Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Review: The Utah Shakespeare Festival's 2019 Season

Information on the Festival, plays, and tickets can be found at www.bard.org.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival is in its 58th season this year.  It is held in Cedar City, Utah, and it is my favorite place to attend plays, especially Shakespeare plays.
I have seen Shakespeare plays in Salt Lake City, in London, England (the Globe), in Straford-on-Avon, England, in Scotland, and in Ashland, Oregon.  But none of these places match what happens at USF.  Let me list a few reasons:
1) The actors are top-notch, big names in the stage acting world, yet they freely do seminars and interact with the public.  They do not hold themselves aloof.  If you want to talk to one of them about a show, it's very easy to do so.
2) The Festival hosts literary seminars the morning after every play.  Several times a week, they host actor seminars, prop seminars, and costume seminars as well.  During the opening week of the shows, the directors will attend the seminars.  These are all completely free.
3) There's plenty of free parking near the Festival complex.  (Parking in Ashland was a joke.)
4)  Cedar City has plenty of motels and restaurants for Festival goers.
5) The Festival also offers classes wherein young or not-so-young students can earn university credit through Southern Utah University.

The new building complex which debuted at the 2016 Festival is still ugly, but it's more comfortable than it was at first.  There are now plenty of restrooms, a tiny, open-air cafe, two gift shops, and more shade.  The Shakespeare sculpture garden is looking good now, although the barren, cement-and-gravel thing behind the Arts Museum has no more charm than a Walmart parking lot.
This year's line-up of plays is a really good one.  I saw seven plays and attended six seminars in three days. Below are my reviews for those plays, done in the order I recommend them.  For example, if you can only see one play, I recommend Twelfth Night, so I review that one first.

1.  The best offering this year is Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
(Click here to see official Festival photos of this play.)
I know this play well, as I teach it to my high school seniors, so I'm well-qualified to make a judgement on this production, and I say it's a winner!
Orsino, played by Rene Thornton, Jr. is a fabulous, over-grown Romeo.  He flops himself about like a love-sick teenager, and it's hilarious!  Orsino's lines are very much like Romeo's, and I've long told my students that Orsino is just a 30-something Romeo, so Thornton is perfect in this role!
Other winning actor portrayals are Betsy Mugavero's Olivia, Chris Mixon's truly repulsive and unlikable Malvolio (this is the first time I've ever felt Malvolio deserved his punishment), and Trent Dahlin's Fool (very good, but I have seen others I liked better).  Also, I was worried that Josh Jeffers could not possibly match Quinn Mattfeld's performance as Sir Andrew Aguecheek a few years ago, but Jeffers is fabulous and hilarious!  Sebastian and Viola are pretty good, much better than the Viola from last time.
Less good are Sir Toby (who is far, far too likable) and Maria.   One of the biggest problems is that the director cut the part of Fabian and gave 90% of Fabian's lines to Maria, which completely changes her role and her personality.
The set of this play is fantastic, which huge statues of the twins Apollo and Artemis dominating the stage.  The costumes are vaguely Three Musketeers, but this works, and they are lovely to behold.
One interesting note is that at least six of the actors are persons of color, with Orsino, Viola, and Sebastian all being African-American in appearance.
Twelfth Night is a hilarious play with a love triangle, a cross-dressing young woman, and twins mistaken for one another.  It's a fabulous and fun romp, and this production is a real win.  If you can only see one play at the festival, choose this one.  If you'd like to introduce your kids or your non-Shakespeare-loving friends to the Bard, this is a great play to have them watch.

2. The next play I'd recommend seeing is The Book of Will, a two-year-old play by Lauren Gundersen.  (Official photos here.)
This play, according to the dramaturg, is fairly historically accurate, but it does add in the delightful character of Alice Heminges (brilliantly played by Betsy Mugavero), who is fictional. (John Heminges had plenty of children, but not much is known about them.)
The play tells the story of John Heminges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Condell (played by the fabulous Rene Thornton Jr), Shakespeare's actor friends/colleagues who put together the First Folio (the first authorized publication of his plays) a few years after his death.  The story is bittersweet in parts and funny in others.  It is well-costumed, and the set is constructed to look like the Globe Theatre.  The scene with the printing of the book is almost a dance, and the addition of the pages flying like flags is really lovely.
This play is easy to understand, a good history lesson, delightfully acted, and heartwarming.  Don't miss it!

3. If you have the time and the money for a third play, make it Hamlet.
(Official photos here.)
Quinn Mattfeld plays the title role this year, and he is a comic genius.  He brings out the humor in Hamlet's feigned madness, how he taunts and torments Polonius as well as Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern.  If you've avoided Hamlet in the past because it's too serious, you ought to try this production; it's the funniest Hamlet I've ever seen.  (Note: all the sexual jokes are glossed over, though; this is a very Utah Hamlet.)
That being said, this is also the most violent Hamlet I've ever seen.  Director Brian Vaughn added in extra violence.
In a visual reference to MacBeth, Vaughn has Hamlet wash his hands of Polonius' blood -- and then Claudius forces his head into the basin and tries to drown him.
Even more off-script, due to Vaughn's misunderstanding (which he didn't admit) of the fact that no one rescues the drowning Ophelia because almost no one could swim -- not even sailors -- in Elizabethan England, Vaughn has palace guards drown Ophelia on stage.
Not violent, but also not in the text, Vaughn adds a mistress for Polonius.
I did like the fact that Vaughn did not cut the invading Norwegian army, as many directors do.
Mattfeld's Hamlet is fantastic, probably the best I've ever seen. Claudius is hypocritical, violent, paranoid, and evil (Vaughn hinted in the literary seminar that Claudius is Trump, which is, no doubt, why this production has Russian costumes showing up in it.). And the play-within-a-play is acted brilliantly.  Horatio is boring and not as likable as he should be, however.  And Gertrude and Ophelia are rather dull.
The set is an opulent Russian palace, which is gorgeous, but it has snow all over the interior.  This is stupid, in my opinion.
The costumes are Czarist Russia and are gorgeous.
Hamlet is not for everyone, true, but this is a very good production.

4. MacBeth is next.  (Photos here.)
This production of MacBeth had both good and bad in it, and I've seen a LOT of versions of MacBeth with which to compare it, as I teach the play to my sophomores.
The not-so-great:
a) Wayne T Carr was great as Othello last year, and he's very powerful in several of his roles in the Henry VI plays (see below) this year, but it wasn't a great MacBeth.  He didn't seem evil or conflicted or haunted or ambitious or anything MacBeth might be.  He just sort of was there.  His "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech was lame; I've seen 9th graders perform it better.
b) Because a black actor was cast as MacBeth, a lot of the costumes had African vibes.  The men wore battle clothing in black and gold stripes.  The witches were made up and tattooed to look like voodoo priestesses from New Orleans.  This was an odd choice for a play wherein the setting of Scotland is crucial to the plot.  The whole point is that it is SCOTLAND.  Some plays, such as Midsummer or Tempest or Twelfth Night, can be set almost anywhere, but MacBeth doesn't really work that way.
c) Lady MacBeth wasn't really great either.  In fact, the only parts that were really good with the leads were the hints of romance between the two.
d) So much of Malcolm's speech with MacDuff was cut that it made no sense, and MacDuff's answers made no sense.  Plus, this kept Malcolm from developing any sort of personality.
e) Most of the porter's speech was cut, so there was less humor there.
What was good:
a) The director added in three little Wednesday Addams girl witches who spied on MacBeth and helped out in the cauldron scene.  This made it clear that this director wished to emphasize that MacBeth is not controlled by the supernatural, but makes his own choices.
The girl witches were highly creepy and definitely added to the vibe of the production.
b) Act IV scene i ("double, double, toil and trouble") was very well done.  True, the director cut the racist line about Jews ("liver of blaspheming Jew") but left in the ones about Turks/Tartars, which was an odd choice.  But she had realistic-looking props for the witch girl acolytes to throw into the steaming trapdoor "cauldron" while the grown-up witches chanted and moved about.  Also, actors presented the apparitions.  So many directors leave this out and just have the audience imagine what MacBeth sees, but Anderson leaves it in -- even the line of kings.
c) The banquet scene with the ghost of Banquo was well-blocked and very creepy, even though the humor of the scene was completely ignored.
d) The director actually chose to have MacDuff bring in MacBeth's bloody head (in a bag)!  So many directors leave this out; the last time the Festival did this, the director just had MacDuff stab MacBeth on stage, for example.  But Anderson followed the script.
e) Anderson also adds in supernatural elements I've never seen before.  In both the scene wherein Lady M calls on the spirits ("Unsex me here") and when MacBeth does, the director has them kneel or stand in a conjuring circle and actually commune with the supernatural.  Lighting changes are used to show it.  I'd never thought of its being done in such a way before, and I really liked this.
Overall, it's a pretty good production of MacBeth.

5. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (See photos here.)
 This musical, like Fiddler on the Roof, resonates strongly with Mormons, and, as a result, it has been insanely popular in Utah since about 1990.  I've seen it 8 times live (four of those professionally, one of which was the famous Donny Osmond live production), the video about 20 times, and I've listened to 2 different CD versions more times than I can count.  And this USF production is the blandest I've ever seen (including two high school productions).
The director, Brad Carroll, said in the seminar that he wanted the narrator to be only a narrator, for her not to interact with the other characters or the audience.  Well, he got that, and as a result, the narrator has zero personality.  She might as well sing offstage for all that it matters in the show.
Joseph also interacts very little with the other characters, and never with the narrator.  In other productions, I've seen the actor playing Joseph try to figure out Pharaoh's dreams by reading the Bible or by praying.  Not this Joseph; he does nothing to figure anything out.
Add the lack of character interaction to the extreme cuts in dance numbers and costuming, and you get a cartoonish Dreamcoat.   It's there.  It sounds good.  It's entertaining....enough.   But there's no character arc whatsoever.   It has all the character depth of an episode of Scooby Doo. When Joseph sings "Close Every Door," it's not poignant or heart-rending; it's just a pretty song.  When he meets up with his brothers again after decades of separation, it's like football buddies seeing each other the day after a big game.   There's no emotion at all when he frames his only full brother Benjamin.
Plus, the sixties references and go-go dancing are gone from "Go, Go, Go, Joseph."  And the actor who plays the Pharaoh is the same dude who played him twenty years ago at the festivals, so he plays an OLD Pharaoh -- and it's not really funny.
The good parts?  Well, it's Joseph; the music and lyrics are fabulous!   And the scene with the brothers traveling to Egypt is done as a drill number with a micro-cameo Chorus Line gag, and it's the best I've ever seen that scene done before.
Who should go?  Well, it's kid-friendly.  And if you've never seen Joseph before or haven't seen it in years and years, you'll probably like this just fine and not notice all that's missing.
I was underwhelmed with it.

6.  Henry VI parts 2 & 3 is last because it's not for everyone.  (See photos here.)
The Henry VI trilogy is among Shakespeare's earliest works.  It was wildly popular in its time, but it's not often produced now.  The reason is that it's long and that it's the story of the War of the Roses, which is complex and full of political intrigue.   The seminar leaders recommended it be compared to Game of Thrones and Hamilton for reference.
The Festival did part 1 of the trilogy last year, and this year, parts 2 &3 are done back-to-back in a small, black-box theatre (up close and personal) with a 30-minute intermission between the plays.  Twelve fabulous actors play 82 different roles with dozens of costume changes.  It's fabulous but it's INTENSE.   This is not a play production for the Shakespeare newbie or for a child.   This is a play for history buffs, English teachers, and theatre lovers.
That being said, it's getting hard to get tickets for this, as it's proving to be quite popular.
The costumes begin in the 1400s and end in the modern era.  This is done to show that bad leaders and political intrigue hasn't changed all that much over the centuries, but some people attending the seminar were very bothered by this.  I personally thought it was a bit helpful in keeping track of everyone.
There's a LOT of beheading in this play: four heads are brought on stage.  (One of them is of the same actor who plays MacBeth, so this dude gets beheaded in both his major roles this year!)
The most outstanding actors in this are Jim Poulos as Henry, Stephanie Lambourn as a super-bitchy but effective Queen Margaret, and Emelie O'Hara, who plays a twisted, evil, scary future Richard III extremely well.
This is really an excellent production, but I list it last as it is simply not as appealing to the average theatre-goer.  However, if you love history, Shakespeare, or really good theatre, do NOT miss this!

That's it, folks.   Check out www.bard.org for dates, times, prices, more about each play, and tickets.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Book Review: Thin Ice by Paige Shelton

6/27/19 Review of Thin Ice by Paige Shelton   

4.5 stars

Likely because I’ve been a long-time fan of Shelton’s, I was lucky enough to score an ARC of this thriller/mystery which will not be released to the public until December, 2019.  I received my copy at about 4:00 PM on June 26, 2019, read it in large chunks, and finished it at about 10:15 AM the next day.  I intended to give it five stars, but it does have a few Chekovian issues, which would likely have been non-issues if the book had declared itself to be the first in a series when I assumed it was a stand-alone.  I assume this will be made clear when the book is published.
I am a voracious reader of mysteries: cozies, historical, true-crime, and thriller.  Thin Ice is a mix of these genres (except historical), something of a cozy on steroids.
The protagonist, Beth Rivers, is very much a cozy protagonist.  She is a thirty-something intelligent, capable woman starting a new life in a small town and finding that skills from her previous jobs (thriller author and police secretary) drop her neatly into a new job/role (writer/editor of tiny local paper, although she never actually writes anything in this novel) waiting for her and help her to solve a murder in this new place.  She makes friends with the local cop, also very much like a cozy.  However, the fact that she’s changed her identity because she’s hiding from a stalker/kidnapper from whom she narrowly escaped makes this a bit more like a thriller.  As her escape caused an injury which led to brain surgery, she has a nasty scar and ugly hair, and she doesn’t care much about her appearance.  This makes a refreshing change from the usual cozy protagonist who is beautiful and has a myriad of men after her.   There’s no romance in Thin Ice, which makes it less cozy.  Beth’s also lacking the female bestie(s) usually found in a cozy.
The pacing of the book is much more like a thriller than a cozy.  Many scenes, from the beginning small plane entry into town, to the mysterious phone message, to the river rescue, are quite tense and less contrived than the usual sneak-into-the-house-to-search scenes found in cozies.  Beth’s seizures, headaches, and flashbacks seem quite real and contribute to the plot-building in a good way.
The cast of side characters is also more nuanced than in the average cozy.  All the folks who live in Benedict, Alaska are in the “gray” area; their personalities are far less like stock characters than are the usual group in a cozy.  Take Viola and Benny, for example.  These are tough sisters who ran from foster care at a young age and made lives for themselves in Benedict.  Viola manages a halfway house and Benny’s a barkeep. However, Benny, although she speaks of herself as female, either  enjoys cross-dressing or else identifies as non-binary.  All this is a bit Twelfth Night, except that it’s not Viola who dresses as a man when she reaches the “foreign shore.”  I don’t know if this is intentional or not on Shelton’s part, but it’s nice layering.
However, there is no real thriller tension of Beth’s having to run from Levi Brooks, her kidnapper.  In Thin Ice, he is a mysterious possible threat, but not in the sense of most thrillers.  (I must be vague here in order to avoid spoilers.)  Beth’s biggest conflicts are internal; they are real and add to the book, but they make this more cozy and less thriller.
My only complaints about Thin Ice come from the fact that I thought it was a stand alone, when I now see that it must be part of a series.  Shelton attempts to do what Alan Bradley does in the Flavia DeLuce series: to have a large mystery (finding Levi Brooks in Thin Ice and the past of Harriet in the Flavia series) stretching over the series while there is a murder to solve (who killed Linda in Thin Ice) in each individual book.  **** MILD SPOILER ****  In Thin Ice, I expected from the pacing and from the huge clues to Levi’s identity on page 184 and after that all would be revealed at the end, but instead we only solve the murder.  I felt a bit cheated by that.  I would have been fine with the teaser of a new mystery at the end if I had felt a sense of resolution for both mysteries, but I did not get that.  *** END SPOILER**
Also, there is a real Chekov’s gun problem when a Native man, a bit of a mystic, warns Beth not to go out into the Bay, and..... nothing comes of it.   I assume it will show up in a sequel, but I did find it rather annoying.
Thus, overall Thin Ice earns 4.5 stars from me.   It’s not really a thriller, but it is a ramped-up cozy, in a good way.  The characters seem real, the pacing is excellent, the setting seems very real to someone who’s never been to Alaska (I bet Alaska residents could pick things apart, but I can’t.), and the plot is good, even if the resolution is incomplete.   I would definitely recommend this book to mystery readers.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

If I had never read Connie Willis' Doomsday Book and its sequel To Say Nothing Of The Dog (there are two more sequels, Black Out and All Clear, but Taylor does not appear to have stolen much from those, at least in this first book), I might have thought this book was terrific.   The plot does trip along quite nicely, after all.
But reading this book after reading Willis' books is like reading Harry Potter spin-offs and expecting them to be as good as the real thing; it's just not going to happen.
Taylor steals Willis' whole concept of an English university in the not-too-distant-future having a time travel department, with the actual time travel done with computers instead of some type of magic (Rise and Fall of the DODO) or device (Dr. Who, Bill and Ted's, Back to the Future).   She also steals the whole concept of whether or not we "strand" someone in the past.   And, (SPOILER ALERT FOR TWO DIFFERENT AUTHORS) Taylor steals Willis' major plot idea of "we can take something from the past as long as it's something that is on the verge of being destroyed." In Taylor's case, this is a pine cone and a chunk of the Library of Alexandria.  For Willis, it's a cat and some kittens, which provide the catalyst for the entire plot of To Say Nothing Of The Dog.
Taylor also steals Willis' plot idea of "What if a disease travels forward in time?"
What Taylor DOESN'T have that Willis does is historical research.   Willis has so much detail in her historical settings that the reader almost feels the author must have lived through the events (clearly impossible), but Taylor picks vague settings and gives vague descriptions of all historical scenes.
Taylor's book isn't bad; it's fairly enjoyable as far as plot and character go.  But it lacks historical detail and certainly does not pull off Willis' parallel plot structure.
Thus, if you want a really good series about a university with a time-travel department which has people trying to cash in on commercializing it, find Connie Willis' books instead of these.

List of books in Connie Willis' time travel series:
The Doomsday Book
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Black Out
All Clear
The historical settings are 1348 Oxford, England, Victorian England, and WWII Oxford and London.
Connie Willis' books on goodreads and Amazon.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Ideas For Improving High Schools

Note: these ideas are based on what's NOT happening in the high schools in my own district and in some of the other districts in the Salt Lake Valley.  I certainly hope there are places where high schools do some or all of these things; however, I will admit that I've never yet heard of some of these being done before.  Feel free to comment.

1.  Instead of spirit week, have ART Week.  Instead of wearing school colors and having a pep rally before a sporting event, have finger painting/ water balloon painting/ mural coloring in the cafeteria during lunchtime for a week, have Dress as Your Favorite Painting Day, teach a different style of dance in the gym every day during lunch, have salt dough sculpting or snow sculpting competitions, have a sing-a-long assembly or karaoke assembly. Create an assembly where the drama students are in charge: skits, improv, gong-show, audience participation. Encourage teachers to have paintings/sculptures/drawings in their classrooms. (The art may reflect the teachers’ personal tastes or be related to their subject areas.)

2. Focus on academic instead of sports all the time.  Announce totals of high scores for AP tests.  Spotlight kids taking more than one AP class.  Have academic competitions during lunch or assemblies: spelling bees, quiz-shows with students against teachers, logic puzzles.  Give prizes and praise to winners.  In schools with high populations of immigrants, spotlight kids who speak multiple languages.  Give ESL students a chance to teach others their native tongues in clubs or free after-school classes. Spotlight kids who score 1700+ on the Reading Inventory test (and reward them by never making them take the test again, as they cannot “improve” beyond that score).   Spotlight kids who get perfect scores on all required tests and reward them.  Give attention those with 4.0s and/or those who improve their GPA by 1.0 during a school year.  Celebrate the debate team and the chess club.

3. Encourage physical activities that are not based on the holy trinity of football/basketball/baseball.   Have badminton or ping pong set up for lunch or after school.  Teach folk dancing or dances from the past, such as the jitterbug or the cake walk.   Have a walking or hiking club; get teachers to join in.

4. Have a community service week or term.   Get kids out cleaning up parks.  Turn unused grassy areas into a school vegetable/herb gardens and donate the fresh produce to a food bank or homeless shelter kitchen.  Have service team competitions to spruce up yards for the elderly or disabled or for the local senior center.  Require honor society students to tutor ESL students or elementary children.  Get kids to rake leaves or trim bushes or clean indoors at the local library.   Have a book drive for a low-income area elementary school.  Foster a litter of kittens.   Read books on tape for vision-impaired folks to use.  Volunteer to wash dogs at the animal shelter.  Spotlight kids who do volunteer work.  Have a reward activity or treat only for those who’ve been involved in a service activity of some sort.  Don’t make it about merely collecting money once a year for something; make it longer and vary the ways its done.

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.