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Our intent is a newsletter for enthusiasts of both books and Royal Oak Bookshop.  What would you like to see in this space?  We welcome your suggestions.  ---Beth Heaton, editor


Book chat with the book cat

By Willa Catter

The long winter nights of January are a good time to curl up in bed and read to your cat – or dog, if you must.

With strange tales for all tastes, including headless miners, haunted churches, rail cars and houses, The Ghosts of Virginia is perfect bedtime reading.

Volumes XI and XII continue author L. B. Taylor, Jr.’s celebrated series with oral histories and previously published accounts collected from all corners of Virginia, from the Shenandoah Valley to Tidewaters and the Eastern Shore.

There are plenty of recollections of spectral encounters and messages from the beyond, as well as Civil War ghost stories.

For fans of the film “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” there is an account of a ghost in the Library of Congress in Vol. 12 and a long piece on the then controversial -- conspiracy theories abounded at the time -- death and burial of John Wilkes Booth. “Where is Booth’s Body?” is an anonymous account written in 1892 as told by Col. Lafayette C. Baker, Chief of the U.S. Secret Service at the end of the Civil War.

My favorite story is “The Telepathic Cat,” for obvious reasons, found at the end of volume XII.

The “tail” is recounted from Elizabeth Procter Biggs’ 1978 book, Beyond the Limit of our Sight. A woman living in the Front Royal-Flint Hill area in the 1920s took in a stray cat she called Gracious, “Grace,” for short.

My fellow feline was known for helping to find lost items in the house and once saved the woman, her daughter and several other cats from a deadly tornado.

Though Taylor has “not seen or otherwise experienced a ghost,” he’s been a collector of ghost stories for more than 20 years. Each volume in Ghosts of Virginia has prompted readers (with his encouragement) to send him more of their local legends of mysterious, colorful, quaint, creepy, even humorous occurrences.

Taylor leaves it to the readers to judge for themselves where the truth lies; he only adds facts of background and setting to the details described in the emails, letters, and recorded accounts.

Signed copies of Ghosts of Virginia – all 12 volumes – are available at the Royal Oak Bookshop.

Click here for more information or purchase the books.



Appalachian Comfort Food by Nan Hatthaway  

            An intern chef from The Inn at Little Washington browsed our cookbook section regularly many years ago.  Once when he came to the checkout counter we volunteered to critique anything he prepared from the books he was purchasing. His response was spectacular---melt-in-your-mouth apple pie and ice cream with a hint of butterscotch.

            We have offered our judging service to many cookbook buyers since that success.  The occasional reply is “Oh, I don’t cook; I just like to read them.”   Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook:  A Lifetime of Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley is sure to be a favorite of cookbook readers and just might move them to cook. 

            In 1952, single mother Mildred Rowe started her own restaurant in the foothills of the Appalachians.  With strong faith and a tough-as-nails work ethic, she built a business that still gathers family, neighbors, and travelers around tables laid with legendary dishes.  Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant and Bakery has drawn raves in Gourmet and Travel and Leisure magazines, and now serves half a million people a year, making it the most popular reason to stop in Staunton, Virginia. 

            Mollie Cox Bryan has created a scrapbook that celebrates the life of Mrs. Rowe with memories from customers and staff, anecdotes, vintage photographs, and 175 home-style recipes.  Rich Patch, Virginia, where Mildred Rowe was born in 1913, is deep in the hills of the Alleghany Highlands.  Mildred’s fool philosophies were formed in Rich Patch.  The 13-member family ate whatever they grew, slaughtered, hunted, fished, preserved, and harvested from the fields and woods.  All of the restaurant food has always been homemade.  Mildred Rowe never opted for convenience over taste. 

            The devotion of some customers is legendary.  Many years ago, a pregnant woman went into labor but refused to leave her table until she could eat some fried chicken.  Mrs. Rowe’s chicken, skillet-cooked to order, demands at least a thirty-five minute wait.  Mrs. Rowe took matters into her own hands, escorted the young woman to her car, and drove her to the emergency room.  A chicken dinner was delivered to the hospital the following day. 

            Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook is, in every way, a treasure trove of Mildred Rowe’s legacy.  The fried chicken recipe, by the way, is included.  Jane and Michael Stern, authors of Roadfood, wrote in the foreword that Mrs. Rowe’s chicken is “spectacularly tasty: brittle red-gold skin with a savory crunch hugging moist meat tender as butter.”




Come See What’s Left of the Grenville Mountains by Beth Heaton     


It was a mountain range that rivaled the Himalayas.  A billion years ago, continents collided, and crunched the land into tall mountains here and from Canada to Texas.  Over time, erosion whittled them down, and lava flows and sea floors later covered up the remaining rocks of granite and gneiss.  Drive south twenty miles on the Skyline Drive and you can see the last remnants of these Grenville Mountains, rocks now called the Pedlar Formation, in places like Hogback Overlook and Little Devil Stairs.

    It would help to take a guide with you.  Geology Along the Skyline Drive: A Self-Guided Tour for Motorists spells out the geologic story of our region in a fashion easy-to-read for the novice.  Make it through just the first thirteen pages, a primer of basic geology, and you will be ready for the 23 stops along overlooks and outcrops.  The nearest is only ten minutes away at Signal Knob Overlook.  Author Robert L. Badger’s clear descriptions and photographs sort out the jumble of the rocky hillside into layers of rock from old volcanoes and river bottoms.  It adds to the enjoyment of the vistas from Skyline Drive to know something of the history and science behind the scenery. Buy the book!

Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for February 2007 edition of Out and About

A History of Shenandoah County, Virginia By Beth Heaton 

It’s a big, thick, 800-page red volume chronicling the history of our neighboring county to the west, and between the lists of land grants and family names, there is plenty of history and first-hand accounts to make this book interesting reading. A History of Shenandoah County, Virginia, by John W. Wayland, Ph.D., was originally published in 1927, with a second edition in 1969. After being out of print for about twenty years, the book is once again available.

Because until 1836 the southern and western portions of today’s Warren County were still part of Shenandoah County, our two communities share an early history as well as a river and mountain range. Without going too far from Front Royal, you can see landmarks and features mentioned in the book. Wayland brings out the history behind the old churches and houses, Cedar Creek, Hupp Hill, and Fort Valley. You can imagine the signal fires and flags being relayed from Signal Knob to Fort Mountain to Stony Man Mountain during the Civil War, like a scene out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. There’s a memorable account of the flood of 1870, and along the Shenandoah River today, you can see that riverside topography that resulted in hilltop houses being surrounded by floodwaters. And for history enthusiasts, there are illustrations, maps, bibliography, and a lengthy appendix with much historical information.
Buy the book!

Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for December 2006 edition of Out and About

“Take a Left at the Old Linden Post Office” By Beth Heaton

It’s a winding, winding, steep road that travels up the mountain north of Linden. Freezeland Road takes a sharp corner at Skyland Estates, breezes through a former orchard filled with extraordinary views and now filled with new homes, and arrives at Blue Mountain. “ Blue Mountain” originally named only the community of homes on top of this nameless mountain in northeast Warren County. A French couple dreaming of “a small cabin, surrounded by trees” named it when they purchased 800 acres in the 1950’s and started the development. Residents share the mountaintop with a couple of cell phone towers and a state wildlife management area (with hiking trails open to the public), and “ Blue Mountain” has become a place-name.


Just in time for Christmas gifting, a book has arrived about this mountain community. Author Richard Long built a Blue Mountain home in the 70’s, and recorded then his conversations with long-time neighborhood characters. When he sought out interviews with folks who had a family connection to the Blue Mountain area, he took his story down from the mountain into nearby Front Royal, Middletown, and Fauquier County. In his new book, Blue Mountain Memories , he mentions others who traveled through: George Washington, Civil War soldiers, cattle ranchers, and more.


Blue Mountain Memories: A Story of a Blue Ridge Mountain and the People who live there will be enjoyed by residents and visitors, and by anyone else interested in a little piece of Warren County history.

Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for November 2006 edition of Out and About    

By Beth Heaton

No Entrance Fees, No ATV’s….Plenty of Wildlife..............
Home to 674 species of Virginia wildlife, the Wildlife Management Areas are there for those who want to enjoy the outdoors, whether by hunting, fishing, bird-watching, hiking, or horseback riding. Wildlife Management Areas are not national or state parks, and they are not part of the national or state forest system. These 29 areas are acres and acres of land, owned by all Virginians, and managed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Their primary purpose is to provide good hunting and fishing space for the anglers and hunters whose license fees pay for the purchase and upkeep of these lands. When you venture there, “it might be best to carry a cellular telephone”, advises author Bob Gooch in his book Enjoying Virginia Outdoors: A Guide to Wildlife Management Areas. That is how remote are many of these areas, found in all regions of Virginia, from the Princess Anne W.M.A. in Virginia Beach to the Hidden Valley W.M.A. in far southwest Virginia.

We are fortunate here in Warren County to have two Wildlife Management Areas nearby. The Rapidan Wildlife Management Area is an especially rugged sprawl of patchwork parcels of land about an hour to the south of Front Royal. Backed up to the Shenandoah National Park, the eight tracts of land have rugged mountains and trout streams, but you won’t see here the well-traveled manicured paths found in nearby Shenandoah National Park.

Closer to home, the G. Richard Thompson WMA covers 4000 plus acres along the slopes of the Blue Ridge between Freezeland Road and Route 688. The Appalachian Trail forms the backbone for a myriad of shorter trails, some connecting such highlights as Lake Thompson and a trillium wildflower preserve.

Sale copies of Enjoying Virginia Outdoors are available for $13.99 at Royal Oak Bookshop


Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for October 2006 edition of Out and About    

Ghost Stories By Beth Heaton

A young man in grey clothes and a cap with a visor moves quickly from a frozen creek through the village of Riverton, leaving no footprints in the snow or mud. Cottage doors lock on their own and corks disappear at the stately mansion of Guard Hill House. A young woman lingers on in the bedroom at her hilltop home of Bel Air from which she watched the Civil War.

Whether truth or folklore, ghost stories liven up the history of a place. He himself has never encountered a ghost, but author L. B. Taylor, Jr. has been a collector of ghost stories for over twenty years. Each volume in his series of books, Ghosts of Virginia, has prompted readers to send him more of their local legends of mysterious, colorful, quaint, creepy, even humorous occurances. Taylor leaves it to the readers to judge for themselves the veracity of the tales; he only adds facts of background and setting to the details described in the emails, letters, and recorded accounts.

His latest edition, Ghosts of Virginia, Volume X includes fifteen stories from our Shenandoah Valley region, involving a haunted house, a missing peddlar, a ghostly visit, and a trucker’s drive through a Twilight Zone stretch of Route 55. Cemetery eccentricities, funeral customs, spiritualism, and other regions of Virginia round out the rest of the chapters.

Autographed copies of all ten volumes of Ghosts of Virginia are available at Royal Oak Bookshop.

Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for September 2006 edition of Out and About    

It’s All About the Road By Beth Heaton

Roanoke has her Mill Mountain Star, Seattle has the Space Needle, and Warren County has the Shenandoah Valley Overlook. From the first stop as they head south on the Skyline Drive, tourists can admire the spread of farmland, town, mountains, and night lights from this vantage point right above Front Royal. But it is a personal landscape for locals. Track the progress of our new high school, home of the Skyline Hawks. See the layout of the new Skyline Soccerplex, and the transformation of the Avtex site. Pick out familiar landmarks: the church steeples, the courthouse, and the Riverton bridges. Locate your own home, if you live on the west, south, or north parts of town. Watch airplanes and gliders take off and land from the airport, and follow with your eyes the course of the Shenandoah’s South Fork as it winds around the town.

We have the Front Royal civic leaders of 1935 to thank for this hawk’s eye view of our town and county. Four years into the construction of Skyline Drive, there was no planned viewing spot near Front Royal. The Lions, Rotarians, merchants, Chamber, and council members campaigned, and Park landscape architect Harvey Benson listened. And so Front Royal got its overlook at milepost two and a half.

Politics and design, or, in author Reed Engle’s words, “avarice, dreams, and the sweat and tears…”, that is how a road gets carved along the top of a mountain ridge. Plenty has been written about Shenandoah National Park’s outstanding natural features and cultural history. Now Engle and the Shenandoah National Park Association have produced a book that is all about the road itself. The Greatest Single Feature… A Sky-line Drive starts with the story of transportation in the 19 th century and details the sequence of events that saw the completion of the Skyline Drive in the 1930’s. It was an interesting assortment of factors that shaped the road’s development; they include railroad magnates, the 1929 drought, and a prominent Front Royal businessman. Engle tells the story well, and covers the controversy and disagreements on major points, such as the acquisition of land, and on minor ones, such as should guardrails be made of chestnut or stone?

With clear diagrams and explanations, the book is a salute to the engineering feats of tunnel, cut-and-fill, embankments, and dry-laid walls. Old photographs document the construction process, and old postcards picture the early years. On their next visit to an overlook, readers might be lowering their eyes for a moment from the grand horizons to admire the impressive work beneath their feet.

Newsletter #26, Fall 2006

This is the time of year we remind customers to arrange for their holiday gifts to family and friends living abroad. Postal service has improved considerably over our 31 years of book shipping. Even so, we were recently amazed when a customer in the UK emailed that his surface-mailed book had arrived in seven days. There must have been a ship in port with engines running! So order any book (in person, by phone, email, or website), we’ll gift wrap it free of charge, enclose a handwritten gift enclosure, and ship anywhere in the world. You have a new option for long-distance giving---gift cards that you can send from our website. Over one million titles are available through our shop, including books you see reviewed or advertised. Our gift cards are available in $5 increments up to $200. These gift cards may be redeemed at our retail shop or online, and make the perfect all-occasion gift. Remember our gift card the next time you need an instant gift, or any gift. Our personal service in the shop is duplicated with our online store. Josh, from Baltimore, knew the subject of a book he wanted and the editor’s surname. When we emailed the information to him, his response was, "Wow, that’s great! I’ve been looking for the Ewell book for years, to no avail. I can’t even remember how many book shops of whom I’ve made inquiries, and you found it!" Kathleen lives in the area, emails orders to us, and picks them up at the shop. When she ordered a book well in advance of publication date, she was surprised we would take her order and let her know when it was published.

Ann, another local customer, knew of this service. When the last page of her book read "Watch for the stunning conclusion of Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein in Book 3 on sale summer 2006 wherever books are sold," she placed her order with us. Summer came and went with no Frankenstein Book 3. Ann visited the Dean Koontz website and found that Chao in Delaware had written "This has to be the question you get most often. Two words: Frankenstein Three. Oh, one other word: When?" Koontz wrote a lengthy, amusing answer that concluded with "publication in winter 2007." When we don’t have an answer to a book problem, our customers frequently do.

Your local bookshop CAN and does compete with Internet and chain bookstores!

And here’s what they don’t offer that we do ---

Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for July 2006 edition of Out and About

Snake Stories By Beth Heaton

    Pam, her two kids, and dog come across a snake's body on the trail.  She pokes it with a long stick, turns it over on its back, and watches the dog sniff and ignore it.  No movement from the snake.  It's dead, she decides.  So when 8 year old Mindy asks bravely if she can touch the dead snake, Pam says sure.  Good nature lesson, she thinks.  Five seconds later, she's holding back the dog, yelling at the 10 year old to put down the stick and back off, consoling Mindy on her bitten hand, and calling the doctor on the cell phone.

Turn to page 11, Snakes of Virginia:  " Hognose snakes attempt to intimidate potential enemies by flattening their neck, hissing, and if necessary, playing dead..."

    Authors Donald W. Linzey and Michael J. Clifford have made their book Snakes of Virginia very user-friendly.  I used it to identify the snake that lives in the drainpipe under our walkway.  ( Page 58:  "Garter snakes are easily distinguished from other Virginia snakes because of their light longitudinal stripes...")  I recognized the description of the green snake that hung regularly in the trees at our old house in Virginia Beach.  ( Page 91:  The Rough Green Snake is distinctly hunts, hides and rests in vegetation several feet above the ground..)   Obviously, the fellow that sunbathes on the old tires behind our shed is a black racer.  ( Table C:  "dull black, body round in cross section...")

    Another snake story.  Summer camp survival hike.  The campers are supposed to be foraging in the wild for their dinner.  They've found day lilies, some roots, and even a couple of frogs.  One of them sees the brown head of another frog poking through the dead branches near the creek.  They are about to catch it, when it begins to move--and lengthen.  That's no frog's body that winds slowly through the debris.  It's brown, with a pattern of wavy copper brown bands.  The foolish counselors catch it anyway, and cook it over the fire, laced between sticks.  "Tastes like chicken" the campers joke. 

Pictured beautifully in Color Plate #48 in Snakes of Virginia is Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen, the poisonous northern copperhead.

   Along with the excellent color plates, Snakes of Virginia has a taxonomic key for the true herpetologist or scientist who doesn't mind picking up a specimen and counting, for example, the lower labial scales.  But there is also an easier comparison table for those of us who prefer to observe the patterns of blotches and crossbands from, say, ten feet back or so. 

    A last snake story.   "The furnace is down the steps in the back room of the cellar," they tell the repairman.  "But you better look out for the snake that lives down there," pipes up five year old Clara. "It's not there all the time,” the parents explain,  "It never comes upstairs, and we never have problems with mice."  It's an unfinished cellar with a dirt floor, and 60-year-old walls of stacked rock, plenty of places for a snake to enter and exit. 

Consult Snakes of Virginia, page 99:  "Black rat snakes...frequently take up residence in barns and other farm buildings, sometimes including the farmer's house..." 

Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for June 2006 edition of Out and About

Overlooking Overall By Beth Heaton

The creek banks are steep, the river is close, and the mountains extend their long-armed ridges down from the west and east all the way to the river. That’s the lay of the land where Overall Run flows into the Shenandoah River in the far southwest corner of Warren County. East to west, that topography has kept a forested wildlife migration corridor open, connecting Shenandoah National Park with the Massanutten mountains. Here, too, is where a hikers’ trail, the Tuscarora, begins to cross the valley floor. North to south, Overall is the narrow midpoint between Front Royal and Luray on Route 340. From my vantage point on the heights just north of Overall and overlooking that small community, most of the buildings which I could see would not have been here 140 years ago. But that large white oak tree on my right is old enough to have provided shade for a Union officer observing the Southern forces across the creek. The topography here made Overall the natural location for the Confederates to block the Union advance to Luray and the New Market Gap.

The village was called Milford back then, and two small battles were fought here in September and October of 1864. An entire 52 page book, The Civil War Battles at Overall, Virginia, details their history. This is the kind of history or travel book that I like: pick out one specific piece of land and tell me everything that happened there. In his concise and for-the-general-public style, author John B. Rice, Jr. does that. He makes it plain where the Confederate and Union forces were, and what they were attempting, and comments on the ordeal of the villagers. He summarizes from the documents of the time, and fits the battles into their larger picture—how they were connected in purpose and sequence to the significant events at Cedar Creek and Winchester. He offers profiles of the military personalities---one of them being the infamous Custer, I was surprised to learn.

Civil War Battles at Overall, Virginia was written in part to help save the battlefield site and the scenic and natural qualities of the area. (The proceeds from the sale of the book go to the Scenic 340 Project, Inc.) That piece of land has its history recorded forever. Now would Mr. Rice be so kind as to write a 50 page book about Waterlick, my corner of the county?

Newsletter #25, Summer 2006

Willa Catter, our bookshop cat of growing fame, continues to charm customers of all ages. Knowing the shop is for sale, several customers have offered to adopt Willa if the new owners don’t want her. A woman entered the shop recently and saw a cat lounging on the counter. She turned to her husband and said, "There’s Willa!" with genuine pleasure. They spent a few minutes with her before having a long, leisurely browse. When they were checking out, we found out they were from Richmond and first-timers at the shop. "But you called Willa by name when you came in." They had visited our website when planning their trip and clicked on "bookshop cats."Tammy, shop bookkeeper and webmaster, has made our site interactive. So all of the services area customers have enjoyed for 31 years are now available to anyone, anywhere. We are offering to be "Your neighborhood bookshop….wherever you live." Tell all the book people in your life to visit
Staff PicksAny family with children will enjoy Owen and Mzee. It is the true story of an orphaned baby hippo, a 130-year-old giant tortoise, and a remarkable friendship. The whole world was shocked and saddened by the devastation caused by the tsunami in December 2004. The story of Owen’s rescue and bonding with Mzee filled people everywhere with hope. It is told here in satisfying detail with many color photos. Knowing we would want more, the authors have supplied factual information that includes a website for the most up-to-date news on Owen and Mzee.We have this little gem as one of our sale-priced books: David Henry Thoreau’s Letters to a Spiritual Seeker. Thoreau is famous for the literary excellence of his political and nature writings. But in 1848 his friend Harrison Blake understood that the "true significance of [Thoreau’s] life" was in fact spiritual and asked the then little-known Thoreau for guidance in finding a path of his own. The result was a regular exchange of letters for the remaining thirteen years of Thoreau’s life, charting his evolution as a writer and thinker. Bradley P. Dean skillfully edits the letters. Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, commented, "These letters are full of key corrections to the current tendency to slide toward rigid religionism or toward secularism. And they are brimming with wit, a rare but necessary ingredient in spiritual thinking."We have been highlighting a series of interactive books as they have slowly appeared---Egyptology, Dragonology, Wizardology and Fairyopolis. They are full of flaps to lift, tabs to pull and other enticements that frequently encourage youngsters to read. The new title is Pirateology: The Pirate Hunter’s Companion. It is the fictional journal of brave Captain William Lubber as he hunts down a female pirate named Arabella Drummond in 1723 with lots of factual sidebars.

Book Chat is the third Thursday evening of every month from 6:30 to 8 with an informal start at 6. (The participants found the need for general chat before getting down to book chat.) A list of titles is available at the shop and at Samuels Public Library. We invite you to come to any or all. The title for August 17 is Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins, a former economist at a Boston strategic-consulting firm. John was an "economic hit man" for 10 years, helping U. S. intelligence agencies and multinationals cajole and blackmail foreign leaders into serving U. S. foreign policy. Here are the real-life details of international corporate skullduggery spun into a tale rivaling the darkest espionage thriller.

Newsletter #24, May 2006

         We opened the shop in 1975 as a new-book store.  It slowly evolved into a secondhand bookshop with a selection of new books and sale books.  Despite the decrease in new-book stock, we still order from distributors twice a week.  The first time a customer realizes they can special-order books at a used-book shop and we call a few days later to say it's at the shop, they are frequently surprised.  Our second weekly order is electronically sent by 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays and delivered the following day.  A new customer ordering on Thursday morning is amazed at our next-day notice of its arrival.  Established customers become accustomed to this and appreciate it---one calls it "spectacular service."        A bookstore that offers our particular selection of stock plus speedy delivery of orders is fairly uncommon.  That may be why our gift certificates are so popular.  Most are purchased and spent by folks living nearby, but we receive emails and long-distance phone calls asking us to get a gift certificate to a customer in our area.  Conversely, a person living anywhere in the world can spend a Royal Oak Bookshop gift certificate.  We ship everywhere.  (We sent our first book to Malaysia last week.)  Book shipment within the U.S. is very reasonable compared to shipping of other items.  We ordered a replacement of Willa Catter's favorite toy that weighs 7 ounces and the shipping was $9.  We couldn't resist putting "Your shipping charges are outrageous" in the comments section of the order sheet.        So for this Mother's Day, let Mom and Grandma choose their own book on gardening, cooking, needlework, etc. For this graduation day,  let the graduate choose from their list of books needed to get on with their life.  For this Father's Day, let Dad and Grandpa choose their own book on golfing, fishing, woodworking, etc.  By the way, large print books and audio books are among the thousands of books we can get within days.        We always have a display of suggestions for gift-giving occasions and they usually include a book or two by Bradley Trevor Greive.  He has created a series that combine engaging photographs, gentle humor, and priceless perceptions.  His books for mothers and fathers portray parenting as a calling that comes with incredible highs and inconceivable lows.  "The Meaning of Life" and "Tomorrow:  Adventures in an Uncertain World" are perfect gifts for graduates of any age.  You may have seen the jacketless Hallmark editions of the Greive books.  For the same price of $9.95, the bookstore series have dustjackets---a gift with more class.           Book Chat on May 18 promises to be intriguing.  There are two selected books:  Hitler’s Pope by John Cornwell, and The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, by David G. Dalin.  These books present contradicting views about Pope Pius XII and his role during World War II.  The Book Chat group is open to all, and begins at 6:30.

Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for March 2006 edition of Out and About

The Massanutten Mountains and Fort Valley By Beth Heaton

There it is, that prominent ridgeline on our western horizon. The Massanutten Mountains rise majestically from the floor of the Shenandoah Valley, visible from the Skyline Drive, from interstates 81 and 66, and from many points around Front Royal. Tucked within the Massanutten chain is Fort Valley, a long linear hidden cove of farms, homes, and small communities like Detrick, with a firehouse, church, and country store. Much of the mountainous area is national forest land with a multitude of public hiking trails. The book, Guide to the Massanutten Mountain Hiking Trails, sorts out your hiking options, with loop trails around old iron furnaces, and ridge walks to overlooks. The Guide, written by Wil Kohlbrenner and published by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, offers good descriptions of these marked trails, with plenty of background information on the valley and the national forest.Especially at this time of year when the leaves are down, dramatic outcrops of rocks along the road cuts and glimpses of cliffs cresting the ridge tops can be viewed easily from a car trip through Fort Valley. There’s a lot of interesting geology to be seen here, and a Fort Valley resident, geologist William Melson, has written a book to make it understandable to all readers. Geology Explained: Virginia’s Fort Valley and Massanutten Mountains, published in 2004, serves both as a primer for the novice, and as a synopsis of local geologic history for rock enthusiasts. Novices will appreciate Melson’s step by step explanation of geologic fundamentals, as he describes the minerals, rock formations, and fossils that can be found in the area. Melson then ties these concepts together in a recounting of the geologic events that created the landscape we see today. Details of specific locations and good illustrations make this a book to take with you on a drive down Fort Valley Road.

Newsletter #24, March 2006

Nan’s recent trip to Mathews County on the Chesapeake Bay was prompted by a friends-of-the-library    newsletter asking for volunteers to assist at their book sale. With over 200 miles of shoreline, it is impossible to spend time in Mathews without being aware of tidal flow. Nan’s return-trip thoughts condensed ......The ebb and flow of information in the book world is as constant as the tides. A book sale follows a distinct pattern. There is an initial two-hour rush and one-hour reorganizing and replenishing of stock. Then the remainder of the day requires sporadic straightening, restocking, and customer assistance, leaving time for conversation with fellow volunteers and customers. After I asked for and received restaurant recommendations, the conversation, inevitably turned to books. A wall poster suggesting books to assist in the celebration of Women’s History Month led the conversation to memorable female characters. The responses were varied!"Mrs. Polifax---a friend of mine is a former CIA agent and she takes the same ‘can do’ approach to everything." Dorothy Gilman wrote a series of books starring Mrs. P as a grandmotherly CIA agent."August in The Secret Life of Bees. I’m sure the reason I keep rereading it is because of her." Sue Monk Kidd wrote this first novel after several of her books on spirituality were published, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter being the one prior to Secret Life."Grandma Mazur is so ‘free to be me.’ We don’t meet her until she’s well into the red-hat ladies age but we know she’s been one most of her life." The protagonist is the granddaughter in this mystery series by Janet Evanovich. The growing cast of characters in this series is outrageously funny."Emily Dickinson---Harold Bloom’s section on her in Genius led me to Sewall’s biography." Bloom’s Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds recommends The Life of Emily Dickinson by Richard Sewall. "Emma in the Kaye Gibbons Civil War novel. She is much more authentic than Scarlett O’Hara." Emma Garnet Crowell relates her life in On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon."The woman in Anna Quindlen’s One True Thing. I can’t recall her name, but I’ll never forget the last line of her prologue: ‘…the truth is that I did not kill my mother. I only wished I had.’" The character Ellen Gulden writes the prologue from prison."Elizabeth I---I have every biography on her."*    *     *     *     *     *     *We frequently receive indirect recommendations from customers. Special orders bring books to our attention that we missed in publishers’ catalogs. Tails, a touch-and-feel children’s book, and It Happened in Virginia were added to our basic stock list after we received customers' special orders. Additional silent recommendations come when purchasing your used books. One of my votes for memorable women was Adeline Yen Mah. Her autobiographical works came to my attention that way. Eve Merriam’s 12 Ways to Get to 11 was added to our new book stock after we bought, and glanced through, a used copy. It’s a perfect introduction to arithmetic for 2-to-4-year-olds. With little imagination, anyone over 8 could find many ways to engage a child in effortless education.

The ebb and flow of book information at our monthly Book Chat is animated and enlightening. Join us for any one or all from 6:30 to 8 on the third Thursday of the month. This month’s topic, for our March 16 meeting, will be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon.

Newsletter #23, December 2005

Take note, Washington Post, it should be spelled Shenandoah If you saw the classified ad in the Nov. 20 Book World section and wondered---"30 year old bookshop for sale in the Northern Shendadoah Valley"—yes, that bookshop is us!

More gift ideas for this season:

There’s a change in the topic for the next Book Chat. We’ll put off talking about David McCullough’s John Adams until our January meeting. Instead, for December, bring in a book you’ve enjoyed to recommend to the group. Book Chat will meet Thursday, December 15, at 6:30 in Room #4. All are welcome to come join in the lively discussion. Overheard in the book stacks…"Hello, I didn’t know you were an habitué of Royal Oak Bookshop!"                                "An habitué? I beg your pardon!" (This said in tones of mock offense.)                                                                                "Well, it is habit-forming…"

Newsletter #22, November 2005

Our new porch banner readsYOU SHOP - - - WE SHIP. In our years of internet selling, we have almost conquered the complexities of shipping any book weight anywhere in the world. We notice less determined booksellers state "no international sales" on their websites, and we can sympathize. You can order 24/7 via e-mail, phone us, or shop here in person. We’ll gift wrap free of charge, add your greeting, and ship it off to…anywhere!

Exceptional Gift Books this year…New this fall is a memoir by the actor Alan Alda. It’s an interesting story of an interesting person, with an intriguing title: Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and OtherThings I’ve Learned.  Right now we have several copies signed by Alda.

Another new book, Wizardology, has arrived, similar in style to previous best-sellers Dragonology and Egyptology. These books are full of both factual and fictional information on these three exotic subjects, with intricate artwork to match. Rosalie says, "These are not just for kids. We adults love their unique, almost magical qualities! Come in and take a look at pure enchantment."

The next monthly Book Chatgathering will take place on Thursday, November 17 at 6:30 p.m. in our customer service room. (That’s Room Four, with art books, children’s illustrated books, and music.) The featured book for November is Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, by Ross King. December’s Book Chat will be on Thursday, December 15, with the featured book John Adams, by David McCullough. All are welcome to come join in the discussion.

She had to dine in disguise if she was to do her job properly. Fancy expensive restaurants in New York City would serve Ruth Reichl differently if they knew she was the restaurant critic for The New York Times. She wanted to know how an ordinary customer would experience the restaurants she reviewed, so she created a series of personas for herself. The wigs, make-up, clothes, invented personalities and mannerisms did more than just visually disguise her: the occasions led her to new perceptions about herself and new observations about people from their reactions to her. The resulting book, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, is a rollicking good time: funny and honest, with moments of great poignancy. The book is punctuated with recipes instead of photographs and will leave you feeling hungry and curious about foods mentioned in her reviews. Available in hardcover or CD.

Book reviews from Royal Oak Bookshop,
for October edition of Out and About

OUT OF THE CAR AND INTO THE WOODS – Trail Guides to Shenandoah National Park   “What can you tell me about the Big Devils Stairs trail?” The customer was unfolding PATC Map #9 as he came to the front counter. “Last year, my friends and I did Little Devils Stairs---that’s the kind of trail I like. I don’t do Old Rag Mountain anymore. Too many people. I want a trail that’s out of the way and a challenge.” The trail down Big Devils Stairs meets this hiker’s criteria: it’s a steep hike along cliffs overlooking a creek gorge, and it’s only accessible via another trail which connects to Skyline Drive . For hikers like these, Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC, for short) publishes detailed topographic maps of the region’s hiking areas. PATC Maps #9, #10, and # 11 cover Shenandoah National Park with up-to-date trail location and helpful side comments ..(“No public access” to the valley end of Big Devil’s Stairs trail…) For even more description, there’s a book, Appalachian Trail Guide to Shenandoah National Park with Side Trails, outlining every trail, mile by mile. (Page 210: “The Big Devil Stairs canyon is one of the most impressive features of Shenandoah National Park…”) Now in its 12th edition, this compact guidebook also includes history and ecology of the Park and general information for hiking and first aid. Another PATC publication intends for a hiker to see more of the park on each trip. Circuit Hikes in Shenandoah National Park describes combinations of trails that allow the hikers to loop around and back to their starting point. With a circuit hike, there’s no need to go down and back the same trail or to shuttle cars to both start and finish. Circuit Hikes in SNP offers 31 of these hikes. Hike #2, the Bluff Trail, can include a side trip down to Big Devils Stairs. It’s a full day of hiking, fourteen-plus miles, that involves several overlooks from Marshall Mountain, some time on the famous Appalachian Trail , and the visit to the Big Devils Stairs canyon. But that’s more than some visitors to the park need. “I have my grandchildren with me today…do you know of an easy trail along Skyline Drive where I can take them?” Some newcomers to Shenandoah want someone else to sift through the guidebooks and maps and distill out a trail that is easy to find and simple to follow. The Shenandoah National Park Association has done that. Three small booklets, only $2 each, direct you to a day or less of hiking. You want overlooks and distant scenery? Hikes to Peaks lists 9 high points to try. Ten of the best waterfalls are described in Hikes to Waterfalls . Or, if you just want to cruise down the Skyline Drive and stop now and then for a short walk in the woods, Short Hikes has thirty suggestions, all close to the drive, all under two miles.  


Newsletter #21, September 2005

"Before the Park, There was Ragged Mountain …" In August, The Northern Virginia Daily published a five-part series of articles on Shenandoah National Park . If you would like to read further, we stock several of the books mentioned in the articles. Everything Was Wonderful is Reed L’Engle’s account of the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the Shadow of Ragged Mountain by Audrey Horning, and Hollow Folk, by Sherman and Henry, present differing views of the people who were displaced by the Park. Author Jack Reeder was also mentioned in the newspaper articles. We carry several of the books which he co-wrote with Carolyn Reeder, all about the culture and history of the park: Shenandoah Secrets, Shenandoah Vestiges, and Shenandoah Heritage.

Our bookshop’s monthly Book Chat is starting up again for the fall. Anyone is welcome to join in on Thursday, September 15, at 6:30 p.m. in Room 4. Bring a book you’ve enjoyed over the summer, as a show-and-tell.

There’s a bonanza right now in our stock of second-hand children’s books. Every shelf and bin is full, so we are offering a special for the month of September: 10% off any purchase of second-hand children’s books, excluding collectibles. This is in addition to our usual Book Lover’s Rebate Stamps. All the books are in good shape, and many look brand new. We have fiction ranging from picture books to teen novels, with both old titles ( Told Under the Blue Umbrella) and newer ones ( Because of Winn- Dixie ). And there’s a good selection of non-fiction: I noticed a number of the well-illustrated Eyewitness books, such as Volcanoes, Vikings, and Pyramids.

A reminder: we have started our new schedule. We are open on Monday, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10-6, on Thursdays from 10-8, and on Sundays from 10-5, and we will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.


August 2005, Newsletter #20

More hours to browse on the weekend, and fewer hours during the work week. After keeping note of our customer traffic day to day for a while, that is the pattern we’re going to respond to with a change in our storefront open hours. Nan had noticed a number of customers lingering on the porch on Sunday mornings before 12 noon , our usual opening time on that day. So she’s started opening the doors at 10 on Sunday and we’ll keep that up through December. Tuesdays and Wednesdays have always been slower days for storefront business, so we will devote those two days to our growing internet business. Beginning after Labor Day, our open hours will be Sunday 10 to 5, Monday 10 to 6, Thursday 10 to 8, Friday and Saturday 10 to 6, and we will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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"You missed the three-year-old in pajamas---that would have made a great picture," we told the photographer from the newspaper.

"But you opened at 8:00 , didn’t you? I was here at one minute before 8," he protested.

"We’ve already sold eight copies."

On Saturday, July 16, we got to the store early to put up purple, gold, and black balloons on the front porch, final touch to our decorating honors for Harry Potter Day. By 7:30 a.m. , there was already a gentleman in his car patiently waiting for the doors to open.

The 3 year-old arrived next, with his teenage sister and mother. "Did your sister drag you out of bed to come down here and buy this book?" we asked him. "Yes!" he said with a big smile. Too young to read Harry himself, he was clearly enjoying the excitement over Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Our next sale was to a family from New York on their way to the beach. They’d spent the night in Front Royal, saw our signs and balloons as they drove south on Royal Avenue , and decided to stop and make Harry Potter #6 their ultimate beach book.

Nan was covering the checkout counter when five young women entered. One of them picked up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and paid for it. She then asked to borrow a pair of scissors because "we need to cut this into five pieces." They were Girls Scouts from Camp Tweedle in Oxford , PA , who were headed for a seven-day hike on the Appalachian Trail . No one wanted to carry the 652-page book and they couldn’t wait a week to read it. Nan set them up in the office with a box opener and a roll of 2-inch tape. They operated on the Half-Blood Prince and walked out with five neatly taped packets of pages, an empty cover and a dustjacket. A perfect Girl Scout solution.

It’s a fun day at the bookstore, when a book brings in droves of young delighted readers. Look for our picture in the Northern Virginia Daily!

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A mouse named Cervantes and a monk named Siegfried are the heroes of a sale book we just stocked. The Bookstore Mouse by Peggy Christian is a quick read, an allegory about the power of words, set in an antiquarian bookstore and medieval England . There are passages reminiscent of the children’s classic The Phantom Tollbooth, but I think The Bookstore Mouse would appeal most to older readers who are amused by word-play and puns and riddles. "We sent to the king for a knight and he doesn’t give us the time of day"…


July 2005, Newsletter #19

How are they going to get the battle of Gettysburg onto a stage? The historical novel by Michael Shaara, Killer Angels, is coming to Wayside Theatre in September. That gives you two months to read the book, and if you buy it at Royal Oak Bookshop, you can receive a complimentary pass to see the play at Wayside. Jeff Shaara’s books, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, also count for the free ticket. We have all three in stock, new and used.

Willa Catter makes it into The Washington Post!    The June 24 th Weekend section featured an article "The Open Road", a travelogue of author Christina Talcott’s two day adventure to the Virginia and West Virginia mountains. Royal Oak Bookshop was her first stop (her description: "a nice surprise, a labyrinth of rooms…") and the article’s full-page map of landmarks shows our grey cat Willa sitting on a few books at Front Royal’s location.

Hit the Road by Vehicle or Armchair…. Rosie’s corner bookshelf this month displays a variety of travel books, many of them new books at sale prices. There’s one by Hans Christian Andersen about the Danube, A Poet’s Bazaar, and an anthology of women’s travel adventures, No Place for a Lady.    Where the Bodies Are: Final Visits to the Rich, Famous, and Interesting tells you who is buried where, state by state. (Confederate heroes and Arthur Ashe rate the author’s mention for Virginia .)  The book I picked up to read is 30 days in Sydney : A wildly distorted account, by Peter Carey. It’s part of a series called The Writer and the City, described as "an occasional series in which some of the finest writers of our time reveal the secrets of the city they know best." Peter Carey’s portrait of Sydney , Australia is an entertaining mix of geography, popular culture, history, and humorous personal encounters.

If you’ve never read Josphine Tey‘s book, Daughter of Time , you might consider it for summer reading. It is on a local reading list and "solves" the mystery of the murder of his nephews by Richard III.  It got a Very Interesting rating from Nan .

It will be   Harry Potter Day on Saturday, July 16 at Royal Oak Bookshop, to mark the arrival of Volume Six:  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  With banners and prizes, we will open early that morning at 8 a.m . , to accommodate those who feel the need to start reading it by 8:02 ... 

May 2005, Newsletter #18

A local author, Joe Trento, has a new book out this month. Prelude to Terror: The Rogue CIA and the Legacy of America’s Private Intelligence Network tracks the development of the intelligence community, its politics, and the role it played in the 9/11 tragedy. This is not a dry recitation of history: strong opinions are expressed here. The book was originally slated to be published last October with a different title which referred to the Bush dynasty. An earlier book by Trento was The Secret History of the CIA.

Larry McMurtry is closing his bookstore . The author of bestsellers like Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment has run a behemoth of a bookstore—several buildings worth---in the Texas hometown that brought him success as the center of novels like The Last Picture Show. Too much competition from big chain stores and the internet---book buying has changed, he says. Independent bookstores everywhere have felt that crunch in recent years, and Royal Oak Bookshop is one of them. A woman recently called to cancel her special order for the next Harry Potter book, saying she’d realized she can get the book from a chain store or online for a higher discount. No denying, it’s true: chain stores can buy up large quantities of a popular book at a better dealer discount price and then sell the book for lower than cover price. If we offered a similar price, that would mean we would be selling the book for what it cost us. We created a flyer for a targeted market several months ago, and this phone call made us realize it’s time to pass this on to everyone as a reminder that "Your local bookshop CAN and does compete with the internet and chain bookstores." To see the flyer on our website, click on this link.    Your Local Bookshop

Second-graders at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School sent Flat Stanley out to local businesses on Earth Day to report on community efforts to recycle. We were delighted to show Flat Stanley around our store. Here is a link so you may see pictures from his tour.       Flat Stanley        (For this adventure, Flat Stanley stepped out of the pages of his book written by Jeff Brown. His unique physique is due to an unfortunate incident with a bulletin board, but with the same optimistic spirit as Stuart Little, he uses his singular situation to great advantage.) Flat Stanley is available as a new paperback at $4.99, and there are five more titles in the series.

Thursday, May 19 is the date for our next monthly Book Chat.  Any are welcome to join in the discussion from 6:30 to 8:00 in the back room of Royal Oak Bookshop. Take notice of the change in time: participants found that the 7:00 to 8:00 hour wasn’t long enough to finish talking. The featured book will be Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis.
Next month, the Book Chat will be on Thursday, June 23. Discussion will start with a book by A.N. Wilson.  Wilson is a British historian, and the book, God’s Funeral, addresses the 19 th century skepticism growing out of the ideas of Darwin and Voltaire.

April 2005, Newsletter #17

     Over 80 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, The Secret Life of Bees was the first novel of a unique author, Sue Monk Kidd.  Secret Life of Bees was a touch-the-soul sort of a book.  It offered fresh definitions of family and faith inside a well-told story of a young white girl and a trio of African-American women in the South.  It's a book recommended by many of our staff, and we rarely get the book in our shop as used stock because many who read it consider it a keeper.  "What's special about it," Nan says, "is the variety of people who have been moved by it."

     Now, this week, copies of Sue Monk Kidd's second novel, The Mermaid's Chair, have arrived in our store.  It's an attractive book, $24.95 hardcover, with pictures of seashells, an egret, and sea-grass on the cover, evoking its South Carolina island setting.  The Mermaid's Chair is also available, by special order within a few days, as an unabridged audiobook, either as a C.D. or cassette.  We mention this for many customers who make long commutes.


      An e-mail from California ...   "Just received my ABEBOOKS ordered copy of Les Miserables.  What a beautiful set of books.  I want to personally thank you for the care and consideration you took in packaging these books for safe shipment across the country.  I appreciate this attention to detail and it means something to this old book lover."  This was from one of our online customers, and it was music to Nan 's ears, since she has been preaching "attention to detail" since the store opened.  We have many customers who find us online, whether from our website or through our ABEBOOKS listings.  Every week, we ship books to customers all over the country and the world.


     And a note from Florida ...   

            "Each one of us has a choice.  We can live in the midst of confusion and turmoil or rise above it...where the air is clean, where the vision is expanded, where we can extend our gifts of awareness to help others who would also choose to live at the Top of the Mountain."

             I do not know who wrote those words, but it was Jean who long ago taped a copy of this quote on a piece of neon yellow poster board and tacked it on the edge of a bookshelf in our Spirituality section.  The quote disappeared, and this week, Rosie opened an envelope---no street address---and found it again with this note:  "Many years ago I took this from your store.  It saved my life and now I'm returning it."


     Book Chat next Thursday, April 21, at 7 p.m. in our back room.  All are welcome to join in the discussion.  We'll start with Ghosts of Vesuvius by Charles Pellegrino.

March 2005, Newsletter #16

"You never even have to get down on the floor"   That's the claim from the dust jacket of A Morning Cup of Yoga, by Jane Goad Trechsel.  This is a new book that comes highly recommended by Nan .  Simple pictures, clear explanations, and an audio CD take you through a basic routine, good for both beginners and long-time yoga enthusiasts like Nan .  It's as though someone said to Trechsel: design a perfect book to make it easy for someone to try this.  Another yoga author, Richard Rosen, praises the book, saying "her fifteen-minute program is a sure-fire eye opener; a wake-up call for the body, mind, and spirit."  It is small, hard-cover---and conveniently spiral-bound: easy-to-consult even from the Stork Position.   We have several copies in stock at $12.95 each.

Another customer came up with a good idea:  audio book trading.   "I wonder if you could set up some sort of program, where I could bring back my audiotape, and get half of the cover price in trade on my next selection."  Okay, we have done it, and here are some details:  Audio books purchased at Royal Oak Bookshop can be returned for trade on audio books in stock.  Our price sticker must be on the box, and the item must be in good condition.  Half of the price paid for the returned audio is eligible for trade for another audio book in stock.  (No other bookshop inventory is involved----this is separate from our long-standing used book credit program, and no Book Lover's Rebate stamps will be given on the audio trade amounts.)   We now have a whole bookcase devoted to audiotapes; we've greatly expanded our stock with sale-priced mystery, romance, non-fiction, biography...            
Keep letting us know what you want!

Book Chat coming up... This Thursday, March 10, at 7 p.m. in our back room is our once a month book gathering.  All are welcome to come join in the discussion.  First book on the table will be Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi.  Here's a quote from the back cover:  "Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden classics."

We got a phone call from a customer saying her friend had gotten a Peter Rabbit soft toy at our shop and could we save one for her?  Well, we have plenty of Peter Rabbits, and lots of books to go with him, all sale priced.


February 2005, Newsletter #15

Eleven empty paint cans later, we reopened the shop on January 20. Thank you to our customers for your understanding if you came by while our doors were closed. ( We did a brisk business in porch books for those two weeks…) We had handed out big bookmarks, put a mention in the newsletter, and posted signs about our renovations, but some customers couldn’t understand what we would be renovating. They never noticed that peeling paint in the second room, or the fact that a tub was holding up the ceiling tiles in the third room. The Dover White paint that Nan chose brightens up the rooms and really allows our colorful books to stand out. When I drive down Royal Avenue at night and look in the windows, the rows of books on newly painted shelves look very inviting under our after-hours lights.

And a special thank you to one of our customer friends, John, who came over and helped us paint!

Willa’s world was in turmoil for a while. With electricians, carpenters and painters, bookcases covered in plastic, and NOISE, we didn’t see much of Willa for a few days. She reverted to her habits from her first days in the shop, hiding behind shelves and boxes, and darting away from strangers. But we were impressed (and grateful) that she seemed paint-savvy. At night she avoided our freshly painted surfaces: we found no little white footprints through the store in the morning. (Although that would have been amusing as clues to what she actually does at night when we are not here…)

We just ordered ten more copies of a book by Paul Collins. Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books is one American’s true experience of moving to the small town in Wales known for its many bookshops. Any reader of book magazines will have heard of this town, Hay-on-Wye, where forty bookshops serve a community of 1500. I liked Collins’ easygoing and humorous style of writing; I’m going to look for his other book, Banvard’s Folly. Sixpence House is available, hardcover, on sale for $6.98.

Book Chat for this month will be the SECOND Thursday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. First book for discussion will be The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall-Smith. All are welcome. Next month, we will go back to the third Thursday of the month (March 17) and the first book will be Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.

                                          December 2004, Newsletter #14

Our sign will say "Closed", but when you drive by the first few weeks in January, you will see lights on and people working. After we do inventory, Nan wants to repair and paint the ceilings, paint walls, woodwork, and bookcases, etc. I asked her, "When did you last paint the store?" "NEVER!" ( in the 29 years the shop has been open…)

It will take at least two weeks. We regret the inconvenience to you, our customers, but we look forward to re-opening our door in late January and showing off a new face-lift to our shop.

Now, any suggestions for colors of paint?

We always extend our open hours for your holiday-shopping convenience. Beginning Dec. 15, we’ll be open until 8 p.m. , Monday through Friday.

What books are you giving as Christmas gifts this year? I asked this question around the shop; here are some of the responses:

"Coloring books for the kids---some of them are really nice drawings…elaborate ones. I give them with a box of colored pencils—the kind that you moisten and blend."

"Happy Hollister books. I’m collecting old out-of-print copies of these for my grown son. They’re nostalgic books he remembers from his childhood, and now he wants copies for his children to read."

"The new book of local photographs, Front Royal and Warren County, Images of America series." (Our copies are signed by the compilers.)

" Dragonology, a book of faction for dragon-lovers. Also, I’m giving the newest pop-up book by master-of-the-craft Robert Saluda, America the Beautiful."

No book chat in December , but drop by the third Thursday of next month (Jan. 20) at 7:00 p.m. for an hour of book conversation. We’ll start it off with a discussion of Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.

November 2004, Newsletter #13

Our third Book Chat gathering is coming up next week, Thursday, November 18, beginning at 7 p.m. Conversation at our last book chat meandered from historical fiction to globalization to brain chemistry, and, as always, folks suggested titles of good books to try. We decided to highlight one book per month to begin each evening. This month is Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester. Feel free to come and join in, whether you have read the book, or just started it, or just want to hear about it. We’re aiming for casual atmosphere for those who are interested in good conversation about books.

Future highlighted books will be Life of Pi (by Yann Martel) in January, and Pompeii (by Robert Harris) in February. ( No gathering scheduled for December.)

What’s being read around the bookshop? Susan just finished Catherine of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly, about the wife of Henry VII. "It was very good. She did some wonderful things for women’s education in merry old England . I picked up a used copy as it was headed for the bargain table at $2.99. I read something "good" for a change!"

Susan’s other pick for the month is Our Lady of the Lost and Found, by Diane Schoemperlen. "It’s got a lot of history in it, a lot of background in religion, but it’s funny. Everything’s going smoothly one week for a middle aged single lady---she finds parking spaces when she needs them, no line at the bank, all those little things going well. Turns out it’s the Virgin Mary’s way of giving notice of her upcoming visit; she comes to stay with this lady for a week because she just needed to get away from it all and have a rest. I’m only halfway through it, so I don’t know how it will end."

"Can you order videos of old movies for me?" This customer collects old unusual videos; "The Little Matchstick Girl" was the one he was seeking today. He’d already looked through our shelf of used VHS and DVD’s. We began talking about how 8-track music tapes and Beta videos and record albums had all fallen from favor and availability, and about how VHS and cassettes may soon follow. Music and movie buyers are held dependent on the changing technology, whether by keeping their old record turntables working to play old albums, or by needing to buy a DVD player because Blockbuster is carrying fewer VHS titles. I remember when e-books were hailed as the vanguard of book production, but that was a number of years ago. I think we book buyers are safer from tech changes because no computer screen beats the absolute portability and ease of a book.

Willa Catter, our famous feline, has added "mouse catcher" to her list of bookshop duties. It was my misfortune to be the first staffer to arrive the following morning…


October 2004, Newsletter #12

A bizarre and different juvenile series has been on the shelf since 1999. A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket, truly is what the title proclaims---very sad and scary things happen to a trio of orphans. I avoided trying these books for years---who wants such openly negative stories for their children? Then, on a long road trip to Vermont this summer, we listened to the actor Tim Curry narrating Volume 2 ( The Reptile Room) on a books-on-tape, and, after I had finished laughing, I realized what a clever job the author had done.

The events are the stuff that children DO worry about: "what would happen to us if we lose our parents?" Author Snicket looks at that issue, with wise commentary lightly thrown in. Snicket changes the question to "what would WE do if that happens to us?" and the answer given is: "we stick together, we don’t give up, we use our heads, and we figure out who else we can trust." So these are the messages my eleven-year-old daughter will hear as she reads…but she’s reading the book because it is funny.

The back cover notes "ten up"--- some of the events are too disturbing for younger children. Some of the events, in my opinion, are too disturbing for any juvenile book, but I like the books in spite of this. As always, it’s best to know your child and their tolerance and maturity for reading such things.

Volume #11 ( The Grim Grotto) was just published.

Next Thursday, October 21, at 7 p.m. will be the date for our second book chat meeting. All are welcome, come by the back room at Royal Oak Bookshop to drop in on some informal book discussion. (The bookshop is always open every Thursday for evening shopping until 8:00 .)

"The traditional leaping pig is back in stock," Sharon tells me. Not a book….a greeting card featuring a pig, a diving board, and a summer-time swimming hole---apparently a favorite of our customers. Sharon has a knack for finding a variety of humorous or off-beat or sentimental or artistic cards for sale in our first room. This month’s new selection includes some elaborate fairy pictures by fantasy artist Amy Brown, and some prints of old, old, anonymous family photographs with caption and verse.

September 2004, Newsletter #11

Willa Catter is finally growing into her role as bookshop cat. In her first months at our shop, she would vanish upstairs whenever a customer entered the room. My ten-year-old would ask to come with me to work specifically so she could see the new cat, and Willa would hide from her the entire visit. She was sleeping all day upstairs and playing all night. "I’m not going to go to all this housekeeping and expense for a cat who’s not here!" decided Nan, and we made a few changes in Willa’s feeding schedule as suggested in one of our cat books. And it’s worked…Willa now meanders through the bookshelves, and allows customers to approach her. She also sits on the pile of books being processed, sprawls on the counter while we try to ring up purchases, chews or bats at the top of a pen we’re attempting to use, and strolls across our computer keyboard frequently. "We wanted her active during the day, and now she’s driving us crazy!"

Next Thursday, September 16, at 7 p.m. is our first Book Chat meetingat Royal Oak Bookshop. We are providing a dusted-off space in the back room and some light refreshments. Whoever gathers that evening can help decide the format - - book review group? Casual book chat? If you think you might be interested, drop by and see what happens. The bookshop is always open every Thursday for evening shopping till 8:00 .

We might get some ideas for the Book Chat from two new books about books and book clubs. In Good Books Lately, Ellen Moore and Kira Stevins have put together a history of the book club, with many samples of different styles of groups, and with many suggestions on how to start one from scratch. One amusing sidebar dealt with assumptions made about books clubs, such as "OK, did anyone REALLY read the book?" But my favorite part of Good Books Lately is the authors’ list of good books to try; I was jotting down many titles which were new to me.

Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading is all about the question: what do authors themselves choose to read? Editor J. Peder Zane asked these 34 to each pick a book that influenced them. Each offers an essay or story about how that book fit into their life. Charles Frazier (author of Cold Mountain), for example, chose Antonin Artaud’s book about the Tarahumara as the most tempting book he’d ever read. That book tempted him to travel from his North Carolina home to a remote Mexican canyon to see for himself how these Tarahumara people live.

The bookshop has purchased a copy each of Good Books Lately and Remarkable Reads to have on hand for ideas on our first Book Chat evening.

Newsletter #10, August 2004

An Appalachian Trail thru-hiker was probably responsible for the amusing note Nan found stuck on our big Beach Books sign out front. "Moxie" had wanted to alert "Hike" to a couple of good books. So she drew a picture of how she had left The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin sticking out at an angle in the travel book section, and also recommended The World According to Garp, a $.10 porch book. …Maybe we should set up a log book such as are available at the Appalachian Trail shelters. We often get these Georgia-to-Maine thru-hikers in our store. One time it was their conversation about which book would weigh less in their backpacks that identified them.

We passed along a suggestion from a customer in the June newsletter on how the bookshop could be a connection for people in the community, and several of you chimed in with ideas to make it happen. The enthusiastic response has led us to designate a time---the third Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. beginning on September 16. The book enthusiasts can decide how they will proceed as to format. The ideas have ranged from "a book review group" to "just an hour or so when customers stop by to talk about interesting books they’ve read."

So we are listening to you. We will provide a dusted-off space in the back room, some light refreshments, and a few bookshop patrons primed to get book conversation rolling. You all can take it from there and see what evolves. An informed chat-time? An organized book discussion? Check each newsletter for details on the evolution.

I’m building a house in the country this summer , and that, of course, has dictated my choice of reading material. Some of what I’ve read in the last few months may have limited appeal to you ( Maintenance and Operation of the Kubota Diesel Tractor had limited appeal for me, too…) but here are three books I’ve found most helpful.

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Buying a House by Nicholas Ordway. This one is aptly named: the author takes you step by step through the process, covering finances, inspections, web resources, etc.

Consumer Reports Best Buys for Your Home . There are so many shopping decisions involved in building a house---this book helped me understand and sort through the many choices, from flooring to appliances to plumbing.

The Solar Home , by Daniel D. Chiras. I read this book because I wanted to incorporate passive solar design in my house plan, but the book would also be useful for someone shopping for a house. Chiras sets out 12 basic principles of house design that can affect the energy use and comfort—both heating AND cooling---of your home.

Newsletter #8, May 2004

A new arrival at Samuels Public Library ...  The Valley of Light is a simple, eloquent story of a solitary man who travels, and fishes, and winds up in a small mountain community.  You may know the author, Terry Kaye, from his earlier book, Dance of the White Dog.  The Valley of Light can be special ordered for $24 hardcover.    The Valley of Light reminded me of Jayber Crow and Cold Mountain, two other good stories set in the rural south, each with a similar central character, each a bit tragic, and each earning the reader's admiration.  Most of you know of Cold Mountain , the Civil War saga by Charles Frazier,  recently released as a film.  It's out in paperback for $14.95, and right now we have just a few copies left at a sale price of $9.95. 

   Jayber Crow might be less familiar.  The author, Wendell Berry, is a farm and environment advocate, and he weaves his conservation philosophies into some of his novels.  Jayber Crow is available by special order for $15.00. 


Some changes around our store...

   We say a temporary goodbye to Susan Covington this month, as she takes some time off this year. I have appreciated her creative displays in her childrens' books areas, and her editing of this newsletter.   Susan's one to always greet you with a smile, and a "so, what are you reading now?"


    And hello to our new bookshop cat with a fine literary name of Willa Cather.  (One customer suggested we call her Willa Catter...) Willa is slowly getting used to customers and staff, and we are getting used to being surprised when we find her in her many new hiding places around the store.  Many of our customers remember our original bookshop cat, the beloved Huxley, who was a fixture around here for many years.  I was interested to read in the Sentinel a few weeks ago that many libaries around the country have library cats: there's even a website about them:  (There are five library cats in Virginia .)


Our South Fork of the Shenandoah River will be in the news later this month, as a group of Sojourners paddle canoes past Front Royal on their trip to promote river and water preservation.  They will be meeting with industry leaders and conservation groups along the way.  We always keep in stock the popular Shenandoah River Atlas, with its excellent maps, history, and boaters' notes on all sections of the river.  Two other titles that mention the Shenandoah River are Freshwater Fishing in Virginia, and Virginia Whitewater.

207 South Royal Avenue, Front Royal, Virginia 22630
Phone: (540) 635-7070   |   E-mail:

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Last Updated 02/20/2007