- 44 SCOTLAND STREET – I love this series!by Lynn Szelock
44 Scotland Street revolves around six year-old Bertie Pollock, an intelligent and perceptive child. Bertie’s mother, Irene, a radical feminist and overbearing social climber drags poor Bertie to saxophone lessons, Italian lessons, yoga, and psychotherapy. Bertie just wants to be a Cub Scout and own a pen knife. Bertie’s beleaguered father, Stuart, a statistician for the local government, is resigned to his fate and that of his son.
Scotland Street is also home to Pat, in her second gap year, who falls for Bruce, her narcissist flatmate; anthropologist Domenica Macdonald and her artist friend Angus. The neighbors’ lives are all loosely woven into the fabric of the place and into Bertie’s life as well.
Join in the adventures, great and small, minor triumphs and major disappointments, life lived in Edinburgh’s New Town by these fascinating and quirky people. Hope along with Bertie, that his mother will back off, that his father will grow a spine. There are now 17 books in the series. I’m up to #12. I’m embarrassed to say, I once was so eager for the next story, I ordered an uncorrected proof! Shame, shame.
Trust me. You will love these books. Have I ever steered you wrong?
With fond regards,
- Jane Austen: 200 Years Gone and Still Relevantby Lynn Szelock
I am by no means an expert on Jane Austen, I’m just an avid fan, and by that I mean fanatic! I took a trip in June 2023 to Alton (and Chawton) in Hampshire, UK to enjoy Regency Week. Walks, talks, tours, tea, supper, and Regency dancing! What a blast! But that being said, I would like to share some thoughts for those of you who haven’t read any of her books.
In the garden at Chawton House, which was inherited by Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight. When Edward was 16 years old, an agreement was reached between his parents and his third cousin, Thomas Knight, that Edward would be adopted as the heir to Thomas’ estates.
You might have avoided reading the classics because you find the language difficult. I know I did! That’s why I got a copy of The Jane Austen Dictionary by Emmalee Haskell, which is available in paperback on Amazon. Any good dictionary will suffice. I have found though, that if I just read a phrase at a time, most words are understandable by their context. Sometimes I tend to read quickly through some parts to get to the next plot point, a failing on my part, so I am trying to slow down and read it “aloud” to myself. This helps make sense of the long sentences and the language of the early nineteenth century.
What are the most basic needs in life? Food, shelter, clothing, income. Deeper needs like love and respect, and beyond that purpose and a place in society. In Jane Austen’s day one hoped to have a place in polite society, and without good moral character, that was out of the question. Today that is unfortunately a foreign concept. But virtue in a woman was vitally important to women of the early nineteenth century. This is the stuff of Austen’s novels and why she is still relevant today. We need women like her heroines and men like her heroes!
I fell in love with Jane Austen’s work after seeing Emma Thompson’s 1995 adaptation of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, but it took many years for me to actually start reading the novels. I happened upon a copy of LADY SUSAN, an early work of Austen’s, written in the form of letters. It revolved around a lady desperately wrangling for the best marriage match for her daughter. It was all about the money and status.
After several years, I made it my goal to read all of Jane Austen’s novels. While reading SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, I discovered how much was missing from the movie and even from the 2008 miniseries. This taught me a very valuable lesson:
Don’t judge a book by its movie!
In some circles SENSE AND SENSIBILITY is not considered Austen’s greatest book, but it delves into some weighty matters such as morality and duty, charm versus character, as well as issues of the day, including inheritance laws, and popular philosophies of her time, including Romanticism. We learn what happens to a young woman when her virtue is lost, and what could happen to our heroine if she is not careful.
Jane Austen’s writing table and chair in the dining room of Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire, England. Jane lived there with her mother and sister Cassandra from 1809 to 1817, when she was moved to Winchester to be near her physician. She died a couple of weeks later and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. It is said that in the cottage in Chawton, Jane forbade anyone to oil the hinges on the dining room door. She could hear when someone was entering and cover her work. I took this photo while on the “Sense and Sensibility” Tour last June during Regency Week.
Next I read NORTHANGER ABBEY, a satire of the Gothic novels so popular during Jane Austen’s time, and which were avidly read by our heroine Catherine Moreland. Poor Catherine lets her imagination get away from her, yet doesn’t see what is really happening with some so-called friends.
I just finished my second read of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, after doing the same with SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. P & P is chock full of wit and irony, yet very dramatic. The plot revolves around a family with five daughters, no sons, and their estate entailed away from the female line, to an odious cousin, Mr. Collins, who is a clergyman. How’s this for an opening line?
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
As the daughter of a clergyman, and a devout Christian, Jane Austen’s novels are indicative of her worldview. She deals with love, duty, honor, and respect. The stories are still so compelling because she understands the deep needs of the heart within the culture of her time, though in fact those needs are timeless. Characters who shirk their duty or behave dishonorably are revealed to be either scoundrels or fools. Yet Austen shows grace to the ones who just don’t have the intellect to understand their own misdeeds and the effect they had on others, for example Lydia Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. But she doesn’t pull any punches when dealing with the actions of Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham.
I loved loved loved PERSUASION! You might be tempted to judge Anne Elliot by twenty-first century standards, but this would be a mistake. In Jane Austen’s day, a young woman was under the authority of her father until she married. That she had a vain, arrogant, prejudiced and rather stupid father didn’t matter a bit. If Anne had a fortune of her own, she could leave her loathsome family and seek a life of her own. This is not the case with Anne. At the age of nineteen, she was persuaded to refuse Wentworth’s offer of marriage on the grounds that he had neither title nor fortune, was a nobody in her father’s mind. The story begins eight years later. Her father’s extravagance has forced the family to let out their estate, Kellynch Hall to (unhappy Sir Walter Elliot — a naval officer in his home!) Admiral Croft, now wealthy Captain Wentworth’s brother-in-law. We see Anne become stronger and more in control of her own life
I plan to read EMMA next. Poor Emma fancies herself a matchmaker, with some unfortunate results. The 2009 miniseries with Romola Garai, as a Emma and dishy Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley, was delightful, so I know the book will be even better.
I can’t even discuss MANSFIELD PARK, which I have read, but need to read again to really understand these people. I have even watched two adaptations on the screen, but they interpreted the characters differently, so I’m at a loss.
Movies and miniseries (of most books) often lack the depth, the “why” behind what the characters are about. They also sometimes abbreviate scenes or leave out characters entirely. So please, read the book. You’ll thank me later.
I just can’t help sharing this website! My friend Brenda Cox has so much knowledge of Jane Austen, her writing, her time, her faith. Check it out! https://topazcrossbooks.com
- Yoda Was Wrongby Lynn Szelock
“Do or do not. There is no try.” These memorable words from Jedi Master Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back” always bugged me a little. Actually of the original Star Wars movies, this one was a yawn for me.
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
Think about that for a moment. On the surface, it seems like Yoda is telling Luke to either put up or shut up. Maybe he is. We aren’t given any other context for the rather blunt statement. But what is Yoda really saying? Maybe…
- Your faith in, your connection to “the force” is not strong enough. I’ve heard this a time or two on late night religious TV shows. It’s bad theology in the Christian context, but also untrue for our Star Wars hero. Darth Vader uses the same kind of impersonal force, albeit from the Dark Side, and succeeds pretty well at messing up the galaxy with it. But he has the edge, in that he absorbs dead Jedi. Yuck!
- If you want it badly enough, it’ll happen. Who says? There are no guarantees in life. I could train for, let’s say, five years. I’m still not going to beat the four minute mile or bench press 400 pounds. Some things are just out of our reach, so we should accept that and move on. There are enough challenges in life without getting stuck
- If at first you don’t succeed, give up and go home! Okay, so I haven’t done it yet, does that mean I never will?
- The Alliance needs a hero and they send me this guy? (Actually he would have sounded more like: A hero the Alliance needs and this guy they send me! Ha! I think Yoda is channeling Mel Brooks!) Yoda’s 896 years old – he’s been practicing this Jedi stuff for a very long time. I wonder if his coach ever had doubts.
Yoda is just a really tough old coach whose wacky syntax is supposed to make him sound wise. I’ve had a tough coach. Dang, every time I achieved a goal he added more weights. Every time! But at least I could understand what he was saying, and he never berated me when it was just too much.
It’s not as if Luke suddenly achieved success because he thought, “oh, yeah, just do it!” No, he tried harder!
What it boils down to for me is that to try is the important thing. Success is not guaranteed. But failure is a certainty when one doesn’t try.I’m going to try to keep opening Hole in the Wall Books in the morning, and keep trying to inspire people to read.
- Old Friends: The Cozy Mysteries of Lillian Jackson Braunby Lynn Szelock
Keeping a book series from getting stale has to be a major challenge for writers. The main characters need to have life struggles, ups and downs, learn and grow. After all, we keep picking up the next book because we care about those fictional folks. When a character gets stuck in a relationship, for example, that is leading nowhere book after book, I’m like, “Marry her already!” Or if we only know “just the facts” of the case, but we know nothing of the person behind the actions, it gets boring.
Bringing in new and interesting, even quirky supporting characters is a way to mix it up and give the reader another reason to keep going. (Jan Karon was particularly adept at this in her Mitford series.) Another way to make it exciting is to have a major event occur that will affect everyone in the story, a hurricane or a mega snowstorm that ushers in an opportunity for a crime to be committed.
A less dramatic but effective tool is to introduce a plot point or scenario that the reader can learn about or identify with. Antiques, gourmet cheeses, steam locomotives – these were some of the devices used so well by the late Lillian Jackson Braun in her “The Cat Who…” series.
We were introduced to Koko the brilliant Siamese cat in 1966 in THE CAT WHO COULD READ BACKWARDS. The story revolved around the world of modern art. Forty-one years and 29 books later, we said goodbye to Koko, his furry friend Yum Yum, Qwilleran, and the town of Pickax in Braun’s last book, THE CAT WHO HAD 60 WHISKERS, published in 2007.
Lillian Jackson Braun passed away June 4, 2011, leaving a legacy of clean, wholesome cozy mysteries that still have the power to entertain us in this age of digital overload.
Check out our selection of mysteries, cozy and otherwise, at Hole in the Wall Books!
- The Adventure Beginsby Lynn Szelock
I’ve called Arizona home since 2005. My husband Konrad and I took to the road in our 34-foot motorhome with the dream of work-camping across America. I believe we led the exodus from California way back then, and we never looked back.
After a dreadful stint at a major RV Park that will go unnamed, where they worked hubby night and day, and during which our little dog Sparky was attacked by a bigger dog, we were laying low at another park in Williams Arizona. As we waited out the remainder of the long hot summer, carefully nursing Sparky back to health and checking the web for jobs daily, we almost accepted jobs at an amusement park in Georgia – until Konrad found out he would have to shave his beard.
Then one morning a listing came up for seasonal positions at Grand Canyon. The retail manager stopped by our rig to interview us on her way home to Flagstaff, which we thought was amazing. She asked us if we would commit to finishing out the fall season – a mere six weeks. We said we would.
We had visited the Grand Canyon before, but the opportunity to actually live in the park was difficult to take in. We were soon part of a close knit community, became avid hikers and lovers of the grandest place on the planet. We worked in park stores, which carry many books on the people and places of the canyon, the Colorado River, Arizona, and the Southwest – so we learned a lot about the pioneers who settled and made lives for themselves in relative harmony with the land and the native peoples.
Almost five years later, we needed to leave the park and take root somewhere else. That somewhere is Camp Verde, Arizona – the geographic center of the state. It’s uphill to anywhere from Camp Verde, in more ways than one. But coming home, getting sight of Verde Valley from above, we sigh every time and say “That’s our valley!”
You may be wondering “who is this woman and why the long story?” Patience, dear reader.
When we moved to town, there was a bookstore where Udderly Divine is now. Remember? The health food store was in the same building. The bookstore had recently changed hands, and the new owner needed someone to run the store, so I was hired to see if it was going to fly or not. Well, it didn’t, so my sad task was to donate all the books and fixtures. That was 2010.
Fast forward to September 1, 2023… TA DA! Camp Verde finally has a bookstore again – Hole in the Wall Books. For those of you (you know who you are) who are thinking “big deal, I have a Kindle. Why should I care?”
There are vast numbers of books, important books, that will never be digitized.
Authors put heart and soul into those pages. To me that is lost in a digital book.
There’s nothing like the smell of ink on paper, or the satisfaction of reading the last paragraph and closing the book.
If you’re still not convinced, stop in sometime and I’ll show you some treasures you’ll never read online.
With fond regards,