Gardens, Dragons & Wine

I recently took a break from the LA area and went up to Napa with some friends—both fictional and real. As I mentioned in my last post, I gave a lot of thought to the books I would take with me, and I ended up reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde. I also took Mary Austin’s The Land of Little Rain, but didn’t get to it on this trip.

I had never read The Secret Garden as a kid, so I was looking forward to it. I am part of a book group called Rediscovering the Classics, and this was the last book in a series of that explored books written by women in a variety of genres. Sometimes a book just happens to find you at a time in your life when it needs to be read. For me, The Secret Garden is one such book.


Over the last few months I have put a lot of work into planting my own home garden. What makes this garden so special for me is that I am living in the house that used to belong to my grandmother. It was the house she and my grandfather raised my mother in and a house that I spent a lot of time visiting as a child. I have pulled many weeds, and I have planted roses, a wildflower garden, some veggies and a few other things. In The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox and those around her are healed and changed by the garden, and working on my garden has brought me that same feeling. It’s a connection to my past as I pull weeds and dig in the same dirt that others in my family worked in years ago. I even have a pair of nesting Western Scrub Jays that have taken quite an interest in what I’m doing, much like Mary’s robin friend in The Secret Garden. Here is one of my bird friends admiring my work recently as I pulled weeds around my tomatoes.


Although I read most of this book in Napa, I kept thinking back to my garden and hoping that five days without watering wouldn’t do my plants in. It turns out they thrived, and it made me realize that maybe plants do best when left alone to grow and bloom.

I also read The Eye of Zoltar, which is the third book in Fforde’s Dragonslayer series. I have been a big Fforde Ffan for quite awhile. This series is his foray into the YA genre after writing quite a few books for adults. In the first book in the series, Jennifer Strange lives in a  world where magic is real, yet magical levels are such that sorcerers are relegated to using their powers for things like rewiring houses,  unclogging stubborn drains and finding lost objects. Jennifer manages an agency for such a group of sorcerers, and the books follow her journey through that, troubles with the greatest sorcerer of all time and finding out she is the last Dragonslayer. Zoltar spent a lot of time with me in Napa, and I think this is my favorite book in this series. Here is a picture at the beautiful CADE Winery, which is situated high up on a hill and has amazing views of the Napa Valley–a view that was nice enough to keep me from opening my book while we waited for the winery tour to begin.


Of course, no trip to Napa would be complete without a visit to two bookstores I have visited on previous trips there: Copperfield Books in Calistoga and Main Street Books in St. Helena. As I mentioned in my last post, both places are gems in a world where most bookstores are disappearing. I managed to pick up a copy of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth and some stationery. Even in a wired world, I still enjoy letter writing, so I buy stationery when I see it. It seems that good letter writing paper is getting harder and harder to find.

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On my last full day there, I went for a walk around St. Helena, and followed signs to the Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Museum. When on a trip, I never pass up an opportunity to explore the small museums I find along the way. Such places are usually run by people who are passionate about what they do, and they therefore put a lot of care into the exhibits. If you happen to be in St. Helena, take a moment to stop by this little museum dedicated to the author. Stevenson and his wife Fanny Osbourne spent their  honeymoon on Mount St. Helena, and he wrote about the experience in The Silverado Squatters. The museum is located at the St. Helena Public Library.

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At the last winery I visited, I asked an employee in the tasting room to give me some suggestions on books to read about the life and history of the Napa Valley. He gave me some good suggestions on learning about wine and one history book, but I am really hoping to find good novels on the subject. I plan to ask this question on future trips to Napa wineries to see if I can find a fellow fiction nerd in the vineyards. If you know of any good novels about the area, feel free to make suggestions in the comments.