In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming,

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming,

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming,Escape the Heat

Despite the fact we are back to school in Nashville,  it is still  much too hot for serious fiction. What is required during the last stifling days of August is  a juicy murder mystery set in a cold climate!

In the Bleak Midwinter, the first in a  series by Julia Spencer-Fleming, Clare Fergusson, an Episcopal priest,  and police chief Russ Van Alstyne team up to find the mother of an abandoned baby. Before long the investigation extends to murder, and Clare and Russ  discover there are plenty of secrets lurking beneath the snow drifts of their small upstate New York town.

To date, there are eight novels in this series. In addition to confronting criminals, Clare and the married Russ must confront their growing attraction to each other as well.

The Viceroy’s Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters by Anne de Courcy

KEDLESTON HALL, home of the Curzon Family since the 12thC

KEDLESTON HALL
Home of the Curzon Family since the 12thC

The Viceroy’s Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters by Anne de Courcy

As the daughters of Lord Curzon, confidants of royalty, and friends, lovers, and wives of politicians and the powerful, the Curzon sisters, Irene, Cimmie, and Baba knew everyone who was anyone in England between the wars (BTW.)

The Curzon gals are not nearly as much fun as the other famous British BTW sisters, the Mitfords, (Irene Curzon calls the Mitford sisters “hooligans”), but they lived interesting (and grander) lives nonetheless.

The Viceroy's Daughters by Anne de CourcyLord Curzon, the imperious Viceroy of India from 1898 to 1905 was not the most comfortable of fathers, and the girls’ mother, the wealthy American Mary Leister, died when the girls were small. After his wife’s death,  Curzon had several girlfriends, some of whom the sisters were fond, but he eventually married another heiress, Grace Duggan.

This was all to the good because Curzon not only maintained an imperial lifestyle, he also suffered from a serious house addiction and not of the 3 bed, 2 bath bungalow variety. Eventually Curzon fell out with his daughters over the money their mother had left them, believing that he had some say over its distribution. The girls won a series of unpleasant legal actions against their father which created a permanent breach.

Growing up without a mother (and father for the most part), the girls were close all of their lives, but frequently quarreled, usually over a man.

The first to leave home was “nice” middle daughter Cimmie, who married Sir Oswald Mosley, the British Fascist leader and well-known womanizer. After her early death, Mosley married one of the “hooligans,” Diana Mitford Guinness, with whom he had been having an affair for several years.

The baby of the family, Baba married the amiable but dim-witted best friend of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII), Fruity Metcalf. It was a marriage she immediately regretted, and as a consequence spent much of her time in the company of other men.

As members of the Prince of Wales inner circle, Baba and Fruity had front row seats on the Wallis Simpson affair and were present at their infamous wedding, which Baba describes in her diary in characteristically acerbic terms.

Upon her sister Cimmie’s death, Baba immediately and creepily launched an affair with her brother-in-law, the widowed Mosley, presumably to “save” him from Diana. (It didn’t work.)

The eldest sister, Irene, never married but with her vast fortune, she maintained a home at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire where she hunted, played bridge, drank too much, and had affairs. She traveled extensively and was a devoted aunt to Baba and Cimmie’s children, who were often unceremoniously dumped on her doorstep.

The Curzon siblings were indeed quintessential “poor little rich girls.” Despite their opportunities and some late life accomplishments, one can’t help but feel they lived somewhat purposeless lives. Even in their own biography, the men in their lives dominate the narrative.

But to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh, the places they went!

I recommend this book as well as two books about the “hooligans”— The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell and Nancy Mitford’s semi-autobiographical novel about her eccentric family,  The Pursuit of Love.

The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. LovellThe Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

 

 

What Everyone Ought to Know About Jumbo Loans

What Everyone Ought to Know About Jumbo Loans

Buying a BIG Home?

Are you thinking about buying a  BIG home  this year? Congrats! But before you hop in your real estate agent’s car, you need to know something about jumbo loans.

I asked my friend and mortgage expert BRIAN KEY from Regions Bank to respond to seven commonly asked questions about jumbo mortgages.

What Is A Jumbo Loan?

A jumbo loan is defined as a loan that exceeds the conforming loan limit set by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac which is $417,000 for a single family home in the middle TN market. A loan is considered a super jumbo when it exceeds $2M.

Myths & Misconceptions Of Jumbo Loans

Many have the perception that jumbo financing is more difficult to obtain and the terms are much less desirable which is simply not true.

There are jumbo products that require as little as 10% down and rates are often times the same or better than conventional loans. There is a full offering of eligible products including 30 and 15 year fixed as well as 5/1, 7/1 and 10/1 ARMS. The days of stating income and assets are well behind us, but qualifying for a jumbo loan is no more difficult than any other home loan mortgage.   Continue reading

Williamson County Home Sales

Williamson County Home Sales

In Williamson County, there were 523 home closings reported for the month of July, a slight decrease from the 535 closings reported for the same period last year.

The average sales price increased to $477,544 from $447,502.

Inventory remains low at almost all price points.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?

Limited inventory has resulted in fewer sales and higher prices in Williamson County this year.

With stiff competition for homes, it is more important than ever for buyers to work with a real estate professional, get pre-qualified, and be crystal clear on your wants and needs.

For sellers, just because there is a limited selection of homes for sale doesn’t necessarily mean that buyers will select your home. You still need to follow the fundamental seller rules-–price your home right, make it easy to show, and declutter.

Design by Marcelle Guilbeau, Interior Designer

A show ready bath! Design by Marcelle Guilbeau, Interior Designer

July Home Sales: Now & Then

"Dogs at Gate" by Dru Anderson, watercolor

“Dogs at Gate” by Dru Anderson, watercolor

July Home Sales: Now & Then

In DAVIDSON COUNTY, there were 899 home closings reported for the month of July. This figure represents a 10% increase from the 818 closings reported for the same month last year.

The average sales price increased to $267,850 from $251,708 in July 2013.

Inventory remains low for homes priced under $500,000. There is a greater supply of homes at higher price points.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?

For buyers, regardless of your budget, research the market and have your financing lined up before you start house hunting. This is especially important if your budget is under $500,000 where a limited supply of homes means stiff competition.

For sellers, don’t be cocky even if there are a limited number of homes for sale in your neighborhood. The same fundamental seller rules apply– price your home right, make it easy to show, and declutter. If you do face some competition, double down on the basic rules and talk to your real estate agent about creative marketing ideas.

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore

Book of Ages by Jill LeporeBook of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore

Have you ever found yourself deep in a project, having devoted countless hours and valuable resources, only to realize that the thing’s a bust?

Now what–carry on or cut your losses?

Jill Lepore, the author of Book of Ages, a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s sister Jane,  found herself in this position. In the appendix to the book, she declares, “For a long time, I was so discouraged that I abandoned the project [the book] altogether. I thought about writing a novel instead. But I decided, in the end, to write a biography…”

With mixed results.

The problem is that although Jane Franklin was kin to the famous Ben Franklin, she lived an ordinary life, and ordinary 18th C American women didn’t leave  a paper trail. This makes researching a traditional biography somewhat challenging.

For example, not a single letter of Jane’s from the first forty-five years of her life survives. On the other hand, recipients of brother Ben’s letters treasured them, shared them with friends, quoted from them, and passed the missives on to their children.

It was ever thus. History is the story of those with the money, leisure, and education to document it (or be documented). Which is why Henry VIII’s marital difficulties are a part of popular culture and 15thC farmer John Doe’s divorce,  not so much.

So Lepore is forced be creative. She has a distinctive prose style and does the best with what she’d got,  but there’s not much there.

If you are a student of early American history, Benjamin Franklin, or admire a gallant academic exercise, I can recommend this book.  For the rest of you, not so much.

 

Where to Find Really Useful Mortgage Information Online

 

House on a computerWhere to Find Really Useful Mortgage Information Online

Are you thinking about buying a home this year, but are overwhelmed with the number of financial decisions to be made?

The good news is that everything you want to know is online; the bad news is that everything you want to know is online! The abundance of information can be overwhelming.

Fortunately my friend and mortgage expert BOB WARD from Renasant Bank has provided a highly curated list of the best online resources. I picked up some valuable tips, and I know you will too.

 

1-The following article raises good points not usually covered by the typical mortgage websites:

32 Mortgage Experts Reveal Tips For First Time Buyers

2-These two articles answer questions about credit and credit scores:

What Is A Good Credit Score?
What Credit Score Do You Need To Buy A Home?

3-Tips to keep in mind before you enter the market:

Top Tips for First-Time Home Buyers
Tips For Buying A House 

4-And from Fannie Mae, a good starting point:

Know Your Options

5-An overview of budgeting to buy:

Buying Your First House? Save Yourself From a Budget Nightmare

Bob WardBob is an “almost” native Nashvillian with over 25 years in the mortgage and real estate industry. He uses his experience and knowhow to help his customers find the most effective and creative ways to finance and protect their most important investment – their home.

Bob can be reached at 615.300.0809 or BWard@renasant.com

Bob recommends these books:  My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young, one of Bob’s favorite clients and a successful children’s book author. Also Gray Girl by Susan Spieth.

My Blue is Happy

What You Get for …$264,000

What You Get for …$264,000

Homes for Sale in Davidson County

6118 Louisiana MLS #1559435

6118 Louisiana MLS #1559435

For the first six months of the year, the average closing price for a home in Davidson County was $264,000.

What do you get for that price? Well, that depends primarily on what and where, but there are lots of options.

Here are four choices in four zip codes:

37209

A 1669 square foot new build in “hot”  historic West Town.

West Town is Sylvan Park (more state streets)  on the other side of Charlotte and the interstate. Very popular with hipster singles and young families.

37205

864 Belton Dr MLS #1559029

864 Belton Dr MLS #1559029

A 1957 ranch style home on almost a half an acre in peaceful West Meade.

Sleepy West Meade has been around forever, but is undergoing something of a renaissance. Mature trees, mid century style homes, and quiet streets make this a desirable location. Plenty of tear down activity here too.

37221

In Bellevue, a beautiful two story with over 2000 square feet.

Convenient to Edwin Warner Park and the Harpeth Valley Greenway, outdoorsy types and families flock to Bellevue.

2572 Devon Valley Dr MLS #1560584

2572 Devon Valley Dr MLS #1560584

 

 

 

 

 

7355 Autumn Crossing Way MLS #1552433

7355 Autumn Crossing Way MLS #1552433

 

37027

Six year old,  move in ready, one level in Concord Hills in the City of Brentwood.

This stretch of communities off Nolensville Road just keeps getting better. New shopping and dining options pop up daily. (Love the Burger Republic in Lenox Village) Easy commute to Brentwood or Nashville.

 

6 Tips For Saving Money On Your Energy Bill

aireconditioner lady

Image: Vintage Ads

6 Tips For Saving Money On Your Energy Bill

Yikes, the temperature is rising and so is your NES bill!

You want to save money, but aren’t ready to tear up your entire house installing the latest energy efficient innovations.

I hear you!

So I asked my friend Jennifer Tlumak and her colleagues at Urban Green Lab for some EASY & ECONOMICAL tips to reduce that energy bill and be a greener homeowner!

Set your thermostat to 78°.  Hmmm, 74° is the max summertime setting in my own home, but I’m inspired to start edging the thermostat up!  Motivation- air conditioning represents 17% of the energy bill in the average U.S. home.

Lower your thermostat 4°-8° while on vacation. This is why you have a programmable thermostat!

Switch ceiling fans to run counterclockwise in the summer and feel 3°-8°cooler. (In wintertime, run your ceiling fans clockwise to push the warm air down into living spaces.)

Plant a shade tree.  You can never have too many trees, and a strategically placed tree can reduce cooling costs up to 25%.  Planted on the east and west sides of your home, the leaves of deciduous trees will shade your house in the summer months. (In the winter, the bare branches will allow the sun’s warmth to reach your home’s walls. )

Caulk, caulk, caulk cracks in doors, windows, window casings, and vents. This one step will improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20% –resulting in some serious savings.

Clean or replace your air conditioning filter regularly.  A clean filter allows your unit run more efficiently. (I never remember to do this until my filter is positively black. Note to self!)

Take a few minutes this weekend to implement one or more of the above suggestions and reap some green!

 

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith a/k/a J.K. Rowling

The Silkworm by Robert GalbraithThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith a/k/a  J.K. Rowling 

Yeah! Private investigator Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott are back—as I knew they would be. Galbraith’s first novel was clearly poised as the first in a series of novels in the time honored literary tradition of sleuth and sidekick.

The crime solving duo was introduced in “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a novel set in the world of high fashion. Robin was originally hired as an office temp, but through pluck and persistence, she has become a permanent staff member. (Sidekicks are always plucky.)

The Silkworm takes place in another rarified environment, the highbrow literary world.

Cormoran and Robin are hired by Leonora Quine to find her missing husband, an author of modest talent but outsize ego.  They find Owen Quine–murdered—in an unusually ghoulish manner.

In the course of their investigation, it becomes clear that the murder is related to Quine’s latest novel, Bombyx Mori (Latin for silkworm), the inflammatory and potentially libelous manuscript which circulated around the literary community in the days prior to Quine’s disappearance.  As a result, Cormoran must read the novel and interview all those who had access to it, both thankless chores as the novel is awful as are Quine’s colleagues.

Clearly Rowling had fun composing Quine’s “novel,” excerpts from which are sprinkled throughout The Silkworm. Written in excruciatingly gothic prose, Bombyx Mori  is a road trip novel featuring a hermaphrodite hero who encounters devious women and monsters on his way to —somewhere. The characters are unappealing and possess monikers such as the Tick, Succuba, and the Cutter.  It makes for depressing reading, but I caution you to read the novel-within-a-novel carefully. I made the mistake of skimming some of the more unpleasant passages, and then had to go back as Bombyx Mori holds key clues to Quine’s murder (and not a few red herrings.)

Rowling also enjoys lampooning the literary and academic world with which she is intimately acquainted. The characters (editor, publisher, authors, colleagues, wife, mistress, assistants) are mostly despicable or pathetic —if vividly portrayed.

(It makes you wonder how Rowling feels about her own real life literary circle. I guess when you’ve written the Harry Potter series, you can satirize your community at will.)

Rowling’s other non-HP book Casual Vacancy is chock full of similarly unlikable characters, such that there isn’t one with whom the reader can identify—making it a tough read.     Fortunately in The Silkworm, we have Cormoran and Robin, flawed to be sure, but worth rooting for!

With shrewdly observed characters and clever plotting,  The Silkworm goes well beyond the formulaic detective novel.

 

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