The Ink Penn: All About Books by Kathy Manos Penn

Kathy Penn        Lord Banjo   The Ink Penn

Kathy Manos Penn is an author and columnist. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. For more information, visit kathymanospenn.com,  follow Kathy on Facebook, or write her at inkpenn119@gmail.com. Find her books locally in the Hallmark Shops on Mansell Road and at the Forum.

09/16/18 Why am I reading books set in Devon, Oxford and the Cotswolds?

Because in addition to London, those are the locales I’ll soon visit in Great Britain. One of my greatest travel pleasures is preparing for a trip by reading fiction, especially mysteries, set in the locales I visit.

I prefer books to hold in my hands, but for international travel, only my Kindle will do. Because I read British mysteries nonstop, finding a select few set in Devon, Oxford and the Cotswolds required an entertaining internet search. That effort netted me several authors to consider.

The first is Agatha Christie, an old standby. I’ve read her books here and there through the years, but more often watch Poirot on PBS. We’ll visit Greenway Estate, her home near Dartmouth. Several of her novels—The A.B.C. Murders, Five Little Pigs, Towards Zero, and Dead Man’s Folly—use the estate and the surrounding area as settings, and the television version of Dead Man’s Folly was filmed there.

A new to me author whose mysteries take place in the Dartmouth area is Kate Ellis. I’ve downloaded The Merchant’s House, the first book in her series featuring Wesley Peterson. From her website, I gleaned lots of ideas about sites to see while in the Dartmouth area and was prompted to write her. She wrote back and gave me an introduction to the buildings, businesses, and towns she describes in her books, only with different names. I think I’ll make a list of all of them and try to check them off as I go.

Because I’ve watched Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavor on PBS, I feel as though I already know bits and pieces of Oxford. I can’t recall ever reading Colin Dexter’s novels, though, so I’ve downloaded the first three Morse books for the trip.

Before this search, I’d already stumbled across Faith Martin’s mysteries set in Oxford. I’m still early in the series and intrigued by DI Hillary Greene living on a narrowboat on the Oxford Canal. I’ve always dreamed of chartering a narrow boat—with a captain—and touring the countryside that way. So far, I’ve enjoyed Murder on the Oxford Canal and Murder at the University, and reading about her narrowboat is probably as close as I’ll get to vacationing on one.

When I googled books set in the Cotswolds, I was rewarded with Victoria Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop. It’s a bit of a romance and mystery blend, and its setting is a blend of Oxford and the Cotswolds.

Oddly, I hadn’t turned up any mysteries set in the Cotswolds until author Kate Ellis suggested I try Rebecca Tope’s mystery series. Every one of her books has Cotswolds in the title, so who knows why Google didn’t surface them during my search? My Kindle now contains a four-pack of the Cotswold series.

Though I don’t often read nonfiction, I’m also working my way through Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. I say “working my way,” not because it’s a slog, but because I can easily pick it up and put it down, unlike the several novels I read each week. I love this description: “a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation of Great Britain, which has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.”

I’ve packed my suitcase and my Kindle, and I’m eagerly anticipating my upcoming trip across the pond.

09/05/18 Tales of King Arthur

Are there any King Arthur fans out there? It was Mary Stewart’s King Arthur trilogy that hooked me when I was in high school. I suspect “The Crystal Cave,” published in 1970, was one of the many books I snuck into class and read between the covers of textbooks. I had to wait until 1973 for the second book, “The Hollow Hills,” to come out, and “The Last Enchantment” arrived in 1979. Described as the Merlin trilogy, the books are told from his perspective

I was surprised to find that Stewart had written two more in the series in 1983 and 1995. Those will have to go on my library wish list ASAP. Before her King Arthur phase, Stewart was primarily a romantic thriller writer, and I have vague memories of reading her novels “Nine Coaches Waiting” and “My Brother Michael.”

As I was searching for details about my favorite books, I came across a BookBub article, “17 Magical Books About the Legend of King Arthur.” I can’t claim to have read them all, but I’ve enjoyed quite a few. Of Stewart’s books, only “Crystal Cave” made the BookBub list.

Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d'Arthur” is not on the list either, but it was his tales of Arthur, Launcelot, and Guinevere that became the foundation for all that followed. His compilation published in 1485 was translated from stories written in French and is surprisingly readable. I was well on the way to becoming a life-long King Arthur fan by the time I read it as an English major in college.

My enjoyment of Malory’s tales led me to T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” which is on the BookBub list. Published in 1958, it was the inspiration for the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot. I must have first seen the 1967 movie version on TV, and seeing Richard Harris reprise the role on stage is a cherished memory. Of course, I have the CD.

“The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley made the list and is one of my favorites from the 80’s, probably because it was a retelling of the story from the female perspective. Reflecting on how much I enjoyed the novel reminds me that there was a 2001 TNT miniseries starring Anjelica Huston, Julianna Margulies, and Joan Allen.

My trip down memory lane surfaced three other King Arthur films I’ve seen. First is the 1963 Disney animated “Sword in the Stone,” also based on T. H. White’s book. Skip past Camelot, and I must admit a weakness for the 1995 movie “First Knight” starring Sean Connery as King Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot. The 2004 “King Arthur” with Clive Owens and Keira Knightley was yet another fascinating retelling of the tale, this time with Arthur portrayed as a Roman officer.

Of the 17 books on the BookBub list, I found two to add to my To Be Read list. “The Forever King” trilogy is a modern fantasy tale of a young man who stumbles across an antique cup that turns out to be The Holy Grail. It even has an ex-FBI agent in it, a twist that makes it a perfect combo for this mystery addict.

Also on my list now is “The Queen of Camelot,” another retelling of Guinevere’s role in the rise and fall of Camelot. I’m anticipating reading new books, watching old movies, and winding up in a King Arthur induced coma sometime soon.

08/27/18 A Must Read for Southerners

I don’t often read memoirs, but a friend recommended Lee Smith’s “Dimestore: A Writer’s Life,” and I felt obliged to give it a try. I’m glad I did. I’ve read many of her novels and chuckled when I read in her memoir that she began writing stories when she was nine years old.  The opening of the chapter titled A Life in Books brought back fond memories for me, not because I wrote as a child, but because I too was a voracious reader:

I was a reader long before I was a writer. In fact, I started writing in the first place because I couldn’t stand for my favorite books to be over, so I started adding more and more chapters onto the ends of them, often including myself as a character.  Thus the Bobbsey twins became the Bobbsey triplets, and Nancy Drew’s best friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, were joined by another character named Lee Smith—who actually ended up with Ned Nickerson! The additional chapters grew longer and more complicated as my favorite books became more complicated—Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, and Pippi Longstocking, for instance.

I suspect her parents called her a bookworm, though she was also an adventuring tomboy who climbed trees and roamed the mountains of Grundy, Virginia where she grew up. No one ever mistook me for a tomboy, so I don’t have that trait in common with her, but I did read beneath the covers with a flashlight, another scene she describes. And I smiled at her list of childhood books, so many of which I read too.  I think I missed Pippi Longstocking, but I did read the Hardy Boys and Nurse Cherry Ames.  How many of those ring a bell for you?

If you haven’t yet discovered Lee Smith’s novels, reading Dimestore will send you down that path. If you prefer to begin with a novel, I recommend “Oral History” and Family Linen, two of her earlier works, or her 2003 New York Times bestseller, “The Last Girls.” Though I seldom re-read books, I may have to go back to a few of hers to see whether they read differently now that I know more about the author.

08/19/18 Which children’s books do you remember?

Seeing a Facebook post about best loved Golden Books took me on a trip down memory lane as I recalled my favorite childhood books.  High on that list was ”The Poky Little Puppy,” and a bit of research revealed that it ranks as the top-selling children’s book of all time. When I tried to call to mind other Golden Books I loved, “The Three Little Kittens” was the only additional one that popped up.

Never fear, I recall plenty of other books I enjoyed. I have fond memories of Mom taking me to the library, I think on Saturdays. “Angus and the Ducks” is one of the books I checked out repeatedly. It’s the story of a little black terrier who discovers ducks one day when he sneaks out of his house. As an adult, I thought of that book every time I saw a friend’s dog run into the lake to chase the ducks.

I have forgotten plenty of books from my early years, but I had a delightful experience surfing Amazon. It took seeing the covers to make me remember my favorites. If my memory of the covers is that vivid, I know I must have read those books over and over.  When I clicked on Angus, I was rewarded with the cover of “Make Way for Ducklings,” triggering another happy memory.

The “Curious George” series was another favorite, one that has stood the test of time.  This summer I spent the day with my high school friend Beth as she made my dog a royal purple robe—you know about Lord Banjo and his robe, right? I had to laugh when I discovered she’d been making party favors for her grandson’s Curious George birthday party just the week before.

I still have my three Dr. Seuss books. They came in the mail as part of the Beginner Books series by Random House, which also included non-Suess books: “Stop that Ball,” “Cowboy Andy,” and “The King’s Wish.”

Another book I could remember even without seeing the cover was “The Five Chinese Brothers.”  Before locating it on Amazon, I thought to myself that in this age of heightened sensitivity, it had probably been banned.  I couldn’t readily remember the story, but the description, “a dramatic retelling of an old Chinese tale,” makes it seem harmless enough.

Trigger warning! The childhood book that has indeed been banned from some libraries is “Little Black Sambo,” originally published in 1899. Because the title and illustrations in the original are considered offensive, it was reworked in later tellings. The title and the setting change, but the story remains the same: “[A little boy] encounters four hungry tigers and surrenders his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so they will not eat him. The tigers are vain, and each thinks he is better dressed than the others. They chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of melted butter; [the boy] then recovers his clothes, and his mother makes pancakes of the butter.”

To end on an uncontroversial note, I also spied “The Story of Ferdinand,” a book that’s now been made into an animated movie.  What wonderful childhood memories.


 

Kathy Manos Penn is a Georgia resident. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook and contact her at inkpenn119@gmail.com, or both.

 

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