Monday, November 11, 2013

The Ape Who Guards the Balance

The title: The Ape Who Guards the Balance
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: Avon, 1998
Got it from:  Maine, 2009

I've been having a hard time getting around to writing this review, for a number of reasons.  If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that I've been reading the Amelia Peabody series at the rate of approximately one book per year.  This year I was finally going to catch up to myself, in a "this is where we came in" way.  The Ape Who Guards the Balance was my very first Amelia Peabody mystery, which I read when I was seventeen, and it was my first introduction to the amazing Elizabeth Peters.

And then on August 8 of this year, Elizabeth Peters died.  I was - or should say, am - heartbroken.  Nobody wrote quite like her.  No other author, with the exception maybe of L.M. Montgomery, has written more novels that I've enjoyed.  She left behind an endlessly delightful body of work.  To pick up an Elizabeth Peters (or her pseudonym Barbara Michaels) novel is to read an intelligent, funny, romantic book with a strong heroine.  (Even the ones written in the 60's and 70's, a rare thing in itself).  Any of her books is going to be a treat, but it's the Amelia Peabody series that she will be (deservedly) remembered for.

Reading this book, I felt like I was catching up with old friends.  I remembered almost nothing from my original reading of it, so I was pleasantly surprised by the ending.  The events of The Ape Who Guards the Balance take place in 1907.  Owing to Emerson's feuds with various authorities, the clan are forced to excavate in a less-than-stellar site in the Valley of the Kings.  The Victorian era is still very much present and the game of the day is to make the splashiest find with the most treasure.  Somewhat humiliated but not deterred, the Emersons embark on their dig and it's not long before murder turns up.

Amelia Peabody is ever the proto-feminist and Peters cleverly weaves the early history of the women's suffrage movement into the story.  "Pray do not detain me, Emerson," Amelia says calmly in what may be the most hilarious first page ever. "I am on my way to chain myself to the railings at Number Ten Downing Street, and I am already late."  The Emersons' adopted daughter Nephret is also breaking barriers by becoming a medical student and she becomes a crusader for the grassroots women's education movement that is taking place in Egypt.

More and more the series is becoming focused on the children and large chunks of it are told as their diaries and memoirs.  It's rather a shame, because nobody holds a candle to Amelia as a narrator, and the sexual tension between her son Ramses and Nephret isn't half as hot as that between Amelia and Emerson (and more shirts get ruined, obviously).  And speaking of hot, the Master Criminal himself, Sethos shows up toward the end, which instantly sends the rating through the roof for me.  (I don't want to spoil anything but that train scene at the end - *dies.*)  My only complaint is that the book is just too long.  I do like to know the details of their everyday life but there was just too much we ate this-and then I wrote this letter-and then we sat on the porch, etc.  With about a hundred pages trimmed, this book would be almost perfect.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Colonial times, writing spaces and other miscellany

In preparation for my visit to New England, I read large chunks of Alice Morse Earle's Home and Child Life in Colonial Times (abridged from two of her earlier books).  What makes her history so fascinating was that she wrote at the end of the 19th century and could record many first-person accounts from the elderly people in her community about their lives and those of their parents and grandparents.  

This book is full of all kinds of funny gossip and stories about life in America before 1850.  The author is not afraid to interject with her own opinions, such as when she calls early children's books dry and tedious.  I was frequently amused by her references to "life in olden days" as opposed to "now," which for her that meant the difference between things like buying ready-made ink versus making it yourself from bark(!)  There are some excellent sections on what school was like, the reason the Colonials had such good handwriting, early toys, etc.  As an aside, I was amused by her account of the primitive mail system that existed in the 18th century, and the story of one mailman who liked to skate down the Hudson River with letters on his back while he knitted socks and hats.

Reading about homes, and then coming back to my own, helps me see mine with new eyes.  I am extremely fortunate to have my own "creative" room that is just mine (and the only room in the house where my husband can't leave a mess!)  I think everyone who does anything artistic needs their own creative space. 

I'm not a big fan of the popular minimalist trend.  I like to have things neat and tidy, but I also think you should surround yourself with things you love, have meaning for you and inspire you.  Here are some shots of my creative space:

This is my desk, where I write all my letters, blog, scrapbook, etc.  I have it set up facing my window.  During the daytime, I love to open the blinds and watch the trees, birds and squirrels outside. 

The desk itself is a family heirloom.  It used to be a lot messier, but a few months ago I was inspired by a secretary I saw at an antiques store.  I bought a really cheap (under $10) desk organizer to hold all my notepads, maps, etc. 

On the left is a mug from Stonehenge that my grandmother bought me on a trip to England back in the 1990's.  I've used it as a pencil/pen holder ever since.  The Canadian flag is from this year's Canada Day celebrations.  Beside it is a notepad of CBC logos that I bought in Toronto earlier this year.  Beside the mouse is a beautiful glass coaster with real pressed flowers.  On the right you can see a stack of recently acquired paperbacks waiting to be read an reviewed!

I'm not really into Pinterest.  I like to keep an actual bulletin board of things I enjoy, like postcards and a sprig of flowers from my garden.

Just right of my desk is a painted piece of slate I brought back from a memorable trip to Wales when I was 16.  And of course my Sherlock calendar!

Beside that, I have one book case just for romance novels.  In  the cupboards below I keep presents and my scrapbooking and mosaic supplies.

I bought this blue box a few years ago to hold all my letters in chronological order.

Just beside my letters I keep all my envelopes and note cards.  The Christmas box is one of my favourite objects and holds several years' worth of Christmas cards.

Beside my book case, I like to hang all my cloth bags that I've collected over the years that I use mostly to carry library books.  The "Little Women" bag on top came with me to Concord!

To the right of the door is my "messy bookcase."  A while ago I attempted to roughly organize the books by genre.  You may recognize some of the books I've reviewed on this blog over the years.  This is just a sample of my collection, the rest are elsewhere in the house.

Whenever I travel, I like to collect a miniature of the local famous landmark.  I bought all but the Eiffel Tower, which was given to me by a friend (left to right: CN Tower, Big Ben tower, Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, Colosseum).  Just behind it you can see a silver box that I got for my high school graduation and a painting done by a close friend.

Continuing our circle around the room is the futon where I like to relax with a good book.  The Jane Austen pillow was a birthday gift from my sister from a few years ago.  The blanket was another graduation present made by a family friend.

Right above that is a poster of 18th century objects.  It used to have a frame but unfortunately one hot and humid summer day the hook fell down and the frame broke.  It will be replaced, eventually.  Beside that is my "world at night" poster that I bought in grad school. 

And now we have made a full circle!  The Sense and Sensibility iPod charger is another gift from my sister, and the Provence candle a gift from a friend.  And the laptop of course is where all the magic happens...

Thank for coming with me on a tour of my creative space!