photo of Hill Top FarmThis spring I checked off one of my bucket list travel destinations:  Hill Top, Beatrix Potter's farm in the English Lake District.  Before I left, I reread many of Potter's tales and was (pleasantly) surprised by their edginess!  They weren't all sweetness and light and the stories were full of drama.  Of course I had remembered that Peter Rabbit's father had ended up in a pie, but along with parental death, there is also kidnapping, or rather, bunnynapping (Mr. Tod & The Flopsy Bunnies), sassing (Squirrel Nutkin), punishment (Tom Kitten), thievery (Benjamin Bunny), wanton destruction (Two Bad Mice) and general youthful mayhem (take your pick). What's a kid not to like?

I also wanted tbook jacket for Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of A Borrowed Guinea Pig o better understand Potter's life and artistry before I visited the Beatrix Potter Gallery, and so I checked out several biographies including Over the Hills and Far Away and Beatrix Potter:  Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman. I also came across The Art of Beatrix Potter which contains many full color and sometimes full-page plates of her gorgeous paintings.

Because 2016 was the 150th anniversary of her birth, a number of books about her were published that year including Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, a fun and mostly true story for children of an incident in Potter's life. If you haven't checked out Beatrix Potter since your youth, consider revisiting her in some of these books for youth and adults.

 

Recently I had a heavenly vacation most of which I spent on the couch drinking tea and reading British police procedurals.  I'd been in a mystery rut; I had stalled in some of my favorite series and felt the need for something fresh, so I brought home a stack of newish books and cracked their spines.  Here are a few of the mysteries I read, all of which were written in the past few years and are either stand-alones or series starters.  If you need some fresh blood in your (reading) life of crime, check these out!

She's Leaving Home book jacket1968 London. It might be swinging for some, but for one teenager, it's deadly. DS Breen has just left another policeman alone in a dangerous situation and isn't very popular at the moment.  When a teenage girl is found lying naked and dead close to Abbey Road, Breen and his female (and newly minted) detective constable are on the case.  Can Breen redeem himself?  Can DC Tozer make a go of it in CID, a department completely dominated by men?  I loved experiencing the officers' struggles as they dealt with the challenges of the late 1960s in She's Leaving Home by William Shaw.

Moving into the 21st century, policing (and finding a guy to date) is still not necessarily easy for a woman.  DS Bradshaw is on the cusp of forty and is not particularly satisfied with her circumstances. She gets a chance to take her mind off her crappy life when a young woman goes missing from her home leaving a trail of blood.  It's up to Bradshaw and a team of detectives from Cambridgeshire to figure out what happened in Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner.Coffin Road book jacket

In Coffin Road, a man washes up on an island in the Outer Hebrides with no idea who he is. It's possible he may have killed a man, and he and the police separately try to figure out the mystery of his identity.  This is as much a thiller as a police procedural - we see the mystery mostly from the point of view of the unidentified man.  The setting was fantastic and I got to learn about a real life mystery that took place on the Flannan Islands.

For more British police procedurals written in the 21st century, take a look at this list.

The Wild Robot book jacketWhen I was a kid, I didn’t particularly like robots. They seemed cold, impersonal and completely unlovable. I had my first inkling that robots could be more than just metallic tools when R2D2 and C3PO came on the scene. Since that first Star Wars movie came out, there have been lots of books for kids with wonderful and wonderfully personable bots including a novel I just finished entitled The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.  After the ship she is on sinks, Roz, the titular robot, pitches up on an island. Only when some playful otters break open the box she is in, is Roz able to start figuring out how she is going to survive. At first, the island animals think she’s a monster and try to avoid her, but they slowly warm up to her after she adopts a baby goose and begins to do things that make the animals lives better. When something threatens Roz, the animals band together to try and save her.  For a good survival story with a robot that’s all heart, despite not having one, The Wild Robot is just the ticket.  For more children’s books featuring robots, check out this list.

The Anglo Files book jacketWhen I first met the Scottish Lad, practically the first thing out of my mouth was some version of a question that many Brits find terribly intrusive: What do you do for a living? People wonder why the British talk constantly about the weather.  Here’s a hint:  Every other topic of conversation is considered rude at best or taboo at worst! I didn’t know my question was intrusive because I hadn’t read a bunch of books on British etiquette and culture.  Again, I thought I had no need of them.  Again, I was wrong. Here are some titles I have since read.  You, too, can educate yourself so you don’t make the mistakes I did!

Many Americans apparently want to (and do) marry British people.  At least two of them have written revealing books about living in the land of their mates. The Anglo Files by Sarah Lyall and Erin Moore’s That’s Not English cover some similar territory, but the latter book explores English and American culturalA Writer's House in Wales book jacket differences with a focus on language.  Moore titles each chapter with a word and then delves into what it means for each country. You’ll get the scoop, for example, on why the English seem to dislike “gingers” while Americans generally find redheads attractive (although an American friend of mine who has beautiful red hair was teased mercilessly in school because of the color of her locks). Other chapters include Knackered, Whinge, Bloody and Dude.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Scots and Welsh are the same as the English! To get an understanding of Scottish life and culture, as well as practical tips on living in or visiting Scotland, read Culture Shock! Scotland.  For a glimpse into Welsh life, try A Writer's House in Wales by Jan Morris.

For even more books to help you navigate the British cultural waters, try these.

Spring 2016 teen booksSpring 2016 kids booksAh, spring break! In my memories of childhood, it was always filled with chocolate Easter eggs and lots of time to read the stack of good books I’d just checked out from my local library. In honor of those memories, I’ve gathered up a crop of new books for kids and teens that I want to read over the upcoming spring weeks that are bound to be cool and rainy.  I might just have to buy a bag of chocolate to go with them!

Check out the kids’ stack here and the teen stack here.

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