Last spring, I finally got to visit Scotland, Land of the Tartan and black slugs, which I dubbed the MacSlug. Part of that trip included a 73 mile trek on The Great Glen Way, one of the many long-distance paths in Britain. Most of the walk was through or alongside beautiful scenery including placid lochs, rolling pastures filled with cute little lambs and a few shaggy Highland cows, and forests (although I was shocked to see some pretty darn ugly clear-cuts as well). Shortly after coming home, a mystery passed my desk entitled A Small Death in the Great Glen. I knew I had to read it, and although I couldn't figure out if the fictional village was based on one that I had passed through, I was pleased to revisit the landscape if only in literature. The small death is that of a young boy who has been found in a canal (the Caledonian Canal that along which I had walked miles?). Turns out that he had been murdered and dumped in the water. Who would do such a thing? Several young girls might know, but they're not telling. Employees of the local newspaper are the amateur detectives in this debut novel and they're a pretty interesting bunch. I'm looking forward to the second in this series. I just polished off another new debut mystery from Scotland, this time set in 1860s Edinburgh. In The Unbelievers, our middle-aged detective, Inspector Allardyce, is trying to figure out who has bumped off the Duke of Dornach. What was, at first, a missing persons case, turns into a murder investigation when the Duke is found shot. We travel with Allardyce through the dirty underbelly of Victorian Edinburgh society and politics as we visit the Duke's questionable haunts and hope that we get to the murderer before he or she strikes again. If you're still hankering for Scotland after these two, read Raven Black by Ann Cleeves, set in the Shetland Islands. But don't blame me if you feel the need for a shot of whiskey after all this death!
Flowers are very important to me. I put up a couple vases at a time in our house. One has to be on the dining room table and another on the fireplace mantle. And if I am really flower rich, I will put a couple vases in the bathroom or bedroom. I am usually flower rich when flowers are blooming in our garden. In the dead of winter I splurge for flowers on payday.
I mark certain times of years by which flowers are in bloom. February is all about hellebore and daphne. Because it can be dark and gloomy in Portland in the winter, seeing these plants in bloom means the sun is coming with spring on its heels.
So when I found the book The Flower Shop by Sally Page I was thrilled! The Flower Shop is one year in the life of a flower shop in a village in England. Each chapter is about a month of the year. Every month is marked with holidays that are celebrated with flowers. Birthdays, parties and weddings are celebrated throughout the book. Pictures and tips for flower care weave their way through the pages. If you are looking for something touching and colorful, this is the book for you.
Suzanne Jauchius and Jeanne Boylan, collaborators and friends, have both been asked,"Why can't you just be normal?"
Both Suzanne Jauchius, a modern day psychic, who sees things about people, and Jeanne, who works with crime victims to draw pictures of assailants, have written books about their search for authenticity.
But even with a blindfold, Suzanne could see where to pin the tail on the donkey or who had the thimble. She thought she was just clever and smart. Shamed for who she was, Suzanne began the lifelong quest to find her place - to find where she fit in - to find her way home. It took eight years of intense therapy, supportive friends and constant work to gain a new awareness of who she is and how she can use her gift.
Suzanne read excerpts from her new book, You Know Your Way Home, at a recent Brown Bag Lunch and Learn at the Central Library. She detailed how she overcame a lifetime of criticism and skepticism from those closest to her to follow her passion.
Now an intuitive consultant with an office in West Linn, Suzanne uses her ability to help others discover some truths about their lives. She and Jeanne Boylan first became acquainted when working together on a case in England. Jeanne was able to produce a sketch that is the precise face of the last person seen with the victim. Over the years, the two women became friends and have worked on many cases together including the PollyKlaas kidnapping.
Early in her career when Jeanne was still trying to leave the business of interviewing victims and drawing police sketches in order to have a normal life, Suzanne sees Jeanne "doing a lot of work for the FBI, writing a script or manuscript and working with a man named Ron or Rod… this work will never let you go..." All of this comes true.
Jeanne did work with the FBI, wrote a script and continues to work with police. She worked with law enforcement on the Susan Smith case and the Oklahoma City bombing and was the one to produce an accurate sketch of the Unabomber. Read about her interview techniques and details of the cases (as well as Suzanne's predictions) in Portraits of Guilt: The Woman Who Profiles the Faces of America's Deadliest Criminals.
They say Americans don’t read in translation. I bet that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo torpedoed those statistics. Looking over what I’ve read in the past year, I only see three titles originally written in a language other than English, and two of those are Swedish mysteries Roseanna and Faceless Killers.
It’s amazing how ‘bits of elsewhere’ can be experienced through fiction – from weather to architecture to a completely different way of understanding the world.In their ‘Read My Country’ series, the BBC World Service asks authors “If you had to recommend three books or poems that would deepen a visitor's understanding of your country and culture, what would they be?” So far they have spoken to writers from eight countries, and I have only read one of the books named: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, one of the Nigerian author’s choices. The series of course makes me wonder – what books deepen a visitor’s understanding of our country and culture?
Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service by Mark Pendergrast The Epidemic Intelligence Service is a rarely-heard-of division of the Centers for Disease Control, and the medical equivalent of the CIA. How cool is that?! These folks, epidemiologists by trade, try to study and prevent virtually every threat to public health that's around--and they've been at it since 1951. They've dealt with smallpox and Ebola, found that people can get rabies from bats without being bitten, started the first surveillance system for birth defects and helped identify folic acid as a preventative for spina bifida. They've investigated mass hysteria in schools, sick-building syndrome, proved that aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome, that toxic shock syndrome was caused by super-absorbent tampons, and that Lyme disease came from ticks. They've investigated lead poisoning, multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis, parasites, pesticides, and cholera. But they also study things like cancer clusters, obesity, heat waves, binge drinking, violence and suicide.This book is graphic--not for the squeamish. But for those among us who love this kinda thing, it is just the ticket. Plus that cover illustration is the shiz.
At this time of year many people are tempted to pull out the tarnished sax hiding under their beds or dust off the old ivories to see if their after-school piano lessons can be resurrected. But what to play? "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" can get a little tired after the second or third time through.
Never fear - Multnomah County Library has one of the best collections of sheet music anywhere around.
For instance, maybe you'd like to know what the kids were singing in the 90's - the 1890's, that is. Take a look at Songs of the Gilded Age, which includes such great tunes as "Elsie from Chelsea" and that old favorite "She is More to be Pitied, than Censured", not to mention "Where Did you Get that Hat?".
Perhaps your instrument is your voice. Then maybe you'll want to check out the American Idol Presents series - complete with sheet music and CD accompaniment. You're sure to be a star in your own living room.
Or maybe you'd like to rock out and take it up to eleven. The Zen of Screaming might come in handy. It's a training program for rock singers "to preserve their vocal cords without compromising their passion."
According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success, it will only take you 10,000 hours of practice to become just as good a guitarist as Etta Baker was. This instructional DVD might even cut it down to 9,500 hours.
After all, as the writer, Alexander McCall Smith asked, in a recent New York Times article, "why should real musicians — the ones who can actually play their instruments — have all the fun?"
Every so often over the course of my life, I've pondered my happiness. Sometimes (during most of graduate school), I was decidedly NOT happy. Other times (say, when I'm hanging out at my favorite place at the beach reading or crafting), I feel quite peachy. Gretchen Rubin asked herself whether she was happy and came up with something like "Yes, but I could be happier." That question (and answer) began a year long quest to create more happiness in her life. It's not the totally self-indulgent project that it initially seems to be; she realized that if she were happier, the people around her (like her husband and kids) would also be happier. She designed a project for each month of the year starting with decluttering her apartment in January. Other endeavors included eating less "fake food", writing a novel in one month, and tackling nagging tasks. To find out if she did, indeed, get happy, read The Happiness Project.
Unlike Gretchen, who made a conscious choice to be happier, Dominique Browning's shift toward happiness was forced upon her when House & Garden, the magazine for which she was the editor, folded. Fortunately she had resources, unlike so many Americans who have lost their jobs and are up Unemployment Creek without a paddle. Dominique basically slowed life down - sold her big house in New York and moved to a smaller one in Rhode Island where she lived in her pajamas, gardened, swam and, apparently, finally got over her decade-long, on-again, off-again relationship with a man whom she dubbed Stroller. She was going to call him Walker, "as that's what he did best: walked away", but apparently he objected. She relates her year in Slow Love.
Now don't you wish you had a whole year of freedom (with financial resources) to get all happy and content?
I'll start with this: I don't hate to cook. I just hate to cook for my current captive demographic, which includes a child who begs for sushi in his wretched school lunch every day and a child who maintains a firm company policy of automatically rejecting anything that is not a fruit. Which kids in America scorn spaghetti and
For those of us who struggled with high school chemistry at the hands of a sadistic middle aged teacher having an affair with the trigonometry instructor (and I know you’re out there) we can now make anotherattempt at understanding the periodic table, and thank God, I say. Kean’s writing makes the subject matter so wonderfully approachable--he welcomes you in, pours you a cold one, and just starts telling great stories about the elements.
There’s neon rain, gas warfare, ruthless scientists, passion, betrayal, adventure and obsession. What cool prank can you pull with gallium and a cup of tea? Why was cadmium the Godzilla killer? And did you hear about Marie Curie’s sullied reputation? There are some black and white illustrations and photos, and one of them is of an old ceramic urn-like device called a Revigator, a pottery crock lined with nuclear radium. Users, back in the day, filled it with water which turned radioactive overnight. The manual suggested drinking six or more refreshing glasses a day. Yum. Maybe there’s a chance for me to love chemistry after all.
There are only four of authors I "follow", eagerly awaiting each new book. I even have alerts set up in the 'Books in Print' database available through the library – as soon as any of them have a new book announced, I get an email. They are: Kate Atkinson, Connie Willis, Laurie R. King, and Kage Baker.
I remember my discovery of Baker very distinctly. I read the review of her first novel, In the Garden of Iden, in Library Journal in October 1997, which summarized the plot as follows: “The initial assignment for 18-year-old Mendoza, transformed into an immortal cyborg by the 24th-century Company, is to retrieve from Renaissance England an endangered plant that cures cancer. Posing as a Spanish lady accompanying her doctor father, she falls in love with the mortal Nicholas Harpole, secretary to the owner of Iden Hall and its exotic gardens. Amidst the raging Catholic/Protestant powerplays revolving around the English throne and the fervent religious bloodlust of common folk, Mendoza is torn between her task and her love.” Immortality, time travel, and the Reformation! I was highly intrigued. The next week I saw a copy on the new book shelf, and a love affair began. Oh, the highs and lows as I followed The Botanist Mendoza through centuries of pining over Nicholas (and his Company-fabricated reincarnations). Oh, the horrendous cover art. Before it was over, The Company series spanned nine novels, two short story collections, and four novellas. I loved Baker’s characters, and while I occasionally had serious problems with her plot choices, I was passionate about everything she wrote.
Her other series has no name, and is usually referred by the title of the first book, Anvil of the World. Each of these humorous, original fantasies stands up well on its own. My favorite is House of the Stag, which chronicles the life of the half-demon Gard from outcast among the extremely-peace-loving Yendri, to slave held by evil magicians, to his adulthood as Master of the Mountain – loving father, devoted husband, feared by the entire continent.
There will be no more 'alerts' for Kage Baker. This year we lost her.
The library’s stock of In the Garden of Iden had dwindled down to one copy, but it was recently reprinted and more are on the way. Don’t let the cover art scare you.