Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Dangerous Collaboration

A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell #4)A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Veronica, Stoker, and Tiberius visit a castle on an island off the coast of Cornwall. A disappeared bride, a poison garden complete with rare butterflies, smuggling caves, hidden rooms, a healthy supply of suspects, and plenty of angst from the past figure in the latest Veronica Speedwell mystery. Deanna Raybourn does not disappoint. It's another winner.

We know they will solve the crime, but will Stoker and Veronica finally say those fateful three words to one another?

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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Camp Austen

Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen SuperfanCamp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. The author started out in full-snark mode attending a Jane Austen summer camp hosted by his university only to discover that the Janeites in attendance, while a bit silly, were touchingly human as well. While the gossiping glee never fully abated, why should it? "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" Impersonating Mr. Darcy and other Austen heroes for the purposes of ballroom dancing and theatrical performances, the author never fully renounced his outsider status. But he did learn a thing or two about himself, including the fact that Regency man-garb (constricting, tailored clothing, cutaway jackets, and tights) make you look like a rock star. They also instantly improve your posture!

As an admirer of Jane Austen, albeit one with a lapsed JASNA membership, I thought this was an accurate description of the kind of events that draw the faithful: equal parts gossip session, scholarly presentation, Regency Comic-Con, and excuse to drink tea and smother scones with clotted cream.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the WarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the idyllic fields of Sussex to the trenches in France, Helen Simonson's poignant and gently humorous novel focuses on the people in a small town whose lives are upended by the Great War.

It's billed somewhat as a Downtown Abbey-esque story (Julian Fellowes meets E.M. Forster old chap), but it was more focused on middle- and working-class concerns. The gentry still think it's all about them, but what else is new? This story is a real gem!

"For the first time, as her tea grew cold in the cup and her porridge gelled in its bowl, she saw what it meant to be of limited income. It was a noble concept for the church sermon or the pages of an improving novel, but a chilling prospect on a sunny Sussex morning."

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Good (Bayberry) Luck

A bayberry candle burnt to the socket
Brings luck to the home
And gold to the pocket

Some other versions say it brings "health to the home" so I'll take that too.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Conspiracy in Belgravia

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock, #2)A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still waiting for Moriarty to take a bow. Nevertheless, an enjoyable mystery with ciphers and coded messages. Lord Bancroft (AKA Mycroft Holmes) presses his suit and manages to get Charlotte's attention with his garish taste in interior decoration (which Charlotte shares) and by acknowledging her intellectual abilities. He also lets her examine the bodies of murder victims, so he definitely knows the way to this lady's heart. Is it enough to tip the scales in his favor? Lord Ingram would have more time to be worried, if his wife wasn't causing some domestic disturbances of her own.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

What to Do When I'm Gone

What to Do When I'm Gone: A Mother's Wisdom to Her DaughterWhat to Do When I'm Gone: A Mother's Wisdom to Her Daughter by Suzy Hopkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, just wow. This was funny and beautiful. I loved it. So, one more 5-star read for 2018.

It was my mom who indirectly led me to this book. She sent me a clipping from the newspaper with a "Duck-It List" cartoon (see Day 14,000 below) that had been taken from this book. In searching for the image online, I saw that there was a book by the artist and her mom.

Day 1: Make fajitas. After slicing the onions has made you cry, prepare the dish. When you are done, ask yourself, now, don't you feel better? Of course you don't. Pour yourself a stiff glass of whiskey.

Day 7: Bury me. Put a headstone on top so you can find me. Make the inscription just cryptic enough that it encourages wild speculation.

Day 26: Allow me to explain the stuff you found while cleaning out my house.

Day 144: Bake a pecan pie My own mom always made this pie at the holidays. I never understood why I liked it so much. After she died, I made it myself to carry on the tradition and then I understood: It contains massive amounts of sugar.

Day 285: Buy a great pair of shoes. Everybody should have at least one pair of really nice shoes. At least. Now that I'm not there to spoil you, it's time to start spoiling yourself.

Day 320: Stop doing things you hate. Make a list of things you hate to do. Immediately stop doing at least two of them.

Day 450: Look in the mirror and see yourself the way I saw you. Because someday you will be old, and you will look back at pictures of yourself and you will see..."I was beautiful."

Day 850: Talk to me. You'll see or do something and think, "Mom would have loved this." Tell me.

Day 1,900: Make amends. If you have a fight with someone, try to mend it. Accept responsibility. Extend a sincere apology. If you die angry, you've waited too long.

Day 2,500: Suffer. You're going to get hurt. It's part of life. Just know that your sorrow and pain is not unique and not unmatched.

Day 7,000: Prioritize. Hint: Caring for yourself should be near the top of the list.

Day 12,000: Watch a funny movie. Fear is useful when it causes you to avoid an oncoming train or motivates you to make positive changes. Otherwise, it's a life suck. When you're terrified, ask yourself: Is this helping? If not, laugh in fear's face.

Day 14,000: Make a duck-it list. (Things to avoid until you die) Better than a bucket list, because even if you accomplish everything on your bucket list, you are setting yourself up for failure. What do you do after? Is it time to die? Make another bucket list?

Duck-it List suggestions:
-bucket lists
-working with or for mean people
-self-loathing
-being wishy-washy
-you get the picture...

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Friday, November 2, 2018

Five Star Reads for 2018

Most of my reviews on Goodreads are four stars. If I don't like I book, I tend to put it aside. But five stars books have to do more than satisfy. My inner book critic argues that it's one thing to give out four stars willy nilly, but five stars should mean something. Reflecting on the books I read this year, I was curious to see if there were any with five stars.

Turns out that there have been just two: a non-fiction tome detailing the battle in Congress over slavery, and a short and perfect gem ostensibly about an older couple but somehow about much more.

Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States CongressArguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress by William Lee Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Early in the narrative, the author made this point: "It is a revealing curiosity of American popular attitudes that a people so practical, so optimistic, so energetic, so direct, so quick to say that anything can be done by an effort of will--the impossible takes a little longer--on other topics, have regularly and abruptly turned to the opposite extreme on issues of slavery and race: nothing can be done. Leave it alone. Don't meddle. It cannot be fixed." p. 15

He emphasized that when we encounter something equally heinous and unjust in our current lives, we should take heart. Things can change. A much needed reminder in 2018.

On the lighter side, I learned the origins of a "Yankee nutmeg". The wrath that the South hurled at the North prior to physical hostilities breaking out in 1861 was impressive. Where'd they learn to insult people like that? A Yankee nutmeg was a nutmeg made out of wood that Yankee peddlers developed a reputation for selling: fake nutmegs made of carved wood. p. 294

This article at Mental Floss details the early American obsession with wooden nutmegs, if you'd like to learn more. I agree with the Northerner who reputedly said, "I would rather come from that part of the country where the people make wooden nutmegs than to come from that part of the country where the people are fools enough to buy them." I guess the North had a few verbal defenses of their own.

Our Souls at NightOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"She had arranged the funeral and told the minister about Ruth. He hadn't known her at all. She had stopped going to any church because of her feeling about orthodoxy and the childish ways in which churches talked and thought about God."


My mom recommended this author to me. She does not suggest duds. Ever.

"I do love this physical world. I love this physical life with you. And the air and the country. The backyard, the gravel in the back alley. The grass. The cool nights. Lying in bed talking with you in the dark."

"Who does ever get what they want? It doesn’t seem to happen to many of us if any at all. It’s always two people bumping against each other blindly, acting out old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings."

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