Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New England trip - with books, of course

I've been finding it difficult to get back to blogging after nearly two weeks without posting anything. This end-of-year post contains some history, some books, and a good many pictures.  (My husband Mark was the photographer.)

Both our semesters having wrapped up, Mark and I took off for New England on December 22nd for a short trip to visit family and see some literary and historical venues.  We made our first photo stop at my favorite used bookstore, the Niantic Book Barn along the Connecticut coastline.

They have three stores, two annexes in downtown Niantic and the main store about a mile west of town.  The latter is comprised of a number of barns and outbuildings full of reasonably priced books. 

If you're anywhere in the area, make your way to this store, pronto, and bring your wish lists because they have about 500,000 books in stock at any given time.  A good deal of the fiction is either outdoors under awnings or in unheated (or unevenly heated) barns, so I wore my winter coat and gloves.  Definitely worth it, though.

They must have some locals who trade in recent purchases or review copies regularly, because this is what I ended up with, below.  (The top two are actually UK sagas about WWII given to me by my father, but they made it in the picture too, along with my photogenic orange kitty, Oliver.  My 4-ft TBR pile(s) at far left.)

Nearly all of these are historical mysteries with the exception of Mackenzie Ford's Gifts of War, which is a romance of sorts set during WWI.  Coincidentally I found the newly published sequel to Miss Dimple Disappears, which I reviewed not long ago.  Mignon Ballard's Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause is another WWII cozy mystery set in Georgia.

I finished Philip Gooden's The Salisbury Manuscript on the plane trip home.  First in a series, it's a historical mystery set in the cathedral town of Salisbury in the 1870s.  A young London-based lawyer, Tom Ansell, is sent to retrieve the unpublished memoir written by a local clergyman's late father and spirit it away for safekeeping.  Seems the contents are rather racy and potentially embarrassing.

To Tom's unpleasant surprise, he finds himself a suspect in the canon's murder, and that mystery intertwines with archaeological discoveries from the region and odd goings-on among the townspeople.  Although he's somewhat colorless in contrast to the eccentrics he meets, his sarcastic sense of humor is visible to those who read carefully, and his lively girlfriend, a would-be sensation novelist on the lookout for new material, keeps the amusement level high.  It's a good choice for those who enjoy mysteries of the traditional British sort, and I do.

After more family visits, it was off to Boston's North Shore, where we stopped in Salem for two nights.  This is one of the best examples of a historic New England town common I've seen.

This enormous park sits in the center of the city, and a number of houses and stores face it from all directions.  Lots of pastels in alternating hues.  I bet you need special permission to paint your house a new color here.

Next we have a statue of Roger Conant, Salem's founder (and my 10th great-grandfather).  He stands across from Salem Common, looking dour and Puritan-like in his cloak.

Because of Conant's proximity to the building below, many tourists believe he had something to do with the witch trials, but he died over a decade before that.

Ah, the Salem Witch Museum.  It was 40 degrees the day we spent in Salem, which meant we didn't see many tourists on the streets even though the hotel was busy.  Later we found out why.  They were all at this prime attraction at the same time we were.  We should have read the Yelp reviews beforehand, because the presentation we saw was pretty hokey.  Mood lighting, life-size dioramas, and an over-the-top (but well-researched) soundtrack dramatize the events of the Salem witch trials.  Kids might like it, but we didn't think it was worth $9 apiece.

Next was a historic house I wish we'd taken a tour of - we'd hoped to get to one of the evening lantern tours, but I read the schedule incorrectly, and by the time I figured that out, it was too late.  This is the House of the Seven Gables made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his novel of the same name.

By all accounts, it's well worth a visit, so I hope we'll be able to come back here next time we're in the area.  I put a copy of the novel in my B&N cart, too.

To all of my readers: Thanks for visiting and commenting - I appreciate your taking the time to stop by here. Hope you have a wonderful New Year, with plenty of good historical reading for 2012!


  1. Ah, yes the Salem Witch Museum. I went there when I visited Boston in the spring. It is Hokey with a capital "H". But my guess was any museum focusing on the trials is likely to have its own fair share of hokey.

    I thought The House of the Seven Gables was worth it. Very nice gardens, and interesting architectural history. But the admission is on the pricey side for a house museum

  2. Yay! Books! Great pictures. :)

  3. Oh, that's a shame about the Salem Witch Museum, it could be very powerful if done right.

    And I wish I lived near that bookshop, looks amazing!

  4. Yes, the Seven Gables house was expensive. I wouldn't have minded paying it if there were interesting things to see (I love old houses, and it looked like it would have been a substantial tour). Unlike the witch museum, where we were herded through and found ourselves back outside after 45 minutes! I can see that it would be an educational experience for people who didn't know much about the trials, but there wasn't much to actually look at, and their attempts to tie historical "witch hunts" (McCarthyism etc) to actual accusations of witchcraft didn't really fly with me either.

    If I lived near Niantic, I'd be at that bookstore at least once a week!

  5. Happy New Year, Sarah!

    I never thought about visiting Salem before but your trip post has really sparked my interest (the photos are beautifully expressive - my compliments to your husband).

    It has been a while since I read a traditional British mystery even though I like them. How is Gooden at evoking a sense of place and time in The Salisbury Manuscript?

  6. You know its funny - I have lived like 20 minutes from Niantic my whole life and never knew about it. I will have to stop by there when I go home to visit my parents one of these days!

  7. Happy new Year from the Shetland Islands. I am now following your blog as it's very interesting and I'm hoping to read some of the books on your list. I'm actually writing a novel myself at the moment, but that's a whole other story!!!
    If you have a look at my blog it's about Shetland wool, Shetland sheep and knitting, mainly at the moment Shetland lace. You may find it of interest. Please feel free to follow my blog or comment, ask questions etc.
    I look forward to continuing to browse your blog.
    Kindest regards

  8. The same to you.

    Thanks for the photos too.

    Love, C.

  9. Happy New Year to everyone!

    Danielle, thanks, I'm sure Mark will appreciate the compliment as he's been spending a lot of time on his photography lately. Gooden is skilled at evoking a sense of place and time through his characters - you can tell from their speech/actions that they're Victorians living far outside London. I would have liked to see far more descriptions of Salisbury itself, though, and the the cathedral doesn't feature much in the story.

    Dolleygurl, I hope you can make it there someday - plan to spend at least an hour or two. They have many books here I haven't seen anywhere else, and even the brand new ones are $4-5 apiece.

    Kate, I've signed up as a follower of your blog. How fascinating to see the old photos of your father and grandfather at the loom, and you have a beautiful cat!

    Hope you have a wonderful 2012 also, C!

  10. I didn't know about the Niantic Book Barn, and I'm in the same state! I feel a road trip coming on...

    Oh, and the House of the Seven Gables - I've always wanted to read that. The House itself looks amazing, and foreboding (my kind of place).

    Happy New Year, Sarah!

  11. Hi Silsbee, and happy new year!

    My parents are in Newington, and we took Rt. 9 south to I-95, then a few exits north on 95 to Niantic. About 45 minutes if you live in the Hartford area too.

    I haven't read Hawthorne since high school - both Scarlet Letter and "Young Goodman Brown." I enjoyed them both so am looking forward to this one too.

  12. I live in Newington, too! How funny. :D

    The Scarlet Letter was never a favorite, but I did enjoy Young Goodman Brown. I haven't read either in a long time, though.

  13. That's great; what a coincidence!

    I wrote my first ever research paper on Young Goodman Brown for Mr. Alaimo's 9th grade English class at Newington High. That's one reason I remember the story so well.

  14. The Niantic Book Barn, not only the pictures that Sarah shows, but two annexes in downtown Niantic, one full of mystery, romance and children's books and one directly on Main St. with cookbooks, sci-fi, nautical, etc. They always have coffee, cheddar cheese crackers and mini donuts and of course, the book barn cats!

    It's a distination! I love The Book Barn..

  15. I bought three almost-new mysteries at the newest annex downtown, and convinced my dad to buy a few more. Glad to see you're another fan. :)

    Here's an old photostream of me at the Book Barn, from 2007. The building at #16 is the one to go to for hardcover fiction! And they've added more buildings since then too.

  16. Ah, the Salem Witch husband and I visited several months ago and we both agree, it was pretty hokey and not worth the $9. We didn't get to see much else because the trip was pretty impromptu, but as we wandered around we thought it looked like a pretty cool town.

  17. Thanks for the report! It goes to show that most everyone who's been to Salem has been to the witch museum... they must be good at PR, or have the right name (probably the latter!). I did enjoy walking through the town, even though it was 40 degrees out. I'd like to go back when it's a little warmer, even if it means braving some larger crowds!

  18. I love Salem. In fact, the House of the Seven Gables is my dream house-well worth the $ multiple times for its literary associations and beautiful setting! I also adore Salem Willows, the nearby park-they have some neat vintage machines in the arcades there. As for the wiches, the best bet is to grab a guidebook to the original sites in Danvers, which was Salem Village in the 1690s. I visited the site of the meeting house (there's a memorial there) and the Parris parsonage site. While downtown Salem was packed in July 2010, nobody was at the parsonage! has details

  19. I haven't heard of Salem Willows before now - it's on the list for next time. We didn't make it to any of the sites in Danvers, although we passed by the huge mall there. I found it interesting that nowhere on the tour of the witch museum did they mention that Salem Village was now Danvers and that there were historical sites to see there, too. Danvers keeps a low profile, letting Salem have the tourists and associated notoriety. I found this Washington Post article very interesting in that respect (it was published a couple of Halloweens ago). When we go back, we'll be stopping more in Danvers. Thanks for the link!