Friday, December 27, 2013

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

I'm a huge fan of the Flavia deLuce mystery series by Canadian author Alan Bradley.  At the
end of the fifth book in the series, Speaking from Among the Bones, there was a major cliffhanger, and I  could not wait until the next book appeared.  

Several months ago while browsing NetGalley, I saw that I could request the advanced ebook of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.  I did so, and quickly downloaded it.  When I downloaded it there was a note that reviews could not be published until closer to the release date, so I'm just now writing the review, but actually read the book several months ago.  I was afraid that I might forget key elements, but I have to say that this is a book that's sticking with me.

Often in a long-running mystery series the author starts to run out of steam.  At the end of the 5th book I was a bit concerned that this might be the case, but I was pleased to find that this is not so.  

I don't want to give too much away for those who read the previous book and are eagerly anticipating the resolution of the cliffhanger, so I'll try to be careful.  The story starts with the entire deLuce family at the train station waiting for the return of Harriet, Flavia's mother who disappeared when Flavia was a baby.

At the station a stranger gives Flavia a cryptic message, then is immediately killed by an oncoming train.  Long-lost relatives with secrets also make an appearance.  Flavia discovers a home movie that may provide clues to these events, as well as answer some questions about Harriet and her family.  Flavia's Aunt Felicity is also on hand to fill in some parts of the family story.

By the end of the novel, Flavia is ready to face a brand-new adventure, and I look forward to joining her.  Bradley has taken a series that was starting to become a bit stale and reinvigorated it by resolving many questions and taking it in a different direction.  I wish that more mystery series writers would take this approach.

Friday, December 13, 2013

How to Make an Apple Pie

1. On a nice sunny day in October, visit a local apple orchard and purchase a bag of Cortland apples with the intention of making pies in the next few days. 

2. When you get home put the apples in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. 

3. Whenever you open the refrigerator tell yourself that you really do need to get those pies made. 

4.  Repeat number 3 several times over the next month. 

5 Around Thanksgiving, bring your fancy apple peeler/slicer up from the basement and tell yourself that you will definitely make apple pies for Thanksgiving. 

6.  Decide to bake a Mrs. Smith's Pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. 

7. Whenever you open the refrigerator check the apple to make sure they're still good. Notice that they're starting to get a bit soft, and tell yourself that you really need to get those pies baked. 

8.  Twelve days before Christmas, when you have 17 other projects to finish in the next two days, take time to make 3 pies.  Bonus points if you do this immediately after scrubbing the kitchen floor. 

Monday, August 05, 2013

Texts from Bennett

As the mother of a 28 year-old son, I've heard my share of rap music. 
 Mostly when he was in
high school and I was driving him back and forth to his various activities.  I'm not a huge fan, and I especially have issues with the misogynistic aspects of the medium.

Now that I'm stalking following him on Facebook, I'm still aware of where his musical tastes lie, and from time to time he made mention of a rapper named Mac Lethal,a white rapper from the Kansas City area.

One day while browsing the new ebooks for review on NetGalley, I saw that Mac had a new book coming out, and I decided that I had to read it.  

Texts from Bennett is the story of Mac, and how he opened his home to his opiate-addicted aunt Lillian, her conspiracy theorist boyfriend Tim, and her 17 year-old gangsta son, Bennett, who claims to be 13% black (he's not).

The story unfolds through Mac's narration, interspersed with texts between Mac and Bennett. As might be expected, the arrival of his family causes no small amount of disruption in Mac's life, especially in his relationship with new girlfriend Harper.   But Mac begins to see another side of his family, and when he learns more about his Aunt Lillian's (and his own mother's) dysfunctional family he begins to appreciate them more.

There's a lot of really offensive language in Texts from Bennett, as well as a lot of drug use.  But if you can get past that, it's really a good story.  Mac learns to see another side of Bennett, and both Mac and Bennett grow from the experience of spending time together.  So while I don't think any friends my age would enjoy reading Texts from Bennett,  I think young adults who share my son's enthusiasm for hip-hop culture would like this book.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Glass of Blessings

 I don't remember exactly when I read my first Barbara Pym novel, but I think I was in my 20's. I eventually read all 12 of her novels (here's a complete list of her published novels), but it was a long time ago.  In the past few years I've suggested her novels to friends and fellow Anglophiles,  but no one to whom I had suggested them fell in love with them as I did.

I'd been thinking that I'd like to read them again when I learned that A Glass of Blessings was about to be reissued in an ebook format.  I  vaguely remembered that this was my favorite of Pym's novels.  Along with the Pym's characteristic bittersweet tone I also picked up on a strain of humor that I enjoyed. I received an advance galley through NetGalley, and started reading it on my nook.  

 A Glass of Blessings is the story of a young English woman, Wilmet Forsythe, who lives with her husband Rodney and his mother Sybil in London.  With nothing to occupy her time, Wilmet becomes involved with the parishioners of the neighborhood church she has started to attend.  This colorful cast of characters includes elderly Father Thames, a collector of fine art, mild and dumpy Father Bode, and the newest assistant, Father Ransome, who cuts a rather dashing figure. Rounding out this group are Mary Beamish, a young woman devoted to good works, and Wilf Bason, the new cook for the Clergy House.   In addition, Wilmet also feels drawn to Piers Longridge, the ne'er-do-well brother of her dear friend Rowena.  When Piers seems to take an interest in her she is flattered, but Piers' secretive life complicates the relationship.

Like all of Pym's works, A Glass of Blessings is a quiet slice-of-life story about a specific class of people in post-war England. Nothing too serious ever happens, and the characters are interesting, if not particularly deep. What I appreciate about these stories is that they take me to another time and place where I can spend an enjoyable few hours.  I'm looking forward to re-reading more of Pym's novels, and hope that more will be reissued in digital format.  

Speaking from Among the Bones

As an Angolphile and mystery lover, I'm an avid fan of British mysteries.  A fairly recent author to my list of favorites is Alan Bradley, the Canadian author of the Flavia deLuce mysteries.  Speaking from Among the Bones is the fifth in the series, and when I saw that it was available in an ebook galley through NetGalley I eagerly requested it.

And I was not disappointed.  Flavia is a young girl who lives on an estate with her father and two older sisters.  Flavia's mother, an adventurer named Harriet, disappeared while mountain climbing in the Himalayas when Flavia was a baby.  To escape the torment of her sisters, Flavia has staked out territory in an unused portion of their mansion, a fully-equipped chemistry lab, which was the pride and joy of a previous deLuce.  Despite her tender years, Flavia has become quite knowledgeable about chemistry, and is particularly skilled in the creation and use of poisons.

Flavia also has the uncanny luck of stumbling upon dead bodies.  While attending the unearthing of the bones of Saint Tancred, for whom the local parish is named, the body of the missing choir director is discovered. Flavia uses her sleuthing abilities to find his killer, and uncovers some long-held secrets of her small village in the process.

The Flavia deLuce mysteries are intriguing, fast-paced stories filled with interesting and complex characters.  This one was especially interesting given the surprising cliff-hanger at the very end, and I will be anxiously awaiting the next installment.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

How to Deliver a Ted Talk

I'd like to start out by saying that I know I'll never deliver a Ted Talk. For those of you unfamiliar with Ted Talks, I'll direct you here. Ted stands for "technology, entertainment, and design," and the Ted Talks are from two annual conferences that " bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less)." The talks are available online for viewing, and cover a wide variety of topics.

While I'd like to think that I have words worth imparting to the world, I'm enough of a realist that I know this isn't the case. One day a colleague and I had just been discussing Ted Talks and the unlikelihood of our ever being asked to present one. Later that day I was browsing through the NetGalley list and found How To Deliver a Ted Talk: Secrets of the World's Most Inspiring Presentations by Jeremey Donovan. I jokingly told my colleague that I should read it so that I would know how to deliver my talk when asked. We laughed, but then I decided I wanted to see what the author had to say, so I downloaded the book.

At 111 pages (in ebook galley form), it's a quick read. Chapters cover how to select a topic, how to build your speech, how to master your delivery, and how to overcome your fear. Donovan is also a realist, and knows that most of his readers will never deliver an actual Ted talk, but encourages anyone who may ever need to address a group to use the book as a guide to more effective public speaking.

As a former member of my college forensic team I've long enjoyed public speaking, and I appreciated Donovan's book for succinctly laying out the design for how to prepare a speech. How To Deliver a Ted Talk by Jeremey Donovan would be a useful addition to any public library collection.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Reading List 2012

Continuing a New Year's tradition, I'm publishing the list of all the books I read in 2012. Before the list, here are a few observations about this year's books:
  • Reflecting my new stage in life, only 3 of the books are Children/Young Adult.
  • Many of the best books I read this year were non-fiction, including Burying the Typewriter, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking, and Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.
  • In an attempt to utilize technology to help compile the list, in addtion to my paper reading log I also recorded my books in an excel spreadsheet and online via GoodReads and Library Thing.  While the online methods have some value, I found it easiest to use the paper log and the excel document.
And now, here's the list(edited to indicate my favorites with an *):
1. Berg, Elizabeth - We Are All Welcome Here 
2. Daum, Meghan  - Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in that House 
3. Goodwin,Daisy -The American Heiress 
4. James, P.D.  - Death Comes to Pemberley *
5. Kaling, Mindy - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
6. Lowe, Rob - Stories I Only Tell My Friends (audio)
7. McPherson, C. - Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains
8. Telgemeier, R.  - Smile
9. Vowell, Sarah - Unfamiliar Fishes (audio)*
10. Wickham, M. - The Wedding Girl
11. Asher, Jay and Carolyn Mackler - The Future of Us
12. Beckwith, Ivy - Formational Children's Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story,
Ritual, and Relationship

13. Cain, Susan - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking *
14. Crombie, D. - No Mark Upon Her *
15. Espach, Alison - The Adults
16. Stuart, Julia -  The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise *
17. Weiner, Jennifer - Fly Away Home (audio)
18. Beaton, M.C.  - Death of a Kingfisher
19. Gaines, Ernest J.  - The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman 

 (re-read for Book Discussion)
20. Lutz, Lisa - Trail of the Spellmans *
21. Garfield, Simon - Just My Type: A Book about Fonts
22. Tyler, Anne - The Beginner's Goodbye *
23. Hely, Steve -  How I Became a Famous Novelist *
24. Hassman, Tupelo -  Girlchild
25. Kimmel, Haven -      A Girl Named Zippy (re-read for Book Discussion)*
26. Christie, Agatha - Murder in the Vicarage (re-read)
27. Fellowes,  - Julian Snobs *
28. Smolinski, Jill - Objects of My Affection *
29. Talley, Marcia - The Last Refuge
30. Ray, Jeanne - Calling Invisible Women *
31. Christie, Agatha -  The Mysterious Affair at Styles (re-read)
32. See, Lisa - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
33. King, Carole - A Natural Woman (audio)
34. Smith, Alexander McCall -  The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection *
35. Cline, Elizabeth -  Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion *
36. Ford, Richard - Canada
37. Gideon, Melanie - Wife 22
38. Walter, Jess - Beautiful Ruins* 
39. Mandel, Emily -  The Lola Quartet
40. MacLachlan, Patricia - The Boxcar Children Beginning
41. Stein, Grant - The Art of Racing in the Rain
42. Shipstead, M.- Seating Arrangements
43. Bugan, Carmen - Burying the Typewriter *
44. Wright, N.T. -  Revelation for Everyone
45. Fitzgerald, F.Scott -  The Great Gatsby (re-read for Book Discussion)
46. Heyer, Georgette -  Footsteps in the Dark
47. Heyer, Georgette -  No Wind of Blame
48. Flynn, Gillian -Gone Girl *
49. Kogan, Deborah - The Red Book
50. Stuart, Julia -The Pigeon Pie Mystery *
51. McKnight, Scot - Fasting
52. Berry, Wendell -  Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
53. Fuller, Alexadra -  Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
54. Klaussmann, L.  - Tigers in Red Weather
55. Pylvainen, H.  - We Sinners
56. Joyce, Rachel - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry* 
57. Burbery, Muriel -The Elegance of the Hedgehog
58. Bohjalian, Chris -The Sandcastle Girls
59. Straub, Emma -  Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures
60. Semple, Maria - Where'd You Go, Bernadette? *
61. Momaday, N. Scott - The Names: A Memoir
62. De Rosnay, Tatiana - Sarah's Key
63. Maas, Jane - Mad Women (audio)
64. Hoffman, Eva -Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language
65. Attenberg, Jami - The Middlesteins *
66. Smith, Dodie -  I Capture the Castle *
67. Dallas, Sandra - Prayers for Sale (audio)*
68. Wouk, Herman - The Lawgiver
69. Liu, Eric -   The Accidental Asian
70. Dilloway, Margaret -  How to Be an American Housewife
71. Platt, David - Radical
72. Kirwin, Mary -  Lou Killer Librarian
73. McEwan, Ian - Sweet Tooth *
74. Goodland, L., (eds.) -Mad Men, Mad World

75. Thielen, Martin - What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian
76. Weiner, Jennifer - The Next Best Thing (audio)

Mad Men, Mad World

My "MadMen Creation
The full title of this book is Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s.  It is edited by Lauren M.E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky, and Robert A. Rushing, and will be published by Duke University Press in March of 2013.

I saw this title while browsing through Net Galley, and since I'm a pretty big fan of the AMC series "Mad Men," I thought I'd like to read it.  Knowing that it was published by a university press, I expected that it would be an academic analysis of the show, but that it would also be of interest to the casual reader. I'm sorry to say that  this was not the case. Occasionally I was able to get past the academic posturing and find interesting ideas and thoughts, but on the whole it was a bit too pedantic for this pedestrian reader.

Each chapter  analyzes different issues raised by the show, focusing mostly on class, race, and gender.  Because each chapter was written by a different contributor I found that there was a lot of overlap of subject matter, and many times the same viewpoint was presented more than once.  

It seems that this book is designed to be a textbook for use in media studies classes; if that's the case I can see that it would be valuable as a background to classroom lectures and discussion.  But for your average, not-too-bright TV fan like me, it was a bit overwhelming.