Thursday, September 29, 2016

Library Stop: The (old) Otis Library, Norwich, CT

The (old) Otis Library
80 Broadway
Norwich, CT

  • Built by: Joseph Otis (July 1768-April 1854)
  • Opened: 1850
  • Architectural style: Greek Revival
  • The library opened with 250 volumes and over 1,000 subscribers.
  • Hamlin B. Buckingham was the first librarian.
  • By February 1865 the library had 6,666 books. A library "ticket" for the year cost $1.
  • In use as a library until 1962.
  • The building is now known as the William F. Bourgun Memorial, which houses Norwich's Department of Human Services.
Mr Otis spent $10, 500 on the land, the building, the furniture, and the initial book collection. He also left $6, 500 in his will for the library.

The Old Otis Library in Norwich, CT (WildmooBooks)
Originally, the first floor was the library and the second floor was the pastor's study. The lamps are a later addition.

The library is directly across from Town Hall.

Read some history of the library here.

A stylized rendering of how the library looked in its early days. Source: Forgotten Founders

An old postcard of Union Square that shows the library (Source: the new Otis Library's Flickr account).

The new Otis Library, which is just blocks away on Main Street, was awarded a 2016 Museum and Library Services national award.

Michelle Obama presents award to Bassem Gayed and Robert Farwell of the Otis Library
Michelle Obama presents award to Bassem Gayed & Robert Farwell of the Otis Library (source).

Norwich, CT was established in 1659 and was a thriving city by the time of the American Revolution. It was the center of activities for the Sons of Liberty as well as the birth place of Benedict Arnold.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Death at the Paris Exposition by Frances McNamara (giveaway)

Death at the Paris Exposition was the perfect read for the first weekend of autumn. It was delicious to cuddle up with a blanket and a cup of tea and immerse myself in this mystery set in Paris.
Synopsis: Amateur sleuth Emily Cabot's journey once again takes her to a world's fair--the Paris Exposition of 1900. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer is named the only female U. S. commissioner to the Exposition and enlists Emily's services as her secretary. Their visit to the House of Worth for the fitting of a couture gown is interrupted by the theft of Mrs. Palmer's famous pearl necklace. Before that crime can be solved, several young women meet untimely deaths and a member of the Palmer's inner circle is accused of the crimes. As Emily races to clear the family name she encounters jealous society ladies, American heiresses seeking titled European husbands, and more luscious gowns and priceless jewels. Along the way, she takes refuge from the tumult at the country estate of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. In between her work and sleuthing, she is able to share the Art Nouveau delights of the Exposition, and the enduring pleasures of the City of Light with her family.

Initially I was interested in this novel for its Chicago (where I'm from) connection: amateur sleuth Emily Cabot is a Chicagoan currently employed by Chicago socialite and business woman, Bertha Palmer. As the blurb above stated, they're in France for the Paris Exposition of 1900.

This is the sixth book in the Emily Cabot Mystery series and the first that I've read. Jumping into an ongoing series used to make me uneasy, but I no longer avoid it. After a few books the main character is firmly established and the writer is typically more skilled, making for a good read. I've come to find it's a pleasure to start with the current book and go back to read others if I'm so inclined.

Part of the attraction of reading historical fiction is learning about places and time periods as well as the real people on which characters are based and seeing how cultural attitudes have changed about some things (say, divorce), but not others (Omaha). In addition to the Chicago connection there's also
Frances McNamara
a Connecticut (where I live now) connection in the character of architect Theodate Pope who makes an appearance at an art gallery as a friend of Mary Cassat. Pope was the first female architect to be licensed in both Connecticut and New York. She also survived the sinking of the Lusitania. Mary Cassat's character plays a more significant role in the novel than just a mention. I enjoyed how McNamara incorporated at least one of Cassat's  actual paintings within a fictional scene involving Emily. Nebraska (where I used to live) makes an appearance but, as usual, it is portrayed negatively, as a foil to the high culture and open mindedness of Paris. A Mrs. Johnston of Nebraska is portrayed as a closed minded ugly American from the cultureless pit of Omaha. Poor Nebraska.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read that never lagged. The time period, fashion, jewels, rich American
women, titled but broke English men, illicit affairs, and a big international event are rich ingredients for a mystery. There was a nice balance between the historical scene with descriptions of fashion and Paris with the crimes and tension of the plot. The mystery had me guessing.

Here is The Emily Cabot Mystery Series in chronological order:
The author created a Pinterest board for the book (here) as did the publisher (here). Both have pictures of the fashions of the day, photos of Paris, ads for the Exposition, and portraits of the historical people represented in the novel.

I look forward to reading an Emily Cabot mystery set in Chicago.

Enter to win a copy below:

Title: Death at the Paris Exposition
Author: Frances McNamara
Publisher: Allium Press, September 1, 2016
Source: Review copy, France Book Tours
Bottom line: If you like historical mysteries and/or mysteries set in the fashion world or Paris, give this one a try.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Library Visit: Derby Public Library (Derby, CT)

I came across this handsome, historic library one day this summer when I was in the area running errands.  It's so exciting to stumble on such an architectural treasure.

Derby Public Library
Harcourt Wood Memorial Library
313 Elizabeth Street
Derby, CT

  • Dedicated December 27, 1902
  • A memorial library initiated by the parents of Holton Harcourt Wood who died when he was only eleven. According to this NYT article, he died from meningitis.
  • Style: Colonial Revival featuring Flemish gables and granite ashlar walls 
  • Size: 7500 square feet
  • Architect: William Hartley Dennett*
  • Renovated and expanded, 1990-2000, additional 7200 square feet

The Derby Public Library sits on a rectangular slice of land between Elizabeth and Caroline Streets. The land was originally owned by the DAR and they maintain rights to use the library.

A grand stair case leads up from Elizabeth Street to the original front entrance.

The new front entrance is on the side of the library along Caroline Street. The original library building is to the left of the new entrance and the addition is from the entrance to the right.

An old millstone, dated 1727, recommissioned as a sundial.
A view of the original entrance from behind the millstone/sundial.

Thick purple glass embedded in concrete. I forgot to ask about this when I was there. Could it have been something like a skylight for the basement?
Entry detail. The original structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A view of the foyer, looking out.

Beautiful handmade tile in the foyer.

A serious umbrella stand.
Dedication plaque reads: "This building was erected by his parents in loving memory of Holton Harcourt Wood, Born June 19, 1885 -- Died February 27, 1897."

Walking into the library from the original foyer. To state the obvious, the gold leaf ceiling is stunning.

Staircase leading to the librarian's office.

Stencil and ceiling detail.
The original mahogany circulation desk with brass lights. Until the early 1980s the library had closed stacks. Patrons came to the circulation desk to request materials. The new circulation desk is through the left hand door. Through the doorway to the right is the history room.
The new circulation desk.

An original safe across from the new circulation desk.
A peak into the history room.
Beyond the new circulation desk and to the left is the teen section.

To the left of the teen section is the reference and computer area. The reference librarian is sitting to the left -- he's facing the original circulation desk, so we've almost gone full circle.

Walk beyond the circulation desk and you're in the new addition. Here's a shot looking back toward the old section's display cabinet. Through that doorway to the left is circulation and to the right is the teen section. Nonfiction is behind me but there were too many patrons to photograph it without being intrusive.
The Non-English Collection is being developed to better serve Derby's diverse population. It includes fiction, nonfiction, and DVDs. "It is the goal of the Library to invite all groups to become part of the Library."

A collection of "Very Short Introduction"books from Oxford University Press is just across from the elevator. Fiction is upstairs and downstairs are meeting rooms, restrooms, offices.

Colorful close-up. I love this series and it was neat to see them all in one place. Usually they're shelved in their respective categories.

Sit, Color, Relax. Coloring isn't just for kids anymore.

Upstairs in the fiction section. The original external arched roof line is part of the internal design of the new edition.

The Cather on the shelf shot that I often take at libraries was challenging here as the Cather titles wrapped around to the other side of the shelf, so I pulled out one book and took this photo instead.

And it was then I saw that the library used a custom hole punch instead of an ink stamp to mark ownership. Here's a close up from a different Cather book.

Back outside. A shot of the other side of the library, facing Elizabeth Street. Handsome windows reflect the blue sky.

The"Old Hallock Kettle" is on display on this side of the library. It was originally used to test blubber on whaling ships, 1816-1869, and then was put to use at a local shipyard to steam and bend ships knees (an L shaped piece of wood used to brace).

That's me holding the kettle to give a sense of size.

Overall a very handsome, busy, and obviously well-loved library. It's always heartening to see an old library building in use.

*If I have the right Dennett, it looks like he was the husband, for a time, of Mary Dennett.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Let the Horror Begin! First Spooky Read of the Season

A fall nip is finally in the air and the leaves are starting to change here in Connecticut. I love reading spooky stories in the fall (who doesn't??) and was eagerly anticipating the release of Tricks and Treats, which was released last month.
From the publisher: Some of Connecticut's finest authors—from the eighteen hundreds through today—showcase their spookiest tales in this collection. Discover some lesser-known works from literary greats Twain, Gilman, Stowe, and Brainard, and chilling stories from contemporary authors Crandall, Foley, Longo, Munson, Schoonover, Strong, and Valeri. This collection will make you proud to be a Nutmegger. "Connecticut authors, you scare the hell out of me, but I grow to love you—more and more, with every creepy tale." ~ From the foreword by Rob Watts, author of AMERICANA and THE CROOKED ROADS THROUGH CEDAR GROVE
I had the pleasure of hearing a few of these stories read last year at a reading in Manchester, CT that my friend John Valeri, one of the authors in this anthology, invited me to. Here's a brief rundown of the 14 stories and 1 poem that comprise this collection:
  • John Valeri: "Just Cause" is the lead story and it reads like a Marcia Clark novel. It's a tight crime piece about a convict accused of killing his wife who escapes on Halloween. Ruh-Roh. Valeri's second story in the collection, "Blood Relations," has a cinematic vibe that, at times, gave me the feel of watching a horror movie. Both stories have strong dialog that effortlessly moves the action along. I'm already a fan of Valeri's reviews and author interviews and will now follow his fiction, as well.
  • Melissa Crandall: Is apparently an aficionado of the revenge story. Her "Dreams on Racks" is a heck of an imaginative story and of special enjoyment for movie buffs. "The Cellar" is a moving story of a young girl, her harried mother, and the pain they suffer at the hands of the men in their lives. There's an old mirror in the basement and, like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter, one must to take care around old mirrors.
  • Mark Twain: "The Californian's Tale" (1893) is a surprising tale, one I'd read in the past and also enjoyed this time around. The narrator is a house guest of an old prospector who, along with his friends, is preparing for the return of his young wife who has been away vising her family.
  • Ryanne Strong: "Halloween Hubris" is a story that made me LOL, or at least snort with pleasure, at the climax. "Sophie" is a ghost story involving children, which automatically tends to increase the creepiness factor for me.
  • Stacey Longo: "Zombie Witch" is an imaginative story that caused me to walk down the Halloween decoration aisle at Stop & Shop the other day with more curiosity than years past. "Time to Let Go" is a story about a young man dealing with heartache that made me think of Paul Tremblay's Disappearance at Devil's Rock, which I read earlier this year.
  • Dan Foley: "A Trick of a Treat" and "The Bag" are two stories that pack a nice wallop. I got a kick out of both stories, but the former is stuck in my mind and makes me glad I'm not trick-or-treating this year.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe: "The Ghost in the Mill" (1872) is a classic fireside tale, a wonderful story within a story. It hearkens back in time to tell the tale of a man who disappeared and how, during a raging snow storm, an old Native American woman helped reveal the truth.
  • G. Elmer Munson: "What About that Daughter of Yours?" Is an intense sketch that made me think of scenes written by Stephen King or Joe Hill. Painful, quick, surprising.
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman: "The Giant Wistaria" first appeared in print in 1891 and is a delightful ghost story with roots (pun intended) that stretch back to colonial days with characters that remain fresh and alive. [Word buffs: when Gilman published the story Wistaria was a common spelling of Wisteria.]
  • Kristi Petersen Schoonover: "Crawl" has some nice atmosphere and tension. I'll never look at baby blankets in quite the same way.
  • John G. C. Brainard: "Maniac's Song" is a poem and the oldest piece in the collection (the author died in 1828). It seems more sad and tragic than spooky, but it has stuck with me and made me return to it for several readings.
Strong, Foley, Longo, and Valeri at last year's reading.

Thanks to these fine writers, my Connecticut basement now seems creepier than ever and I've been checking to make sure the windows are locked before bed. Their stories have been an excellent kick off to my own spooky autumnal reading. Overall, the collection is heavy on the spooky and, thankfully, light on grossness and gore. I'll be keeping an eye out for more from these writers.

Title: Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors
Author: Multiple authors, edited by Stacey Longo with Forward by Rob Watts
Publisher: Books & Boos Press, August 31, 2016
Source: I bought the Kindle version, which is only $2.99. Paperback is $12.99. (Prices valid as of the date of this post).
Bottom line: If you like horror without a lot of gratuitous violence and gore, this collection should appeal. Good entry for those participating in the Reading New England Challenge (#ReadNewEngland).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Library Stop: Buckland Public Library, Massachusetts

Earlier this year when driving home from Vermont to Connecticut, we stopped in Buckland, Massachusetts and couldn't resist following the signs to the library. This is the gem that we found!

Buckland Public Library
30 Upper Street
Buckland, MA 01338
Website is coming soon:

Original building dedicated on July 4, 1891
Addition: 2010

According to
  • the collection contains 9,085 volumes
  • the circulation is 26,919 items annually
  • the library serves 1, 847 residents
Buckland Public Library

This is such a handsome brick library. I love all the right angles, the symmetry, and the contrast of the arch. Such an inviting building.
Buckland Public Library
There's something beckoning about an arched entryway into a library. Lovely custom sign.
Buckland Public Library

I have a thing for cornice shots and must start carrying my camera. The iPhone doesn't capture details very well.
Buckland Public Library Interior

A peek through the front doors. The library was closed (it was a Sunday).
To see a historic photo of the interior click here.

The tablet hanging over the fireplace states that the "Buckland Church Library" was founded in 1890. To see a close-up of the tablet click here.
Buckland Public Library 2010 Addition

The original library building is the square portion on the left. From the archway to the right is an edition that was built in 2010, which obviously greatly expanded the library's space, yet is also in harmony with the lines of the original building.
Buckland Public Library 2010 Addition

The new entrance.
Buckland Public Library Book Drop

The Book Drop.
Buckland Public Library Book Drop

Even the outside of libraries can be places to learn new things. Great idea to reuse padded envelopes as vehicles to keep returned DVDs protected when they're dropped in the box.
Buckland Public Library Exterior Back

The back of the library.
Buckland Public Library 2010 Addition Interior

A peek through the back window.
Buckland Public Library Mosaic Metal Work Sign
Perhaps the coolest and most original library sign ever.
Buckland Public Library Mosaic Sign Close Up
Close up of the mosaic.
Buckland Public Library Historic Photo 1891
1891 photo of the library with Clara Bement, the first librarian, standing in the doorway. (Source: Digital Commonwealth)
If I should find myself driving near Buckland again, I hope it's during the library's open hours.
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