September 29, 2011
teary, toes, and out on the town
posted by soe 11:56 pm
When I emerged from the Burrow this morning, I was surprised to discover it was sunny. Not peeking out from between clouds. Not trying to burn through the haze. But actual blue sky and glowing orb sunny. People looked happy and, frankly, kind of dazed. It’s been that kind of week down here.
The reappearance of the sun is not the only beautiful thing from the past seven days. I offer you three more here:
1. When stopping in at one of the local shops for some bread, I find a bag of sour jelly pumpkins. They are coated in sugar, which is a good thing, because they make my eyes water with how sour they are. Neither Rudi nor I can pass the bag without snagging one.
2. Forced to leave the office, but not quite early enough to catch a yoga class, I instead head to a nearby nail salon and get a pedicure. I have to look through every bottle in the shop, but at last find the color I want — my favorite shade of purple.
3. Rudi and I head to Georgetown for a date. We dine out on the patio of a French restaurant we’ve been meaning to try for years. We explore the newly finished waterfront park, complete with fountain you can play in (the other half of the park opened more than a year ago). And we see Moneyball, which, to my great surprise, turns out to be an excellent film. It is not just for number nerds (my expectation), but also for lovers of the game and fans of a good story.
How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?
September 26, 2011
into the stacks: a taste for death
posted by soe 2:31 am
I’m way behind on my book reviews, but figured I’d start off with the one I just finished. Still to come are reviews of The Woman in White, Diamond Ruby, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and Ninth Ward.
A Taste for Death, by P.D. James
From the jacket: “Their throats slit, the two men have turned the old vestry of St. Matthew’s Church red with blood. In death united, in life no men could have been more disparate: one a baronet and minister of the Crown; the other an alcoholic derelict. Commander Adam Dalgliesh believes that a single thread connects the two lives, one that will lead him to the killer. Instead, he soon finds himself following a tangled skein of lofty emotions and base ambitions into Britain’s enigmatic upper class — and into a labyrinth of ever-widening scandal and murder without end…”
My take: Commander Adam Dalgliesh has been named to head up a special division at Scotland Yard — one that investigates serious crimes that needed to be handled delicately, such as those of a political nature. Chief Inspector John Massingham and Inspector Kate Miskin round out the higher echelon of the team. Called to a Paddington church to investigate the deaths of a homeless man and a baronet, the team finds their first case seems to offer the initial and obvious answer that the rich man murdered the poor one and then killed himself with his own straight razor. However, the case seems to be a little too pat for Dalgliesh, who had a passing acquaintance with Sir Paul Berowne. With underlings in tow, they investigate everyone remotely involved with the man, from his beautiful wife (who is carrying on with an obstetrician) to his estranged daughter (who is dating a known Marxist) to his haughty mother to his local party officials. Following up on two other deaths loosely tied to Berowne convince Dalgliesh that he is correct that a murderer is on the loose. But with everyone trying to hide something, will he be able to find the guilty party in time?
I picked this up at a library book sale, part of their “fill a bag” day. If I’d had to pay for it, I might not have picked it up. And, frankly, that might not have been a bad thing.
I like cozies. I like police procedurals that are light on grisly crime and heavy on keeping peace among quirky characters. I prefer mysteries that are light and read quickly and that offer me a happy ending. I am happy to work to figure out the whodunnit, and even happier if the author has outwitted me at the reveal (provided that I can see where I should have sussed out the criminal). And I want my books to have plot lines that are wrapped up at the end of the novel and not left dangling, leaving you to wonder if the author bothered to re-read her text before sending it in and whether the decline in editing you’ve noticed recently could possibly date back as far as 1986 to when this novel was published.
It took me a month to wallow through the description and elevated language of this novel, and I sympathized greatly with the detectives, who were busy sorting through a lot of useless details in search of the actual narrative of a man’s final weeks. Some characters (particularly a romance novelist constituent of Berowne’s) are well developed, but far too many others (such as Lady Berowne) are only lightly adapted sketches of common archetypes.
I don’t know whether this work is indicative of James’ abilities in general or her Dalgliesh series in specific or an anomaly in an otherwise stellar career. However, it definitely has left me disinterested in finding out more, and that would seem to be a flaw in any mystery series.
September 23, 2011
welcome fall, teamwork, teatime, & midnight snack
posted by soe 12:53 am
It’s the Thursday before the National Book Festival. Only two more sleeps! Why, no, I’m not excited at all. Why do you ask?
Before we consider the lengthy list of authors who are coming to D.C. this weekend
just to read to me to promote their latest books, let’s look back at three beautiful things from the past week:
1. Four fat pumpkins adorn the front steps of a nearby townhouse.
2. The project I am in charge of at work is rapidly coming due. I suggest an aggressive (and somewhat painful) timeline to the members of my team this week, and no one disagrees or says it can’t be done or complains in the least. And, as of tonight, it looks like we’re on target to meet our goals for this week.
3. I spend the afternoon at the teahouse. I sip chai and snack on naan and chutney and read my mystery novel.
4. [It's good to break the rules sometimes...] Because I am home alone, there is no one to suggest that I ought not to bake a batch of oatmeal scotchies at midnight. The batch comes out of the oven crispy and slightly caramelized — perfect for eating with tea.
How about you? What was beautiful in your world this week?
September 22, 2011
bulky stockinette in a lacy life
posted by soe 1:08 am
Sometimes, when life is really full of details, it can help to partake in a leisure-time activity that calls for very few.
This is not the time for delicate yarns that slip or catch and tiny needles and complicated patterning.
Yesterday I pulled out this fantastic skein of bulky-weight yarn from Folktale Yarn (purchased last fall at Crafty Bastards) and cast on for a new hat.
That’s it. I didn’t bother to wind the yarn. I decided instead to wear it as a necklace while knitting. When I finish knitting each night, I twist it back up into a hank and tuck the whole thing away (because a silver cat also thinks the yarn is quite fetching).
I suspect the whole thing will be done tomorrow. My yarn as jewelry motif will be over, but I think I’ll have a cute toque to show off.
A little garter stitch, a little stockinette. The yarn changes color on its own. Huge, gahonking needles. Simple. Relaxing. Low pressure. Seems like just what the doctor ordered.
I’ll keep you posted.
September 20, 2011
five fall movies
posted by soe 1:12 am
Today, my college roomie sent me a link to the new Three Musketeers — movie opening next month, and I thought it looked interesting.
Here are five more movies opening this fall I’m excited about:
- The Muppets — Nuff said.
- Hugo — The Scorsese adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which I really liked.
- Arthur Christmas — A holiday movie from the creators of Wallace & Gromit.
- We Bought a Zoo — I wanted to read this memoir when it first came out, but I haven’t yet gotten around to it.
- Sherlock Holmes — A Game of Shadows — I really liked the first movie and am hopeful for more of the same in its sequel.
There are a lot of other movies coming out between now and the end of the year that look intriguing. Which ones are you excited about seeing?
September 19, 2011
posted by soe 12:33 am
I spent several hours down at the garden today, digging up fungi that had invaded from the wood chip mulch the garden uses to cover the pathways, weeding, planting some greens for the fall, and harvesting several pounds of produce (including a squash, a few more beans, and my very first cucumber ever).
While there, I took some photos so you could see what’s still growing in the garden:
September 18, 2011
into the stacks: the map of true places
posted by soe 2:40 am
Another book down in an effort to catch up reviews:
The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
From the jacket: “Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats…. She’s now a respected psychotherapist … about to marry one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors. But the suicide of Zee’s patient Lilly Braedon throws Zee into emotional chaos and takes her back to places she thought she’d left behind.
What starts as a brief visit home to Salem after Lilly’s funeral becomes the beginning of a larger journey for Zee. Her father, Finch, long ago diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, has been hiding how sick he really is. His longtime companion, Melville, has moved out, and it now falls to Zee to help her father through this difficult time.”
My take: When Bridget finished reading this book, she was kind enough to send it to me after I expressed interest in it, having enjoyed Barry’s first novel, The Lace Reader.
The two books share a number of similar traits — the setting of Salem, Mass; the use of flashbacks as a narrative device; a female protagonist forced to return home due to a family crisis; a sympathetic male lead; an abusive character; and an interest in mental illness.
The Map of True Places revisits Salem in a time period not long after the end of the previous work and even resurrects some of the characters from it, but it is not a sequel and can be read comfortably without having encountered the other novel.
We first meet Zee, a Boston psychiatrist, immediately after the suicide of one of her patients. Because this patient had exhibited symptoms that reminded Zee of her mother — who had killed herself when Zee was a girl — Lilly’s suicide hits Zee particularly hard. Already under stress from wedding planning gone awry, Zee follows up the emotional funeral by finding her Parkinson-ridden father having a delusional episode and her step-father (his caregiver) no longer living at home.
So Zee takes a leave of absence from work to move home to Salem and take care of her dad, whose illness has taken a turn toward Alzheimer’s. She tries to figure out a way to reunite her father and step-father, who have argued over something they both refuse to divulge. She meets Hawk, a sailor/navigator who moonlights as a carpenter, who builds Finch some railings for around the house. And she tries to finally come to terms with her mother’s mental illness and suicide — and the historic love story she was obsessing over at the time of her death.
If you have read The Lace Reader, then you will be unsurprised by the direction this story takes. It feels heavy handed, relying on coincidence rather than magical realism to get you over some gaps in reality. Because of that, it may be that even without having read Barry’s previous work, you’ll suss out where this book is going before it gets there.
Nonetheless, it is a gripping and tense page-turner, and while you may sometimes need to put the book down in order to leave Zee in a safe place while you tend to more mundane aspects of your life, you will pick it up again as soon as you can to serve as a witness to her journey into the darkness of the unknown and back again.
September 15, 2011
date night, scholarly habit, and free scoop
posted by soe 8:59 pm
It has not been a great week, which makes it even more important to find those moments of beauty tucked between the rest. Here are three of them:
1. Saturday night Rudi and I have an excellent date — one filled with laughter and chocolate. A comedy show at the new Riot Act comedy club is followed up by dessert at Co Co. Sala.
2. On Friday night I wander into Target in search of a more modest yoga top and leave with a purple, stripey cardigan. Years of fall back-to-school shopping habits have not worn off.
3. One of the deal websites is giving away free scoops to our local ice cream shop. The owner jovially calls everyone cashing in the deal a mobster. My dish of Oreo ice cream is particularly creamy and ends with a big chunk of cookie.
How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?
into the stacks: boy: tales of childhood
posted by soe 2:45 am
I’m out of order and behind in telling you what I’ve been reading. For the record, we’re temporarily skipping reviews of The Woman in White and The Map of True Places, which I’ll get back to soon.
Boy: Tales of Childhood, by Roald Dahl
From the jacket: Where did Roald Dahl get all of his wonderful ideas for stories? From his own life, of course! As full of excitement and the unexpected as his world-famous, best-selling books, Roald Dahl’s tales of his own childhood are completely fascinating and fiendishly funny. Did you know that Roald Dahl nearly lost his nose in a car accident? Or that he was once a chocolate candy tester for Cadbury’s? Have you heard about his involvement in the Great Mouse Plot of 1924? If not, you don’t yet know all there is to know about Roald Dahl. Sure to captivate and delight you, the boyhood antics of this master storyteller are not to be missed!”
My take: For many years, I didn’t think I liked Roald Dahl books. Sure, occasionally a story proved to be an exception (The BFG, for instance), but it was only last summer when I suddenly got Dahl. To celebrate that fact (and because she is a wise woman), Karen gave me this short collection of autobiographical vignettes Dahl wrote toward the end of his career.
Dahl shares stories of his growing up years — his young childhood in Wales amidst his large family (headed up by his loving and delightful widowed mother). He offers up fond memories of summer vacations to his mother’s homeland, Norway. He records a few good anecdotes of his schooldays, but also some horror stories that might inspire a few children into wanting to be homeschooled to avoid such misery. And his encounters with doctors of the 1930s are best told after dark around a campfire.
Dahl’s writes as if he were a guest in your home or a favorite great-uncle regaling you with stories about a childhood long ago and far away. His humor and razor-sharp characterization here rival those in any of his novels, with his villains painted in particularly lurid hues.
I recommend this to anyone whose kids have liked Lemony Snicket’s snarky tones, the madcap adventures of Cheaper by the Dozen (either the book or the movies), or any of Dahl’s fictional work; to those who are convinced that they missed out by not attending an English boarding school; and to humor-lovers everywhere.
This book fulfills the “book with a life stage in its title” portion of the What’s in a Name 4 Reading Challenge.
September 13, 2011
fun fall to do list
posted by soe 11:39 pm
Yesterday, Sarah wrote up 13 things she’d like to do between now and Thanksgiving. I thought I’d join her in making such a list, but will stick to ten things since I failed to make the admirable progress on my summer goals that Sarah did on hers. Please note I’m only including fun things I want to do, rather than things I have to do on this list:
- Attend the National Book Festival — With the exception of the years we were in England or Salt Lake, I have attended every one of these since we moved down here in 2003. This year it’s two days. That’s twice as much fun!
- Finish a sweater — I was hoping to do this over the summer, but then I never picked up anything larger than a sock.
- Play volleyball every week — I have joined a rec league. It’s partly to get me playing the one sport I ever really loved taking part in (rather than viewing, like baseball) and partly to introduce me to some new people. Tomorrow night is the first scrimmage, and, frankly, I’m mildly terrified.
- Attend weekly yoga classes — I have signed up for classes at four different studios. I have no excuse for not getting to at least one each week.
- Pick apples — Both John and Sarah have mentioned it, so one of these next couple weekends should find us at an orchard.
- Spend a weekend in Connecticut — I’m overdue for a trip to see the family.
- Catch up on my classics — I’m woefully behind on my classics reading challenge.
- Find/make a Halloween costume — Because it’s fun to dress up.
- Learn twenty useful phrases in a new language — Which leads us directly to …
- Go to Iceland — And have a fun time!