The Mountain Door is the fourth Rosalie K. Fry book I’ve read and it currently ranks a moderately close second in my estimation to Child of the WesterThe Mountain Door is the fourth Rosalie K. Fry book I’ve read and it currently ranks a moderately close second in my estimation to Child of the Western Isles (aka Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry). Fry's books have a certain ratio of magical wonder vs. a plainer sort of children-left-to-their-own-devices element. While the magical permeates Child of the Western Isles, the ratio in The Mountain Door leans slightly more towards the down-to-earth element. As it’s about a pair of girls who were switched by the fairies at birth, magic is central to the story but not manifested much within its pages.
Ella, the human, and Fenella, the fairy child, spend most of the book on their own, wandering the beautiful Irish countryside together, both of them longing to live the life they were born to live, both seeking to undo the fairy mischief that has made them the proverbial fish out of water. Ella fears a return to the mountains and Fenella fears that some meddling human adults will snatch her up and prevent her from returning to the very place Ella dreads.
Fenella’s affinity for animals causes them to collect a charming menagerie of creatures who eventually land them in the perfect spot for a satisfying denouement, complete with quotes from W. B. Yeats and Francis Ledwidge.
Speaking of the Irish, Fry dedicated The Mountain Door to “The family at Caherbrack where most of this story was written.” Little tidbits like this one make me curious to know more. Along with my sporadic but determined quest to read through Fry’s charming novels, I’ve tried to uncover her life story as well. There isn’t much biographical information out there but several years ago a wonderful fellow fan in the UK sent me a book containing an autobiographical chapter on Fry (thank you, Stephen!). In these pages I learned that--surprise!--Fry had an enchanting childhood filled with a Wordsworthian nearness to nature. Inside the Fry chapter of Something About the Author (series 11), she sheds little light on her writing of The Mountain Door except to explain that she traveled for some “foreign-based stories” and “later did a rather different book in Ireland.”
Fairy lore can be found all throughout the British Isles, so the Irishness of The Mountain Door is not necessarily apparent in its plot points but rather in its Emerald Isle setting and some of the character names. The rest of it—the love of nature, the aforementioned magical vs. ordinary adventure elements—is pure, golden Fry....more
Sometimes I feel like Agent Irena Spalko, Cate Blanchett’s character in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when, towards the end of thSometimes I feel like Agent Irena Spalko, Cate Blanchett’s character in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when, towards the end of the movie she reveals what has motivated her evil actions throughout the entire film by screaming at the demon heads “I vant to know!” Now I don’t normally scream in libraries, bookstores, or even at my Amazon wish list, but I completely understood Agent Spalko during this scene.
Which is why, apart from certain fiction authors, I generally read (and write) non-fiction. But like Agent Spalko, this thirst for knowledge sometimes gets me more than I bargained for. Case in point: When I saw that my publishers were putting out a book whose cover featured Joni Mitchell, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Beach Boys, I had to request a review copy. After all, the music of the 1960s was the soundtrack of my childhood and a connection to my slightly older former-garage band husband; I can sing all the songs by heart but he knows exactly who is playing which guitar solo on hundreds of 60s songs.
So I dove into William McKeen's excellent Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mahem in 1960s Los Angeles, ready to fill in the gaps in my understanding of 1960s pop culture history. In some ways it gave me more than I bargained for.
First, the good and the great: Like Wilfrid Sheed’s The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty, McKeen's book centers on one small cast of characters—in this case, the Wilson brothers—but expands to reveal how they interacted with their universe. The Beach Boys might remain the trunk of this particular tree, but the branches fascinate. Nearly everyone who was somebody in the world of 1960s rock and roll makes an appearance here and the connections are often startling. For instance, Stephen Stills told his friend Peter Torkelson about auditions for a TV series about a rock and roll band. Peter got the part, shortening his last name to Tork. After Joni Mitchell met fellow-Canadian Neil Young in Winnipeg and played “Sugar Mountain” for her, she responded by writing “The Circle Game.” Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas not only had a beautiful voice but a knack for bringing the right people together, in one famous case, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash.
McKeen's writing--which includes a plethora of direct quotes--makes it seem as if he knew these music-makers personally. Although he seems to have been acquainted with Dennis Wilson, one glance at the notes section shows that he relied on an exhaustive bibliography, including many previously conducted interviews. But the inclusion of these direct quotes from the main players brings an exciting immediacy to the narrative.
What I didn’t bargain for was the brain-frying “mayhem” in the book’s subtitle. For instance, part of me wishes I return to my former opinion of the Beach Boys: sunny, smiling, eternally upbeat voices. But now I know that while the band members could sing in perfect harmony, their interpersonal relationships rarely reached that state. It's uncomfortable to realize that Brian Wilson was deaf in one ear, most likely the result of a beating from his abusive father (a man who only calmed down under music’s influence and who adored hearing his boys sing in three-part harmony. You can’t make this stuff up). I wish I could still consider the voice singing "Wouldn’t it be Nice" to be an earnest young fiancé rather than what actually inspired the song. I especially wish I didn’t know that Charles Manson was once great pals with Dennis Wilson and that the future mass murderer hoped this friendship would open doors to a rock and roll career.
But if I hadn’t read this excellent book, I also wouldn’t know that the first 20 seconds of "California Girls" was Brian Wilson’s attempt to musically portray a sunrise, or that his girlfriend, hearing him angst about the unattainable beauty of "Be My Baby," patted him on the arm and said “Don’t worry baby,” giving him a line he would later make famous in song.
One thing that puzzled me about McKeen's writing was what I consider to be his gratuitous use of the F-word and similarly coarse language. It certainly shows up enough in the direct quotes but just as often in the narration. Perhaps he was trying to add a certain seamlessness to the book by telling the story as one of the characters would have. I'm not sure every reader would react similarly but for me it was jarring and eventually tedious.
However, it didn't stop me from reading to the end because all told, this is an entertaining, enlightening read which adds tremendously to the canon of 1960s pop culture....more
Code Name: High Pockets is a biography of American agent Claire Phillips but as was the case with most WWII resisters, Phillips had a large network suCode Name: High Pockets is a biography of American agent Claire Phillips but as was the case with most WWII resisters, Phillips had a large network supporting her work. Bautista Binkowski makes mention of dozens of these people, most of them Filipino. She also interweaves the Claire Phillips story (and that of Margaret Utinsky to a lesser extent) with a more general Philippine WWII history. The result is a thorough study of the time and place.
If Americans know anything at all about the war in the Philippines, they've probably heard of the Bataan Death March and not much else. But the Filipino contribution to ultimate victory during World War II was absolutely stunning and that's why this particular book is so valuable. The author, who lives in the Philippines, really knows her history (she's a military history tour guide) and was able to interview many people (and/or their children) who worked with Claire Phillips, giving portions of this book a thrilling sense of oral history.
The writing, however, is not necessarily as compelling as the story it tells. But that story is so important, this book definitely deserves a second chance. ...more