Thursday, March 14, 2019

Book Review: Truly Devious and The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Warning:   This series of books is not yet complete, and the first two books (especially the first book!) end on cliff-hangers.  This is supremely annoying, so you may wish to wait until Book 3 in the series is published before even attempting to read this otherwise excellent series.

I'm going to review both Truly Devious and The Vanishing Stair as if they were one book --- because they essentially are one book split into two (well, three, really) parts.

This is a plot-driven, multi-layered, partly-historical YA mystery.
Stevie, a mystery lover, escapes her parents' enthrallment of a right-wing politician (who appears to be a combination of Sarumanian traits of several GOP politicians woven much like the wizard's robe of white-yet-not-white fabric) to a rather more realistic version of Hogwarts, a rich man's private school in Vermont, built in the 1930s.   Stevie wants to solve the mystery of the kidnapping and murder of the founder's wife, the kidnapping and possible murder of his daughter, and the murder of a student who accidentally saw the kidnapper(s).  However, very soon after she arrives, a modern student dies in what may be a murder or a very unlikely accident, and soon the mysteries begin to twist together.  Another student, one who may have had motive and opportunity to murder the dead boy, goes missing.  Stevie's parents want her home. The absolute jerk of a boy her hormones want continually uses her.  And the slimy politician gets way more involved than is necessary.
The plots intertwine and surprise.   It is a cracking good tale.
But book one end with NO ANSWERS, only "to be continued," and book two ends with only the identity of the first criminal revealed, but no real answers.  The reader is left wondering many things.
(And since book three doesn't even have a title as of the writing of this review, it will be a good year before I can learn the answers!)
The setting is good and quite clever.  It's very much a 1930s Hogwarts, only with multiple creaky old buildings connected by winding tunnels instead of a castle and with mechanical engineering instead of magic.  Yet it's a great little world, very snug.
Johnson does go on way too often about "the altitude," which is supposedly 4500 feet -- a height that does not even qualify as "foothills," let alone "mountains," in the western US, but it's not too bad.
I do feel like Johnson is trying too hard with the characters; they feel like stock characters with every latest trend thrown in.  Stevie, the protagonist, has a mental health issue: anxiety, but it feels tacked on, as it has not been crucial to the plot, and ordinary teen worries would suit just fine.  Instead of the traditional gay best friend, Stevie gets a lesbian best friend (who may be the most well-developed character in the book), but the lesbian best friend is in a relationship with a gender non-binary person who uses plural pronouns.  (This is SO FREAKIN' CONFUSING.  Johnson could've gone with one of the new, singular non-binary pronouns, like "xhe," or just had the romance a lesbian one, as, again, the non-binary person has no real need to be so in the plot and appears to be that way just because it's trendy to write about non-binary and trans folks right now.)  Then, the "nice guy" is a really bad stereotype of a novel writer who is almost a satire of himself, and the "bad boy" is not at all likeable, yet Stevie makes out with him whenever she can.  The youtube star is a self-centered manipulator, and the artists are all hippies.    Meh.   
No, the characters are not as multi-layered as the plot.
My advice?   This series is a must-read for mystery lovers; however, I recommend waiting until the full series has been published in order to avoid the agony of the cliff hanger.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What I Read And Rejected in 2018

What I read = 137 books total, which includes:
Shakespeare = 6,  Other Drama = 4, Cozy Mysteries = 24, Other Mysteries = 32
Fantasy = 6, MG = 4, Paranormal = 9, Steampunk =2, Other Sci-Fi = 1
Poetry = 1, Historical Fiction (not mystery) = 5, YA Realistic = 1
Non-Fiction History = 5, Non-Fiction Biography = 6, Non-Fiction Travel = 7,
Non-Fiction Cookbooks = 4, Other Non-Fiction = 12

I believe we can safely say that I read mostly mysteries.

The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien (again) ***** fantasy  1/13/18
 Mountain States Foraging by Breanna Wiles **** non-fiction 1/15/18
Betty Crocker Lost Recipes **** non-fiction, cookbook 1/17/18
The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien (again) ***** fantasy 1/19/18
The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming ***** YA non-fiction, biography 1/20/18
The Cat Owner’s Manual by Dr. David Brunner  **** non-fiction 1/24/18
The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien (again) ***** fantasy 1/16/18
 Dangerous Days in Elizabethan England by Terry Deary ***** non-fiction, history 2/2/18
Gruesome Guide: Edinburgh by Terry Deary **** MG non-fiction, travel 2/4/18
 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (3rd time) ***** 2/6/18
The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley (3rd time) ***** 2/7/18
 A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (3rd time) ***** mystery 2/9/18
 I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (3rd time) ***** mystery 2/11/18
 Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley (3rd time) ***** mystery 2/12/18
 The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (3rd time) ***** mystery 2/15/18
 As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust by Alan Bradley (2nd time) ***** mystery 2/17/18
 American Circus Posters in Full Color edited by Charles Philip Fox **** non-fiction 2/17/18
 Thrice The Brindled Cat Hath Mewed  by Alan Bradley (2nd time) ***** mystery 2/17/18
 The Grave’s a Fine And Private Place by Alan Bradley (1st time) ***** mystery 2/18/18
 The Art of the Affair by Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon *** non-fiction 2/19/18
 The Life of PT Barnum Written by Himself. **** autobiography 3/3/18
 The Radium Girls by Kate Moore *** non-fiction, history 3/9/18
 The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill (again) *** MG animals 3/11/18
 These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas (2nd time) *****  3/16/18
 These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas (2nd time) ***** 3/18/18
 Food Fights and Culture Wars by Tom Nealon *** non-fiction 3/27/18
 The Devil in White City by Erik Larson (2nd time)**** history, non-fiction 4/4/18
 The Case of the Counterfeit Coin by George Wyatt *** MG mystery 4/8/18
 The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes by Carolyn Keene *** MG mystery 4/9/18
 Annie Pat and Eddie by Carolyn Haywood (again) ***** MG realistic 4/10/18
 A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn **** new adult or older YA mystery 4/13/18
 Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef **** YA biography 4/16/18
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (2B) ***** 4/24/18
 Venturess by  Betsy Cornwell *** YA steampunk 4/24/18
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (1A) ***** 4/27/18
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (3A) ***** 4/27/18
 Stop The Press by James W. Ure *** non-fiction, history 4/29/18
 The Wicked Deep by Shea Ermshaw *** YA paranormal witchcraft 5/3/18
 MacBeth (4B) by Shakespeare ***** drama 5/4/18
 MacBeth (1B) by Shakespeare ***** drama 5/7/18
 Twelfth Night by Shakespeare (4A) drama 5/7/18
 Patently Absurd by Bradley Schenck *** sci-fi, humor 5/19/18
 Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey ***** historical (regency period) YA 5/23/18
 These Vengeful Souls by Shanker and Zekas ** YA paranormal 5/25/18
 Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath ** “non-fiction” health 5/25/18
 Dewey by Vicki Myron **** memoir 5/26/18
 Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark **** cozy 5/31/18
 Jane and the 12 Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron historical cozy *** 6/6/18
 Three Square: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll non-fiction  **** 6/8/18
 Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey ***** historical cozy romance YA 6/8/18
 Bloody Jack by LA Meyer **** YA historical A/A 6/9/18
 London by Terry Deary **** MG non-fiction, history 6/11/18
 Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan *****YA realistic 6/12/18
 York by English Heritage Society **** non-fiction 6/12/18
 Ginger Snapped by Gail Oust **** cozy 6/14/18
 Murder in the Dog Days by PM Carlson ***** crime 6/15/18
 Murder Misread by PM Carlson **** crime 6/16/18
 Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie ***** mystery 6/17/18
 And A Puzzle To Die On by Parenell Hall *** cozy 6/18/18
 Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) *** crime 6/21/18
 The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos YA mystery *** 6/23/18
 Plum Tea Crazy by Laura Childs cozy *** 6/28/18
 Pumpkin Roll by Josi S. Kilpack *** cozy 6/29/18
 The Beatles’ Liverpool by Ron Jones ***** non-fiction 7/3/18
 Mendips by the National Trust ***** non-fiction 7/4/18
 20 Forthlin Road by the National Trust ***** non-fiction 7/4/18
 Whitby Abbey by the National Trust **** non-fiction 7/8/18
 Old World Murder by Kathleen Ernst *** cozy 7/16/18
 Rebels Magisters by Shanna Swendon **** YA steampunk 7/19/18
 Ask The Cat Keeper by Marc Marrone **** non-fiction 7/21/18
 Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire by Lisa Shafer ***** YA paranormal 7/24/18
 All in the Half-Vampire Family by Lisa Shafer ***** YA paranormal 7/25/18
 Daisies For Innocence by Bailey Cattrell **** cozy 7/26/18
 Nightshade for Warning by Bailey Cattrell **** cozy 7/26/18
 Fit Cat by Arden Moore **** non-fiction 7/27/18
 The Beatles in 100 Objects by Brian Southall ***** non-fiction 7/29/18
 The Legend of Sleepy Harlow by Kylie Logan *** cozy 7/31/18
 My Plain Jane by Hand, Ashton, & Meadow *** YA Jane Eyre paranormal 8/5/18
 Blame Montezuma: An Assortment Of Chocolate Poems **** poetry 8/9/18
 Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie  (2nd time)***** short stories, mystery 8/12/18
 Visualizing the Beatles by John Pring and Rob Thomas **** non-fiction, history 8/14/18
 Christopher Robin: the Novelization *** MG fantasy 8/14/18
 Chocolate: the British Chocolate Industry by Paul Chrystal *** non-fiction 8/15/18
 Inseparable by Yunte Huang *** non-fiction, biography 8/16/18
 Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winsper **** historical cozy 8/19/18
 PreFab! by Colin Hanton and Colin Hall **** memoir 8/25/18
 Deadly Proof by M. Louisa Locke **** historical cozy 9/1/18
 Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear •••• historical cozy 9/7/18
 Violet Vanquishes a Villain by M. Louisa Locke **** historical cozy 9/7/18
 Pilfered Promises by M. Louisa Locke *** historical cozy 9/8/18
 Deadly Threads by Jane Cleland **** cozy mystery 9/10/18
 Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear **** historical mystery 9/14/18
 Death of a Poison Pen by MC Beaton *** cozy 9/15/18
 Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne  *** cozy 9/16/18
 12 Angry Men by Rose and Mamet ***** 1B 9/16/18
 12 Angry Men by Rose and Mamet ***** 4B 9/16/18
 Wychwood: Hallowdene by George Mann **** paranormal mystery 9/20/18
 An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear ***** historical cozy 9/22/18
 The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum by Kirsten Weiss cozy **** 9/23/18
 Among The Mad by Jacqueline Winspear historical mystery **** 9/30/18
 The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear **** 10/1/18
 12 Angry Men by Rose and Mamet ***** 3A 10/3/18
 A Lesson In Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear **** historical mystery 10/3/18
 Elegy For Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear **** historical mystery 10/5/18
 Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear **** historical mystery 10/6/18
 A Dangerous Place  by Jacqueline Winspear *** historical mystery 10/7/18
 A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by MacKenzie Lee ***** YA A/A/fantasy 10/12/18
 Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear *** historical mystery 10/13/18
 In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear **** historical mystery 10/20/18
 To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear **** historical mystery 10/21/18
 Carols and Chaos by Cindy Anstey **** YA historical mystery/romance 10/25/18
 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (15th time) ***** YA fantasy 10/28/18
 The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwell **** YA fantasy 10/28/18
 Fantastic Beasts: Screenplay by JK Rowling (2nd time) ***** YA fantasy/drama 11/2/18
 1491 by Charles C Mann **** non-fiction, history 11/8/18
 Damsel by Elana K. Arnold *** YA fantasy 11/11/18
 Marmalade Murders by Elizabeth Duncan 11/17/18
 Live and Let Chai by Bree Baker cozy mystery **** 11/20/18
 Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chen cozy mystery *** 11/21/18
 A Story to Kill by Lynn Cahoon cozy mystery **** 11/24/18
 Fatality by Firelight  by Lynn Cahoon cozy mystery **** 11/25/18
 The Crimes of Grindelwald by JK Rowling screenplay ***** 11/25/18
 Air Fry Genius by Meredith Laurence **** cookbook 11/26/18
 Bayou Cuisine: Its Tradition and Transition by St. Stephen’s Church (1970) *** cookbook 11/29/18
 Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis *** non-fiction, self-help 12/1/18
 The Healthy Air Fry Cookbook by Linda Larsen **** cookbook 12/10/18
 Not of This Fold by Mette Ivie Harrison ***** mystery 12/12/18
  The Art of Secrets by James Klise **** YA contemporary mystery 12/16/18
 Santa Claus by Rod Green ***** picture book 12/22/18
 Vampires in the Temple by Mette Ivie Harrison paranormal mystery *** 12/23/18
 Women in the Material World by Peter Menzel (again) ***** non-fiction 12/26/18
 What the Dead Leave Behind by Rosemary Simpson **** historical mystery 12/26/18
  Lies That Comfort and Betray by Rosemary Simpson **** historical mystery 12/28/18
 Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets by Rosemary Simpson **** historical mystery 12/29/18
 Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Scones by Kaitlyn Dunnett *** cozy mystery 12/29/18
 Ho, Ho, Homicide by Kaitlyn Dunnett **** cozy mystery 12/30/18
 Kilt At The Highland Games by Kaitlyn Dunnett *** cozy mystery 12/31/18

What I Rejected = 14 total

Murder At Westminster Abbey by Amanda Carmack. The setting was good and the plot was not bad, but I cannot abide stupid protagonists. 143 pages. Gave up sometime in January of 2018.
London Rain by Nicola Upson.  This was described as a mystery, but in the first 50 pages, there was no mystery to solve.  Instead, there was a lesbian love triangle.  I don’t like lesbian romance, and the book was boring.  4/12/18. 
Bunk by Kevin Young.  This is supposed to be a history of hoaxes.  What it actually is is a history of hoaxes which hurt Black people, punctuated by long digressions about Black history which have nothing to do with the topic, written by a man who hates PT Barnum because of his early career involving a “rented” slave.  There is nothing wrong with writing Black history, but the book is mis-titled and mis-represented.  I stopped after 53 pages because I had wanted to read the book this claimed to be, not the book it actually is. 4/20/18.
Eat, Move, Sleep by Tom Rath.  Rath is a self-proclaimed “expert” who cannot organize by topic nor cite his sources.  While much of the advice in the book is standard, Rath uses anecdotal evidence and mentions “scientific studies” without names or dates to back up his claims.  Also, some of his claims -- such as that coffee is good for you and that the body needs no carbohydrates whatsoever -- sound rather fishy.  I forced myself through 155 pages before tossing it aside in disgust. 5/25/18
The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman   In five pages, we had time travel, the Fae, a secret society, and vampires.  Whoa.  Clearly Cogman thinks she’s “crossing genre boundaries,” when what she’s really doing is making a mess. 6/12/18
Dark Dawn Over Steep House by MRC Kasasian. Every chapter appeared to have a different plot. The characters are unlikeable, and the book pretends not to be a Holmes wannabe, all the while throwing in Holmes reference after Holmes reference.  Also, it treats rape very lightly. About five chapters. 7/25/18
The Witches’ Tree by MC Beaton. The writing was so bad!  So many missing commas!  Such choppy sentences!  And so much of it is TOLD instead of SHOWN!  I made it through 1 1/2 chapters.  ugh. 8/26/18
Murder in the Locked Library by Ellery Adams.  Clearly this author believes she is writing MG.  The dialogue was like reading Dick and Jane, and the cheesy puns and literary references were beyond the pale, even for a cozy.  An entire town with book-themed names is .... well, Disneyfied.   I stopped on page 60. 9/1318
An Act of Villainy by Ashley Weaver.  I’ve been reading the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, and this is likewise set in 1930s London, but Maisie Dobbs is an independent woman, and Amory Ames is a rich housewife who accepts the fact that her husband cheats on her.  It is likely true to the time period, but I cannot stand reading a whole book wherein the wives just accept that the men will cheat.  24 pages was all I could stand.  9/15/18
 The Cats Came Back by Sofie Kelly.  I read one page and discovered that it was a cozy mystery with invisible, magical cats.  Nope. Nopety-nope, nope. 9/25/18
 Th eLost Queen by Signe Pike.   So much hype for this book!  And it’s set in Scotland!  But, 65 pages in, it’s bleak and a sad attempt to re-do The Crystal Cave.... only, without anything all that interesting.  It has so many, many names!  Ugh.  It was work to read it.  I stopped at chapter 7 and picked up something else. 9/27/18
 The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White. I read about two chapters before deciding I really didn’t want to waste my time by reading about a girl who manipulates people in order to survive and then falls victim to domestic abuse. 10/24/18
  The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris    This is about medical practices in the Victorian era.  While it was fascinating, it just wasn’t the right book to read at Christmastime....or while eating.  It’s a bit too detailed for that.  Maybe later.....   about 50 pages. 12/12/18
 1776  by David MucCullough sometime in October I gave up, about halfway through the book.  I love history, but this was so boring I simply could not finish it.

Monday, January 1, 2018

What I Read And What I Rejected in 2017

In 2016, I read 137 books, which is above my average of 120 books per year.  A death in the family, a new curriculum at school, and some major life changes kept me way below average in 2017, and I read only 81 books, which is rather embarrassing.  Nevertheless, here is my list:


Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah **** historical mystery a la Christie 1/2/17
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham ***** YA multicultural mystery a/a 1/5/17
MacBeth by Shakespeare (again) ***** tragedy 1/17/17
Inside the Magic: the Making of Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them by Ian Nathan **** 1/18/17
Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz (again) ***** non-fiction, food 1/25/17
A Study In Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas **** NA mystery 1/27/17
The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison (2nd time)***** LDS cozy mystery 1/28/17
 His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison (2nd time) ***** LDS cozy mystery 1/29/17
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (again) ***** drama 1/30/17
 For Time And All Eternities by Mette Ivie Harrison **** LDS cozy mystery 1/30/17
 To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton (2nd time) ***** cozy 2/4/17
 Bookman Dead Style by Paige Shelton ***** cozy 2/6/17
 Blood by Blood by Ryan Graudin  **** YA alt history WWII 2/12/17
 Caraval by Stephanie Garber *** YA postmodernist fantasy 2/18/17
 Unmentionable by Therese Oneill ***** non-fiction, feminist, humor, Victorian 2/23/17
 Globe: Life in Shakespeare’s London by Catharine Arnold non-fiction, history    **** 2/28/17
 Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones YA fantasy *****(*!) 3/3/17
 All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister ***** non-fiction, feminism 3/18/17.
 Daughter of the Pirate King by by Tricia Levenseller ***** YA a/a, fantasy (sirens) 3/19/17
 A Taste of History: 10,000 Years of Cooking in Britain by Peter Briers et al (again) ***** non-fiction, history, cooking. 3/25/17
 These Vicious Masks by Shanker and Zekas ***** (2nd time) YA a/a fantasy, alt history 3/26/17
 These Ruthless Deeds by Shanker and Zekas **** YA a/a fantasy, alt history 3/26/17
 The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (2nd time) *****YA alt-historical fantasy 3/28/17
 The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman *****YA alt-historical fantasy 4/2/17
 Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly *** non-fiction, history, biography, space-race 4/10/17
 The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron *** romance posing as historical mystery 4/12/17
 Acadia: The Complete Guide by James Kaiser **** non-fiction, travel 4/24/17
 MacBeth by William Shakespeare (2A) ***** drama 4/26/17
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (1A) ***** 4/26/17
 Healthy Slow Cooker Recipes for Two by Pam Ellgen **** non-fiction, cooking 4/28/17
 MacBeth by William Shakespeare (4B) ***** drama 5/1/17
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (3B) ***** 5/2/17
 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (3A) ***** 5/3/17
 Celine by Peter Heller *** sort of a mystery 5/2/17
 MacBeth by William Shakespeare (4A) ***** drama 5/4/17
 MacBeth by William Shakespeare (1B) ***** drama 5/5/17
 Hunting Badger by Tony Hillerman ** crime, 5/26/17
 Bound: Over 20 Artful Handmade Books by Erica Ekrem *** non-fiction, crafts *** 6/2/17
 The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova **** realistic/historical adult fiction 6/4/17
 The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman **** mystery 6/7/17
 The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman **** mystery 6/9/17
 A House Full of Females by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich ***** non-fiction, history, feminism 6/21/17
 Rogue One by Alexander Freed **** sci-fi/StarWars 6/28/17
 A Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue by MacKenzi Lee ***** NA historical adventure 6/30/17
 Murder at Mistletoe Manner by Holly Tierney-Bedford *** cozy 7/9/17
 Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas **** YA fantasy sans magic 7/11/17
 Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young *** typical YA light horror 7/13/17
 Signs & Symbols by DK publishing ** non-fiction (tiny print, bad illustrations) 7/14/17
 The Lost City of Z by David Grann **** non-fiction 7/23/17
 York by Laura Ruby **** MG/YA historical fantasy 7/25/17
 Twelve Angry Men ***** drama, realistic 7/30/17
 Beauty Sick by Renee Engeln **** non-fiction, women’s issues 7/30/17
 The Crime Book (DK) (no author listed) ***** non-fiction 7/31/17
 Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley Schenck ***** retro sci-fi 8/6/17
 The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss **** holmes/monster mash-up YA w/older characters 8/8/17
  Diabetic Cookbook by Diana Watson * non-fiction, cookbook 8/9/17
 The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell **** YA Fantasy 8/15/17
 Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving ***** short stories 8/20/17
 Twelve Angry Men ***** drama, realistic 1A 8/31/17
 Twelve Angry Men ***** drama, realistic 4A 8/31/17
 Twelve Angry Men ***** drama, realistic 2B 0/1/17
 The Develin Diary by Christi Phillips **** historical mystery 9/8/17
 Southern Fried by Cathy Pickens **** cozy mystery 10/1/17
 Eat Fresh: Awesome Recipes for Teens by Rozanne Gold & Phil Mansfield **** cookbook 10/9/17
 A Spoonful of Murder by Connie Archer *** cozy 10/10/17
 Teeth: Oral Health in America by Mary Otto *** non-fiction, history, health 10/13/17
 Blood Sugar: The Family by Michael Moore *** non-fiction, cookbook 10/16/17
 That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston *** YA alternate history 10/20/17
 The Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Hansen & Elaine Hanna ***** non-fiction, cookbook 10/20/17
 Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin ***** mystery/crime 11/17/17
 Larceny and Old Lace by Tamar Myers *** cozy 11/19/17
 The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen   Beckett ***** Austen/Bronte pastiche fantasy 11/22/17
 The Secret, Book, And Scone Society by Ellery Adams **** cozy 12/5/17
 Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones ***** YA alt history, A/A fantasy 12/7/17
 Sherlock Holmes: Tangled Skeins by David Marcum **** mystery/pastiche 12/23/17
 Comic Sans Murder by Paige Shelton ***** cozy mystery 12/24/17
 The Power by Naomi Alderman ***** dystopia (adult) 12/28/17
 Steampunk Lego by Guy Himber *** non-fiction, art/crafts 12/28/17
 The Cozy Cookbook by various authors *** non-fiction, cookbook 12/29/17
 From Farm to Fork by Emerill Lagasse ** non-fiction, cookbook 12/30/17
 Snow Way Out by Christine Husom *** cozy mystery 12/31/17

And, as always, there were books I rejected.  Here's that list:

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The main characters were distant, robotic, and unappealing.  about 36 pages. 2/8/17
Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H Wilson all violence and weak females 80 pages 8/11/17
The Sacred Stone by the Medieval Murderers 15 pages, the story had a childish tone and did not catch my interest. 9/17/17
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. It’s supposed to be a historical mystery, but in 25 pages all I’ve seen is an obnoxious protagonist who is merely secretive about where his money comes from.. It’s arguing and no action, and I don’t have the patience for it. 9/29/17
The Breath of God by Jeffery Small. This is Dan Brown pastiche, which would be OK except for a couple of things: 1) instead of having a physical reason (i.e. a clue hidden in a historical building) to travel, Small has his characters run around the world to meet up with people who might have just made a phone call or set a letter by registered mail, and 2) his characters are stupid, making the dumbest mistakes and assumptions.  I cannot abide stupid protagonists.  When I reached 220 pages, I tossed it aside near the end of September.
Love: The Psychology of Attraction by DK publishing. This was actually good, but my father’s illness and death prevented me from finishing it before I had to return it to the library. 16 pages. mid-October.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton.  This was very interesting but my father’s illness and death prevented me from finishing it before I had to return it to the library. I will either purchase it or else request it from the library again in a few months. 47 pages. mid-October.
Cross My Heart And Hope To Spy by Ally Carter. So dull.  So cliche -- even for a fluffy YA mystery.  It’s like a bad sit com. 52 pages.  mid-October.
One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake. I liked the first one, but it’s been too long since I read it, and I don’t recall the details.  This one lost my interest three chapters in. 12/15/17

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Recipe: Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup tonight!
Here's what I put together, in case anyone wants a pumpkin recipe:

1 tablespoon butter (could use olive oil or broth)
about 1/2 cup each or more of the following chopped veggies:
white onion
red and yellow sweet peppers
green beans
about 1/2 cup or more frozen peas (thawed)
1 large stalk of celery, sliced thin
about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of canned pumpkin (NOT seasoned for pie filling)
about 1/2 cup rice (I used instant, but any kind would do, as long as you cook it long enough)
I 1/4 lb frozen turkey patty, thawed and partially cooked in microwave (or freshly-ground turkey, partially cooked)
about 1 quart of water
about 1 heaping teaspoon of Penzey's Chicken Soup Base
about 1 1/2 tablespoons (or to taste)Penzey's Northwoods Fire
about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of Penzey's Four Peppercorn Blend
about 1/8 teaspoon Penzey's Kosher Flake Salt
about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon Penzey's # Roasted Garlic (regular garlic would work fine)

I thawed the peas and beans (because I cheated and used frozen green beans) in the microwave while I stir-fried the onions, peppers, and zucchini in butter in a 6-quart pan.
I then added the peas and beans to simmer in butter while I heated the water in the microwave and dissolved the soup base in it. I added the seasonings to the veggies in the pan while I cooked the turkey patty and broke it into chunks.
I then mixed the turkey and broth into the pan with the veggies and butter and let this cook on medium for about 15 minutes.
At that point, I added the rice and stirred in the pumpkin. I found I needed more water, so I added a little at a time.
Once it was boiling, I turned it to medium-low and let it simmer about 30 minutes to blend all the flavors. It got a bit too thick, so I added a little more water again and let it heat a bit before serving.

This could easily be made as a vegetarian dish by using olive oil instead of butter, omitting the turkey, and using Penzey's Vegetable Soup Base instead of the chicken soup base.
I suppose you could make it with spices that didn't come from Penzey's, but why would you? ;) (or they have a store in Draper, for my Utah friends)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How To Avoid Getting Sucked Into Fascism

Friday and Saturday, Nazis marched openly in the streets of Charlotteville, while the police watched the violence escalate until alt-right Nazi James Field killed somebody.
As I looked at the video clips and photos from the march, I cannot see anyone marching who looks older than 30.  Have these people no connection with the Greatest Generation?  Are they so far removed from folks in their 80s and 90s that they've never spoken with someone who lived through or fought in World War II?  Have they never met someone with a concentration camp number tattooed on their arm?  (I was 18 the first time I saw it for real, defacing the flesh of a woman.  I had no words, no answers; I just let her tell me her story.)
Well, we've been here before, and the US already has some handy films on how to spot fascism before you get sucked into thinking it's somehow OK.
Check out this link and watch the short film.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Review: Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenck

This is my favorite read of the summer!!
I love steampunk.  (No, this is not steampunk; just hear me out, OK?) I love the whole concept of a world where science reality continued as it was in around 1870 or so: no electricity, but steam and clockwork and Darwinism not thoroughly understood and ether!  Wow.  It's just so fun to live in those worlds while I read.
Now, Schenck has done a similar thing with his retro-sci-fi.  It's sort of "rocketpunk," if you will.  His premise for all of his books and much of his (fantastic) artwork is this: What if science had gone on the way it was imagined in the action/adventure and sci-fi stories of the 1930s?  Thus he creates "stories of the retro-future."  In Slaves, for example, he has characters use an iPad-like device called an Info-Slate -- but there's no high-speed internet; there isn't even dial-up.  Instead, the information is routed via a switchboard, where humans (or enslaved robotic persons) must plug and unplug different connections, the way phone operators did for decades.  It's just so amusing to see the world he creates.
The plot is crazy fun, well-paced, and full of little twists.  The characters are surprisingly well-developed.  The artwork is fabulous!  And the humor!  Oh my.  It's like reading Douglas Adams, but set decades earlier.
If you have a good sense of humor and like sci-fi, pick this one up.  You'll be glad you did.
And even if you're not a sci-fi person (it's really not my favorite genre, but I own all of Schenck's books), give this a try anyway.  It's more Jetsons than Star Wars.
Oh, just go buy a copy; you'll love it. :D

Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

Have you ever wondered what would happen if an author tried to create a feminist mix of Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, Frankenstein, Jeckyll and Hyde, Rappuccini's Daughter, the Island of Doctor Moreau, Dracula, and just a smidgen of Dante and Beatrice?  Well, wonder no more!  Goss has made a metafictional monster mash-up of chaste YA with mostly older characters who interrupt the narrative to make comments (rather reminiscent of Alisdair Gray's Lanark).
In spite of how messy it sounds and how 2-dimensional the characters are, it's actually quite a good tale.  Goss has great plotting and pacing skills, and she does not indulge in a frequent habit of authors: writing in unnecessary running around just to show off how much research was done.
Also, although this is clearly the start up book for a whole series, it does have a decent ending with a fair amount of resolution.  I liked it well enough that I will probably read the sequel when it comes out.
The book is reasonably well-edited, although the author (and her copy editor) has a problem with the use of "who" and "whom" in three separate occasions.
There is a bit of a dilemma as to who the intended audience is.  The book is very nearly sex-free, with mentions of birth control, prostitutes, and one character's former "relations" with a man, but the characters are much older (with 2 exceptions) than usual for YA.  That could be overlooked, but the author assumes the reader has a good familiarity with Conan Doyle, Shelley, Stevenson, Hawthorne, Wells, Stoker, Dante, and, of course, the factual parts of the Whitechapel Murders.  I've taught school for decades, and I can assure you that very few teens are that well-read.  In fact, most adults aren't that well-read.  So, then, is Goss' intended audience YA-loving women?  If so, why does the book so carefully tip-toe around sex?  (The main character, Mary, is vaguely crushing on both Holmes and Watson, as if she were ten, for she appears to have no hormones at all.)
Overall, however, it's a action-packed tale and not a bad read, even if the author rather buried herself by trying to work in too many threads.

UPDATE: When I posted this review on Amazon, I could not help but notice that I was right in guessing that many readers would not grasp the literary references and allusions.  One "reviewer" complained that the title was "stupid," clearly not even grasping the fact that it's from Stevenson's book on which the main character is based.  Another reviewer couldn't tell the difference between classic literature and a "penny dreadful."  I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.