More B-Side Literature

Several months ago I created a post about what I referred to as B-Side Literature – lesser known works by famous authors that are familiar to most anyone by the author’s name alone.

I called them ‘B-Side Literature’ to liken them to the lesser known songs on the flip-side of vinyl 45 RPM singles – a companion to the hit song on the A-side.

For my first post, I chose five works from five authors I enjoy, and I thought perhaps I’d choose five more ‘B-Side’ novels that I’ve also loved to share with others in the hope that they will further investigate well-known authors that they might not otherwise take another look at.


Alexandre Dumas, known for such venerable stories as The Three Musketeers and The Count Of Monte Cristo (two of my all-time favorites) released a series of books called ‘Celebrated Crimes’, an eight-volume collection of essays on some of Europe’s most infamous characters. While I have only indulged in one thus far, I chose this one and was far from disappointed. Mary Stuart, also known as Mary Queen of Scots, ascended to the throne at the ripe old age of six when her father King James Of Scotland died. After 22 years of rule Mary was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her son, James, who was only one year old at the time. Mary fled Scotland and sought out the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth I, and was confined by Elizabeth to various castles and manor houses for the next eighteen years and was subsequently beheaded for ‘conspiring to have her cousin assassinated’. A fascinating read – and I often find that non-fiction written by a fiction writer can be just as compelling as their novels. Definitely worth a read.


Jack Kerouac – The Father of the Beats – the man who made road trips cooler than cool with his most famous work, On The Road, also released many other works which reveal much about his own life and that of his Beat Generation contemporaries, albeit under fictional names. The Town and The City is the lengthiest of Kerouac’s other works, at (in the edition I own) more than 400 pages. In it he pays homage to the works of Thomas Wolfe and describes the trials and tribulations of the Martin family (each character in the story molded upon someone from Kerouac’s life and on Kerouac himself, as in the case of the protagonist and narrator of the story, Peter Martin) – Peter drops out of school in favor of a cross-country trip (an obvious precursor to the wildly famous On The Road). Kerouac has become, in the past 20 years, one of my favorite authors to read and I find myself bemoaning his far too early passing at the age of 47. Thankfully he left behind numerous manuscripts, a few of which have been published only in recent years, filled with amazing stories of his adventures on and off the road. This book is, to me, equally as good as On The Road, and a shame to let go unread if you at all enjoy Kerouac’s writing.


Anne Rice. I discovered her writing in my late teens and early 20’s when I had a thirst (pun intended) for bloodsuckers and stories of their heinous acts. Anne Rice managed to turn vampires from nocturnal fiends into glamorous, romantic figures with her tales of Lestat, Louis, Armand, and company. In between these ‘Tales’ Anne Rice wrote some magnificent works that definitely bear investigation. Cry To Heaven is, to me, the best example of Anne Rice’s non-vampire tales being every bit as good as the bloodsuckers. Set in the 18th century, the book tells the story of a ‘Castrati’ (a castrated male soprano) mentor who finds in a new student the opportunity to fulfill a dream that was for himself shattered at an early age. It is a lush, lavish, beautiful tale that I have recommended time and again to those who have not ventured further than Rice’s vampires into her catalogue of works.


Jules Verne’s The Golden Volcano was the second of his ‘lesser known’ works that I have read, after The Lighthouse At The End Of The World. Two Canadian cousins set out to stake a claim during the gold rush and make their fortune, following a deathbed confession about a very rich vein of gold just waiting to be taken by someone. The cousins make their way across country, with dreams of fabulous wealth leading the way. Disasters, death, and danger await them all along the way.  Jules Verne remains one of the world’s best adventure writers with a long list of works to investigate that go beyond 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Around The World In Eighty Days. Many of Verne’s works have not received an English translation to date, but thanks to the Bison Frontiers Of Imagination series several of those works are now available, of which this is one. Such a great, easily devoured adventure tale.


Lastly, Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Another of my favorite novels, Crime and Punishment, set out to portray a guilty man, The Idiot offers a character of pure innocence. A twenty-six year old man, upon leaving a sanitarium after several years stay, returns to Russia to claim an inheritance and to rejoin society. Finding himself an absolute stranger to the ways and mores of the rich and powerful, Prince Myshkin finds himself falling prey to scandal, tragedy, and murder. The impact of his innocence on the unvirtuous creatures that he encounters leads to a powerful and dramatic conclusion to the novel. Russian literature may be difficult in terms of the translated version (some are easier to read than others, and I recommend Constance Garnett translations to newcomers to Dostoevsky) – this book, along with Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, Notes From Underground, and House Of The Dead have all been wonderfully enjoyable to read.

Happy Reading!

New England, By The Book

New England, By The Book: Freeport Book Shoppe, Freeport ME


Several years after I moved from Maine to Massachusetts I received a phone call from my mother where she was excited to share something with me that she’d found that day. It was a used book shop not far from where she lived, and she could not recall my ever mentioning having been there before to her.

She was quite correct. I quickly corrected this oversight and visit the store any and every chance I get to when I visit Maine.

Owner David Young is a self-taught antiquarian dealer in books, having spent years as a security guard and in the army reserve. Entering the shop (once you peruse the bargains set outside the door on the front porch), you typically find David sitting behind the low glass display case counter standing watch over his more valuable inventory. He offers a friendly hello and a ‘knowing’ smile, for he is aware (as you are about to find out), that ‘magic’ awaits you inside his store.

The room shown in the above photograph sits a few steps below the entrance, just beyond the signed editions and bargain closet where you will find just about anything culled from each and every section of the store’s inventory to make room for other items. The fiction (divided into mysteries, children’s, general fiction, and a very healthy section of classics) lines the perimeter of the floor space, with non-fiction (everything from arctic exploration to zebra appreciation) shelved on the spaces in between. Neatly stacked against the shelves are cartons of those items more recently obtained and are always worth digging into the boxes all the way to the bottom (where I have personally unearthed many books that I’ve purchased).

The store owner has been known to say to me, as I approached him with my selections, “Guess it was worth the drive.”, whereas I one day mentioned living out of state and always trying to put his store into my itinerary when I visited Maine. He’s quite knowledgeable about his inventory, and occasionally offers up his own experience with reading what I’ve selected to purchase for my own enjoyment. His friendly, no-pressure interaction with his customers (at least with me) always makes the conversation enjoyable, and he has even offered to try to find a book I might be looking for that he doesn’t happen to have and simply ‘set it aside’ for when I ‘come up again’.

I have yet to leave this store empty-handed, which to me always makes a stop there worthwhile. While I owe my successful shopping trips to the store in part to the two hour distance I live from the store and the fact that I (sadly) cannot visit it more often than I do, (therefore he always has plenty new for me to look at); it is also due in large part to the tremendous variety of books he carries, and the incredibly affordable pricing. While the shop does carry rare and antiquarian selections ranging in the hundreds of dollars in price; the average book will set you back only four to eight dollars apiece.

While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that moms are always right – in this instance, Mom didn’t lead me astray.

Located at 176 U.S. Route 1 (locals refer to it as ‘Old Route 1’) in Freeport, ME, The Freeport Book Shoppe is a reader’s paradise just waiting for you to pay a call. Hours are (at present) listed as:

Open year-round: Hours tend to be a little more flexible in the winter months.

Summer Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Sundays: By chance, usually 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM

Winter Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM
Sundays: By chance, usually 10:00 AM- 4:00 PM


Happy Reading!

New England, By The Book

New England, By The Book – Simon’s Winthrop Bookshop, Winthrop, MA


One of the most attractive features of moving to the town I live in was that many people, even Massachusetts residents, reply ‘Where’s that?’ when they ask where I live and I answer them.

Despite being named after the second Governor of Massachusetts (who was amongst the founding fathers of Boston), the town enjoys relative obscurity (read this as not a whole lot of traffic or crowds). Once considered a ‘resort’ destination for those looking to escape city life and enjoy a salty summer breeze, at the tail end of a narrow gauge railroad branch that ran nearly to the ocean, which surrounds three sides of the town, and Winthrop Beach.

Nowadays people access Winthrop via bridge on Route 145 which is the one way into the town (from East Boston) and the same way out (via Revere), which is the one way out of town. I often tell people that Winthrop is like Pompeii – there’s one road in and one road out and if Vesuvius ever blows, we’re all screwed.

Sometimes people laugh at that.

Often not.

Winthrop is a small town. Also, to me, an attractive feature of living here. There’s a small grocery store, a couple of small pharmacies (one a chain, one not), small restaurants with small bars (though no businesses that are just bars, small or not), the requisite (small) ‘House Of Pizza’ no town seems complete without, small schools, a library (not really ‘small’, per se, but not as big as say Boston Public), small public safety buildings, and various and sundry other businesses, mostly contained in the (small) town center.

Hidden on a side-street that runs from Winthrop’s Main Street all the way to the tip of the town’s peninsula is a (small) red building attached to an (equally small) cedar shingled house.  There is no sign out front – save for the faded ‘Books’ placard in the left-hand corner of the front window and the conspicuous plastic totes on the sidewalk under the picture window  (filled with books) – to advertise the business. There’s nothing visible from the street to tell you what hours they might be open, no ‘open’ or ‘closed’ sign hanging in the window, and no indication of what type of books they offer  for sale (new or used, fiction or non-fiction, etc.), or anything to otherwise beckon you inside to look around.

Similarly to the way people, when told I live in Winthrop, respond, ‘Where’s that?’ – Simon’s seems to beg a response of ‘What do they sell?’ from anyone who notices it in their travels – which really takes some work to notice it at all. It’s almost as if you have to already know where it is to find it and patronize it, rather than be a novice seeking it out for the first time.

Nevertheless, seek it out I did, and despite having to drive past it for months before I found it to be open (which I recognized solely by the fact that the inside door, behind the outer storm door, was open and a light was on inside on a gloomy, overcast afternoon). When I saw this, I immediately parked my vehicle (parking is limited to on-street availability), abandoned my plan to go to the grocery store, and went inside, despite my long-time belief that the entire place had to be some kind of literary witness protection program.

The books are plentiful, lined from floor to ceiling, and laying about in stacks here and there and everywhere as well. There are separate sections for fiction and non-fiction, and mystery novels even have their own segregated shelving from the fiction. There is a children’s area as well, and if you are curious enough to venture through the doorway that connects the bookshop to the attached ‘house’ you will even find an assortment of very recent releases – so recent they still qualify as ‘new’.

The contents of the store are a treasure trove. But entering the store to browse is not for the faint of heart. The building (once a neighborhood grocery, according to the shop owner, Lee, a lovely woman who often inquires what made me choose a particular novel or classic work that I have brought to her desk to purchase) holds a lot of books in a small area, and the shelves are very close together – so close in fact that in order to use the ‘reading’ section of my progressive bifocals to see the top shelf offerings I need to tilt my head all the way back, which results in rubbing my head on the shelf behind me. The floors are sloping (more so in some places than others) and the walking paths between the shelves and sections are not always clear of boxes of books waiting to find either space on the shelves or on the shelves of their new homes once purchased.

But don’t let any of that deter you. If you are hale of heart and hearty of a desire to find a good book at a great price (I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than four dollars for a used fiction selection), and if you can not let your joy of finding a good book deter you from paying at least some attention to the floor you are walking on and be mindful of your step, then this is a great place to go. It may not be the only game in town for used books in Winthrop, MA, but it certainly has the largest selection.

On a final note, the store does have a ‘website’, although the information there is as Spartan as the store’s exterior in terms of what it tells you. The hours are listed as 1pm to 10pm Monday through Thursday, 1pm to 6pm on Friday, and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.

But don’t quote me on that. I have driven past the store in the afternoon and found the door closed, the lights off, and the plastic bins in the front covered over with blue tarps (what I assume is the anti-theft system employed as the bins never leave the sidewalk) in hours they are supposedly open.

The website can be found at – but don’t quote me on that either, because I tried to copy the link and paste it, and could not.

Again – like a literary witness protection program.

But, like many other New England book stores, definitely worth the trip.

If you can find the town.

Happy Reading!

If you can find the store.




New England, By The Book

New England, By The Book: The Lord Randall Bookshop in Marshfield, MA


One of my favorite ways to pass time is to visit a used book store. I’m an avid reader, always in search of a literary gem at a great price. While I’d love to keep the existence of many of them to myself to mine their offerings time and again to add to my own collection; I’ve decided to share my experiences in my New England (and sometimes beyond) book buying travels with others in an ongoing series of blog posts.


I (unfortunately) do not have any photos of this first shop I’m listing, nor can I find one online, but will be sure to correct that in the future for additional posts. I’ve put a google maps location ‘photo’ above this first post in lieu of an actual photo.

This past Saturday I visited one of my favorite stores, The Lord Randall Bookshop at 22 Main Street, Marshfield, MA.

I originally discovered this small but highly rewarding shop while perusing the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers list (formerly MARIAB, now redirected to SNEAB (Southern New England Antiquarian Booksellers) at

Nestled into the walls between a centuries old home and the attached garage, this ‘barn’ space retains its pre-twentieth century charm and wooden planked walls and floor. Sparse rugs, certainly as care-worn as some of the book spines standing watch over them, lay on the floor gathering the dust that the book jackets are meant to repel. Stretching down from the ceiling a few cobwebs (with nary a spider in sight upon them), while they might initially be a bit off-putting to some, only enhance the charming atmosphere, occasionally waving in the air which itself is steeped in the scent of both modern and ancient book bindings.

The shelves of the shop are stocked ceiling to floor with both fiction and non-fiction offerings sure to capture the interest of any reader. Boating, travel, history, New England Lore, true crime, and architecture are just a few of the subjects to choose from.

The children’s section, along the wall to the left when you enter the shop, while you might not be likely to find a Potter or a Percy Jackson waiting for a new owner to dive into their pages, invites children to step back in time with The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and many other early- to mid-twentieth century tales.

The novels to be found in the shop are divided into two sections; fiction and literature (there is a difference). The literature section boasts offerings by James, Tolstoy,Thoreau, Wharton and the like; while the fiction shelves play host to Grisham, Ludlum, Le Carre, and many other ‘mass appeal’ authors of the past twenty to thirty years.

Pricing is fair, as I emerged from my most recent visit to the shop with two classics (King Solomon’s Mines and The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, in the Readers Digest ‘Worlds Best Reading’ series bindings), for $7.50 each, plus tax. Prices range from a few dollars less to hundreds more for rare and antiquarian books, which the shop carries in plentiful supply.

While you might not initially find anyone behind the desk in the shop when you enter, owner Gail and her trusty canine companion (a sweet dog who patrols the shop occasionally to sniff at your legs and check up on your progress, but was reluctant to give up his name) will eventually descend the few wooden steps from the attached residence and patiently sit behind her desk waiting for you to bring your finds to her for checkout. She will then hand-write your receipt, present you with your change, and wish you enjoyment from your newfound treasures before you depart.

There’s nothing flashy or extravagant about the Lord Randall, from the pale-green painted exterior to the gray, ashen floors and walls of the interior, but the worlds to be discovered with the books inside more than makes up for any flaws you might find in the decor.

Well worth the forty-five minute drive for me, this book shop is one I will likely visit again and again over the years. If you live too far away to make the trip, the shop has an online presence via the ABE Books website, and does offer shipping.

The listing from SNEAB is as follows:

Gail Wills
22 Main Street (Route 3A & 139), Marshfield, MA 02050
Phone: (781) 837-1400
Hours: Wed + Fri 12-5; Thu + Sat 11-5; Closed at 4 in Winter (Nov-Mar)
General shop with Local History, Children’s, Art and Architecture, Literature, Travel

Happy Reading!


A Few Places I Find Some Of The Books I Read

For me nothing will ever take the place of that giddy, ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling that I get upon finding a well-stocked used book store. I do not own an e-reader personally, and don’t know that I ever will. I love the feel and smell of a book too much to give it up.  I’m happy to see that technology makes A TON of free literature available to others who might not have the means to get to a store regularly or have (insert horrified gasp here) any book stores in their area (which would be to me a ring of Hell so low I cannot possibly imagine it), or not a lot of money to spare for literature. To each their own…we all have our reasons for how we obtain our reading material, just as much as for what we choose to read.  I love the classics, and novels from 40, 50, and 60 years ago.  Finding a hardback copy of a ‘gem’ in a used bookstore is for me what I suppose finding a pair of shoes that matches your favorite outfit EXACTLY is like.

That said, there is also some excellent new fiction that I don’t want to miss out on as well.  Those I could get on an e-reader, but for my take on that, please see above. It’s just not for me. For this indulgence, I take to the internet, rather than visit large chain stores (which I do, occasionally, do) regularly and find ‘popular’ fiction taking up most of the shelf space and walking out empty handed.  I look for things that interest me, and if I can support a local store, I will…if not, I’ll order it online.

I love good historical fiction. Therefore, I’m always on the lookout for something to add to my collection.  I find Amazon gives me ‘stuff that other people buy’, and I have to filter out the non-historical fiction from these lists of ‘recommendations’…and therefore go to other sources where it’s purely a list of forthcoming (and past release) historical fiction novels.  There is some ability to categorize what you are looking for on these sites – but overall they are a treasure trove of suggested reading where it’s not limited to what’s ‘hot’, who has the biggest advertising budget, what some website ‘thinks’ you might like to read. number one stop when I’m looking to see what’s coming for release that I might like to read. blog, but a really good blog about upcoming books and past releases. great place to find books with descriptions, reviews, etc. 

Hopefully others find one or more of these sites helpful in finding their next great read.

Happy hunting!


Time And Chance by Sharon Kay Penman – December 30th, 2013


Presently I’m reading the middle novel of a trilogy about the rise and reign of Henry II in England. Book one, When Christ And His Saints Slept, traced the 12th century feud between cousins Stephen of Blois and Maude, daughter of Henry I though an uncrowned queen, to control the throne of England that resulted in a ten years war between them.  In the end, Maude’s son Henry II took control of the throne and married the recently divorced Queen of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a woman eleven years his senior.

This book, Time And Chance, chronicles the marriage of Henry and Eleanor, as well as Henry’s appointment of Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, a move he hoped would give him control over the Church as well as the country. Becket’s unforeseen discovery of ‘God’ and a desire to protect the Church from state interference fueled a rivalry between the two that paved a road to murder.

The first book in this trilogy, though a weighty read at 746 pages in length (the hardcover version), was a rich and detailed recreation of the suffering of the people of England as Maude and Stephen waged their decade long battle against one another.  In retrospect, no matter which side a person took up the cause for, Maude or Stephen, no one, especially the subjects they sought to ‘better’ the life of, won.

The murder of Thomas Becket is one of Medieval England’s most well-known stories of treachery and betrayal.  Sharon Kay Penman’s abundant skill at recreating stories from the middle ages (having read both When Christ And His Saints Slept and Lionheart previously), make this a long anticipated read for me, and one I intend to savor.

I have already ordered the third and final installment of this cycle, Devil’s Brood, and look forward to the release of ‘A Kings Ransom’, the sequel to Lionheart, this winter.  Sharon Kay Penman has an impressive assortment of novels which focus on this time period and the Plantagenets themselves. If you enjoy novels of this sort, she is not an author who will disappointment.