A latte-aholic seeking nirvana 20 oz. at a time. Books are also an addiction. I guess that makes me a hyperbibliophile.

Sunday Salon: A Certain Slant of Light

Hope In A Prison of Despair

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
– Emily Dickinson


I started this essay a bit ago, but wanted the dust and my reaction to settle before posting it. What helped was understanding the origin and nature of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman (GSAW) which became, through the efforts of an excellent editor, To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM). The following facts also helped.

  • It is semi-autobiographical.
  • Atticus Finch is based upon Lee’s Father, Amasa Coleman Lee. (Finch is her mother’s maiden name)
  • Amasa Lee was a segregationist until later in life when he had a change of heart and spoke passionately about integration.
  • Harper Lee was raised in the same culture as her father, but in a “do as I say, not as I do” way that allowed her a clearer view of the world so she did not have those same prejudices that he did.

That last point is very important and one I have personal experience with. You see I’m only a first generation “Yankee”. My family comes from Arkansas, and from a segment of society somewhere just above the Ewell’s but below the Finch’s. I especially remember my grandmother telling me what it was like when she first came to California and when she met my grandfather. How he came from a family that considered her socially inferior. To make a long story short, after their marriage, my grandfather had little contact with his family. They could, and never would, accept my grandmother.

It’s just the way it was back then. To get a better idea of how Central California felt about “Okies” and “Arkies” like my grandmother, The Grapes of Wrath is a great primer.

Then, and even in some parts of the South now, there was a strict social structure as well as a racial one. This is why TKAM means so much to me – it’s a glimpse into a world that my family was once a part of.

It’s also why I’ve come to accept that Atticus Finch is more complex and flawed than previously believed. I admit, it was shocking at first, but eventually believable.

I also have to take into account that the narrator in TKAM is a six-year old girl who sees her father in a light that we all seem to have when it comes to beloved parents: not necessarily accurate and definitely touched by a little hero-worship.

GSAW is a raw, unedited story narrated by an adult woman who is looking back at a culture and a father in a way that pulls them out of a softened memory and shines a glaring and judgmental light on them.

I grew up seeing how difficult it is to integrate two different cultures. I’ve seen that it is possible to accept the negatives without detracting from the positives. One is not born a racist. Being raised by racists do not make you one. It is all about your choices, and more importantly, those choices are not permanent and disabling.

As much as Atticus/Amasa wanted his children to not judge people by their lot in life, he knew all too well this was how it worked. When Scout/Harper realized he was a more active member of a racist society than she had believed, she was confused and hurt. GSAW is her reaction. A letter to her past, her father, and her town. A letter she wanted at one time to be public; to shine a light on the good and the bad in the hopes that there would be some who saw the light and would change – much like her father did.

After the success of TKAM, seeing the effect Atticus had on readers, I believe Harper decided to shelve GSAW because she didn’t want those adoring fans to see Atticus in a way she had. That maybe in time, after her death, the public would be ready. That decision seems to have been taken away from her, but whatever the truth behind the release, it’s out and here to stay.

In real life, her father (and thus Atticus) was a man Scout/Harper grew to respect and love with all her heart. She accepted his change of heart, so If she can, then I can too.

The challenge is learning to accept the shadows of the past which are created when the light of maturity glows harshly and heavy upon it. But the light is fleeting and will change. Sometimes for the worse, but many times for the better.

This is how I will read Watchman: understanding that Atticus is a flawed creature who eventually changed for the better. In TKAM he taught me about moral rectitude. In GSAW, he will teach me how this lesson has a price and doesn’t always come swathed in a beautiful and perfect package.

PS – As an aside, the other shocking revelation in GSAW was handled badly, but it was based what happened to Harper’s real brother, so of course it happens to Jem. Another lesson in the realities of life and how quickly and shockingly it can change from one heartbeat to the next.






Sunday Salon: Book Sale Bonanza


I’ve mentioned my love for libraries and the very active and productive Friends of Washoe County Library. Just last year, through their efforts, $114,600 was raised to benefit the Washoe County Library system.

Reno has always been a haven for book lovers as evidenced by the excellent independents we have (Grassroots Books and Sundance for example), as well as having a thriving Barnes & Noble.

It’s no wonder that this community does all it can to support the library. As you can see below, I did my part. Thirty-four dollars for twenty-three amazing finds to add to my home library. From what I saw, I wasn’t the only one finding great books. One couple needed to borrow a cart from the volunteers to get all their purchases to their car.

Does your community have a Friends of the Library group? If not, is there something you can do? Every little bit helps and with dedicated volunteers, much can be accomplished.

So, about my Book Sale Bonanza Booty.

  • Three by Tey – Josephine Tey
    (Miss Pym Disposes, The Franchise Affair, Brat Farrar)
    If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, then you should know Josephine Tey. You really should.
  • And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
    A nice trade paperback re-issue edition. Just couldn’t pass it up.
  • The Best of Rumpole – John Mortimer
    Rumpole of the Bailey. Need I say more? I can see from the blank look on your face I’m dating myself. It ran on the BBC from 1978 to 1992….and, wow, that was a long time ago.
  • Busted Flush & Suicide Kings (both Wild Cards)
    George R.R. Martin stories outside of Westeros-along with other excellent Science Fiction/Fantasy writers. Each book is an anthology but with a theme based in a shared universe.
  • Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
    Second book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, winner of the Booker and Costa awards, this is a sequel as good or better than the original. Can’t wait for the last book, The Mirror and Light.
  • The Winthrop Woman – Anya Seton
    Lovers of historical fiction will understand why this one book might be the best find of the day. If you haven’t read any Seton (Katherine, Green Darkness) you should. Her well-researched stories are the epitome of the genre.
  • Our Kind of Traitor – John le Carré
    No, not a Smiley novel, but still a story of intrigue and suspense.
  • Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder – Gyles Brandreth
    (formerly Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death)
  • Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance – Gyles Brandreth
    (formerly Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders)
  • Kingdom of the Golden Dragon – Isabel Allende
    Book Two in the City of Beasts series, plus…it’s ALLENDE.
  • The Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi
    Second book in the Old Man’s War series. I am quickly becoming a fanatic…I mean a fan of Scalzi’s work.
  • The Pyramid – Henning Mankell
    A book in the Wallander series. I’ve been enjoying noir fiction from Stieg Larsson (Swedish) and Jo Nesbø (Norwegian), so adding Mankell (Swedish) seems a logical step that I plan to enjoy.
  • The Troubled Man – Henning Mankell
    Another Wallander book.
  • The Shadow Girls – Henning Mankell
    The Man From Beijing – Henning Mankell
    Not more Wallander books. I wanted see what Mankell’s stand-alone books are like and the price for trying them was right.
  • The Bat and Phantom (both Harry Hole novels) – Jo Nesbo
    The Bat is chronologically the first. Sometimes I just want to smack Harry upside the head, but he is a character you love to hate to love.
  • Doctor Sleep – Stephen King
    Hmm, a sequel to The Shining. Thought since they had an excellent paperback edition for only $4, I’d give it a shot.
  • The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives – James Blaylock
    As one of the pioneers of Steampunk, I just had to get some of Blaylock’s work. This actually is made up of several stories including Lord Kelvin’s Machine. Definitely couldn’t pass it up.
  • Death Is Now My Neighbor and The Daughters of Cain– Colin Dexter
    An Inspector Morse mystery. I was introduced to Morse through PBS and am enjoying reading through the books that spawned Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavour.
  • A Murderous Procession – Ariana Franklin
    Another historical fiction mystery. It’s no trend. At this point, I guess it’s an obsession. A happy one!

Been to any good book sales recently? Hope your finds were as good as mine, if not better!





Review: Fiddlehead

Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest
a Novel of the Clockwork Century
Steampunk/Fantasy/Alternative History
ISBN: 9780765334077
A Tor Paperback


FTC Disclosure: Oh, it’s mine. ALL MINE.


One of Steampunk’s better series comes to an end. For now.

How bittersweet it was turning that last page. Luckily, Cherie Priest has written other books and stories that I hope to get my hands on — SOON..

This is one of those series that you want to re-read almost as soon as you put down the last book. The development of the story and all its characters are what made this so good, not to mention so hard to say good-bye to.

Priest has always been an author I love to recommend as an introduction to Steampunk along with Gail Carriger and Scott Westerfeld. The Clockwork Century books aren’t as traditional as some being set during an alternative version of the Civil War, but that difference is what, I think, helps American readers connect to the genre.

What I love about Steampunk is that I’ve found it not to be heavily gender based, at least not in the series I’ve read. Yes there are definite male and female protagonists, but I never feel I am reading something girly or over the top masculine. In the Clockwork Century books, storylines are divvied up nicely regardless of gender, color, and/or social background. Also every book, including Fiddlehead, remains true to the Steampunk world and an accuracy to history even though it’s been tweaked in order to fit well into an alternate rendition.

Fiddlehead is the name given to an extraordinary calculating machine, so called because it is so quick and smart, it’s function could “fiddle with a fellow’s head”. It’s inventor, a freed slave and genius Dr. Gideon Bardsley, constructed Fiddlehead to help end the war. Unfortunately war is expensive and profitable. There are those that don’t want Fiddlehead to survive. Or Dr. Bardsley for that matter.

Enter ex-spy and current Pinkerton operative by the name of Maria “Belle” Boyd. Formerly working for the Confederacy, now for the Union, she just wants to move on with her life and help end the war. Trusting her when few do, Allan Pinkerton sends her to Abraham Lincoln when he asks for help in protecting Dr. Bardsley, who happens to be one of the people who trust Belle the least based upon her past. Oh the tangled webs.

It’s just one of the many challenges she, as well as those who support Lincoln and Fiddlehead’s information, will face in order to end the war when there are those more powerful who don’t. More than just the United States is facing a world-ending catastrophe and it takes all of Dr. Bardsley genius, Belle’s cleverness, and Lincoln’s power to prove this potential for Armageddon and get the war to end.

It’s a wild ride from start to finish, so be sure to set enough time aside to enjoy it.

I’m sad to have to say farewell to them all, but I know it’s not a final good-bye. Cherie Priest has other books and just came out with one (Maplecroft) that from what I can see, will have me falling even more in love with her writing.

Love this book. Love the series.

You will too.





Cherie Priest is the author of several books, including Boneshaker, the first Clockwork Century book, which won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and keeps a popular blog a www.cheriepriest.com.