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.