter of the two, suggested that her friend, (I’ll call her Rona) didn’t have enough information to form a proper opinion on their topic of discussion and suggested she leave it up to the politicians.  Rona vehemently (for a Brit) objected that she did too know what she was talking about, that she read the papers and was outraged.  They were eating from bowls of a thin soup the color of parsley and followed that with slices of pie, perhaps lemon.  “You’re an authentic Southern Belle,” Rona said when I told her where I was from.  She didn’t think she would like our politics in the south, Rona said, but she would like to visit Atlanta to see the antebellum homes.  Her experience of the U.S. was limited to Texas, and she found the food there deplorable.  She couldn’t even taste the food for the heat at a “Tex Mex” restaurant where Americans ate copious amounts of spicy food that masked all the flavor and washed it down with sugar-filled colas.  She had also sampled biscuits and was woefully unimpressed.  “They took a large scone which they called a biscuit and put gravy on it, rendering it completely soggy,” she lamented.

When I told her about FoxTale, Rona revealed that her quiet friend Joan Lock

Joan Lock, Author

Joan Lock, Author

was an author of some prominence.  Joan was quite shy about it, but finally gave me a list of her most popular crime novels, Dead Image, Dead Bones and Dead Letter. Online, I learned that the unassuming Joan is a former nurse and policewoman and the author of eleven non-fiction police/crime books, including three on Scotland Yard’s First detectives.   I will add her books to my list.

Today, I’m off to The Victoria and Albert Museum, with a stop along the way to John Sandoe Books.  Updates to come!

The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

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It’s hard to be objective about Susan Gregg Gilmore.  Not only do we admire her writing (LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN captured our hearts when FoxTale was a little bitty baby bookstore,) but we love Susan “The Person” and Dan “The Husband” as well!  It’s one of the joys of bookselling, having the opportunity to really get to know our authors, and to be there as they give birth to their novels.   Susan is coming back to FoxTale on April 10 (2014) along with the wondrous Wendy Webb.  To get you in the mood for a super author event, here’s the review I wrote just before THE FUNERAL DRESS was published:

The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Gilmore has captured the essence of the indomitable female spirit in THE FUNERAL DRESSa story about mothers (childless and otherwise) who are born to nurture, to mentor, and to protect the needy with unabashed ferocity. I watched main character Emmalee Bullard’s fingers take careful stitches of the burying dress and bore witness to her grief as if I shared the very room with her, so well-crafted was this novel.  Emmalee and the other strong women of Red Chert Holler circled my heart as they went through their tiring and not-so-fictional days sewing collars and sleeves in a workplace where they endured a host of abuses and indignities, but still found room to respect and watch out for one another.

     After work was when their real jobs began, as they took care of their community in the way generations of Southern women have known how:  delivering food and dispensing advice that left no room for argument from lily-livered men who stood between them and what needed to be done.  I was rooting so hard for Emmalee Bullard, that I shouted at my book in several scenes.   Susan Gregg Gilmore has written a thoughtful, inspiring story that will flat out stay with you after you turn the last page. Read THE FUNERAL DRESS in honor of the rocking strong women in your life.