I thought I’d share some of the photos I took earlier this month when I walked over to the Georgetown waterfront and then back home via the West End.
January 31, 2012
The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson
From the jacket: “In Los Angeles, a geological surveyor maps out a proposed subway route — and then goes missing. His eight-year-old daughter in her desperation turns to the one person she thinks might help — she writes a letter to Sherlock Holmes. That letter creates an uproar at 221b Baker Street, which now houses the law offices of attorney and man-about-town Reggie Heath and his hapless brother Nigel. Instead of filing the letter like he’s supposed to, Nigel decides to investigate. Soon he’s flying off to Los Angeles, inconsiderately leaving a very dead body on the floor in his office. Big brother Reggie follows Nigel to California, as does Reggie’s sometime lover, Laura — a quick-witted stage actress who’s captured the hearts of both brothers. When Nigel is arrested, Reggie must use all his wits to solve a case that Sherlock Holmes would have savored, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans will adore.”
My take: When one rents the real address of 221b Baker Street, with the lease comes the responsibility of replying (by form letter) to the inquiries that arrive addressed to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
High-class lawyer Reggie Heath is so excited by the space and the location that he doesn’t really pay attention to that bit of the lease agreement. But his office manager does, and assigns the task to Reggie’s younger brother, Nigel, who is recently out of the mental hospital and awaiting clearance from a review board to resume practicing law after an embarrassing misunderstanding.
Nigel, who tends to work from his heart rather than from a logical perspective, disregards the directive to use stock language to reply to Sherlock Holmes queries. His curiosity is particularly piqued when he comes across a request for the return of an item included with correspondence dated 20 years earlier. When that original letter turns out to be from a young girl seeking the sleuth’s help finding her missing father, and when Nigel detects that the signature on the modern request is a forgery, he decides to get involved.
Unfortunately, his abrupt trip to California to investigate overlaps with the discovery of the dead body of the office manager in Nigel’s office — with his head bashed in by Nigel’s statue.
What’s a big brother to do but put off Scotland Yard and follow his hapless sibling to the U.S. — even if it does ultimately mean that Reggie will visit unsavory neighborhoods, get arrested for a second murder, and nearly lose his own life?
I picked this book up at Sam Weller’s in Salt Lake on their second day open at a new location. They didn’t have the book I was after in soft-cover, so instead of buying it in hard-cover, I bought two other books instead.
I hadn’t heard anything about the mystery prior to picking it up off the shelf and thought the premise sounded promising. I’m not sure the execution lived up to the promise, with heroes whose powers of deduction at times would have put Inspector Lestrade in a positive light. However, the book was still a good — light and quick — way to pass a flight and may be considered worth checking out from the library.
January 26, 2012
It’s Thursday. I’m not sure how it arrived already, because I’m pretty sure it ought to be Tuesday. However, as tomorrow definitely ought to be Friday, I’m not going to argue the point.
In the meantime, three beautiful things from the past week:
1. We head down to the West End Cinemas and catch the French film Le Havre, which is a feel-good (but not in a treacly way) movie about how a shoe-shiner and his down-and-out neighborhood is touched by an African boy who stowed away on and escaped from a container originally destined for London.
2. Craig Finn, who is the lead singer of Hold Steady, released a solo album this week, and it is fantastic. Clear Heart Full Eyes is filled with melodic stories about the sort of people you’d find at a bar late at night in a small town where life is passing them by. It’s not filled with only depressing songs, although he has enough of those to blow a hole cleanly through your heart if you’re teetering in the wrong direction or to score a film about lost twenty-somethings. But he also has a humorous way with words, which gives you some gems like “New Friend Jesus,” which features such lines as “It’s hard to suck when Jesus is in your band” and “People say we suck at sports, but they don’t understand it’s hard to catch with holes right through your hands.” You can stream the album for free at least through Saturday if you’d like to sample it. (I’m not sure when Spinner switches over to the next week’s new releases.)
3. The weather must be particularly mild this week, because in addition to the spring bulbs popping up suddenly (so wrong!), I’ve also been seeing droves of daycare providers out walking their waist-high charges. Some hold hands with adults. Some clutch a long rope. Some wear orange safety vests that are adorably wee. And I’ve seen an assortment of animal-themed headwear, but that, I’m sure, has nothing to do with the daycare centers themselves.
How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?
Rudi and I got a new tv for Christmas. We’ve watched some tv shows and some movies on it, but I think this is the nicest thing I’ve seen on it thus far.
And, yes, those were taken back at the beginning of the month. Our tree is not still up.
January 20, 2012
Three beautiful things from the past week:
1. On our last day in Salt Lake, we awake to snow. It continues floating down off and on all afternoon, making us feel like we’re living in a snowglobe.
2. I have unsuccessfully been hunting for a new pair of jeans for a while now. The Fred Meyers that is no longer Fred Meyers helps me out with a pair of Lees (and two pairs of Valentine’s Day socks).
3. Sarah, Amani, and I have dinner. The three of us haven’t gotten together in a while and are having such a good time chatting that it is nearly midnight before I catch Bikeshare home.
And as a bonus beautiful things, Rudi suggests you all might enjoy seeing the boys hanging out together:
How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?
January 13, 2012
Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall (illustrator)
From the jacket: “Meet Ivy and Bean, two friends who never meant to like each other. The moment they saw each other, Bean and Ivy knew they would never be friends. But when Bean plays a trick on her sister and has to hide — quick! — Ivy comes to the rescue with her wand, some face paint, and a bucket of worms. Will they end up in trouble? Maybe. Will they have fun? Of course!
My take: A cute story about two seven-year-old neighbors. Impish Bean is non-stop energy. Ivy seems more restrained, with her nose always in a book. And neither girl is interested in befriending the other, particularly because their mothers recommend it as a good idea. (Sound familiar, Mum?) When Bean’s prank on older sister Nancy goes awry, leaving Bean on the hunt for a way to leave the scene of the crime, Ivy comes to her aid and initiates Bean into the ways of magic. Their worlds will never be the same.
Perfect for the preschool set as a long read-aloud or for young elementary school readers who are moving on to chapter books. This is the first in a series.
Oops. I meant to finish working on the last item yesterday while we were traveling, but then airport misadventures meant that Rudi and I took entirely different routes to Salt Lake and the computer went with him. By the time we both arrived, I was pretty knackered and forgot computers existed, let alone that I had a blog post to finish.
But here, a day late, are three beautiful things from the past week:
1. Taking down the Christmas tree means the living room feels spacious.
2. “I’m speaking duck,” a boy tells his parents at the Georgetown park.
3. Rudi and I messed up our flight yesterday morning. Rudi overslept slightly and I caused us to leave the house late, which meant that we did not have the time necessary to recover from subsequent bad decision-making caused by a lack of sleep. So when our plane left, we were not on it. But every single Southwest person we talked to yesterday — and we conversed with a bunch of them — were pleasant and helpful and kind. I don’t know what sort of training they do with their workers — or if they make special efforts only to hire exceptional people in the first place — but it’s really working, and these two tired, sheepish, stressed out travelers were remarkably grateful.
How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?
January 11, 2012
I read this over several days during the first week of the month — commuting, a sunny lunch break, and one evening to finish it up:
The Christmas Rat by Avi
From the jacket: “He is one weird Christmas visitor — his hair and moustache an unearthly white-blond, his voice a gruff rumble. He fills the apartment doorway. From two metal cases he produces what a boy would expect from an exterminator: Toxic roach powders and poisonous fog bombs. But a crossbow?”
My take: Eric, a middle-schooler living in New York City, is home for Christmas break. His parents are both working, his friends have either left town or are sick, and he’s already discovered his presents tucked under his parents’ bed, leaving him bored and restless. He’s got nothing to do but sit around the apartment, which puts him at home when the exterminator arrives.
The man, ex-Army, bears a crossbow, keys to every lock in the building, a blood-red business card, and a seeming hatred of all things pestilent. Anjela “Anje” Gabrail tells Eric to keep an eye out for rats around the building. When Eric sees one in the basement and calls Anje, the man invites him to help do some recon work and find the rat’s nest, so as to best destroy the problem. Lacking other distractions, Eric agrees, but later he begins to have second thoughts. Unfortunately, the game is on, and Anje is not one to back down.
Will Anje get his “man”? Or will the rat still be scurrying around the building come Christmas morning? Ultimately, Eric is going to have to decide which side of the battle he’s going to come down on, and it will take all of his focus and resources to ensure victory.
The story is probably a little intense for those children under the age of eight, but fair game for the rest of us. Plus, I will say that although I recognized the book as an allegory early on, it wasn’t until I read the author’s note at the end that the final bit fell into place for me. Clever.
January 10, 2012
The first book finished in 2012:
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
From the jacket: “Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.”
My take: I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret when I read it nearly two years ago. I loved the cover when I saw it at the bookstore and bought it for myself based solely on that feature while it was still new in hardcover, which anyone who knows me in real life will tell you is something I never do for authors I don’t already love. So when I learned that Brian Selznick was writing a new book, I vowed to read it, too.
Rudi and Sarah and I got to hear Selznick talk about his second book, Wonderstruck, at the National Book Festival this fall, and it sounded truly promising, especially for a stand-alone sophomore work.
But then work happened this fall, and I essentially stopped reading and sort of fell into a book slump. So when Rudi surprised me with a copy for Christmas, I was utterly delighted and started reading it in restrained little chunks the very next day.
Wonderstruck takes what Selznick did with The Invention of Hugo Cabret — combine words and art in a singular way that defies easy characterization into a genre of literature — and expands on it. In this work, he tells parallel stories within the two styles of storytelling, eventually drawing them together into a single, comprehensive tale.
Ben, whose story arc comprises the text portion of the novel, is a twelve-year-old boy in small-town Minnesota 1977. He has been living with his aunt and uncle and their family since the sudden death of his single mother three months earlier. His prized possession from earlier days of happiness is a wooden box containing a collection of small items that have meaning for him. One stormy night, he discovers a secret his mother kept from him and sets about unraveling it, with nearly disastrous results.
Rose, whose portion of the book is told through illustration, is growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, 50 years earlier. She has a view of New York City from her window, a bedroom filled with books and models of skyscrapers, and an obsession with the life and career of silent film star Lillian Mayhew.
Told in concert and interspersed over varying numbers of pages, Rose and Ben’s stories will overlap in unexpected places and ways. And, eventually, the lives of these two children born a half century apart will bring them both to the same place — New York’s American Museum of Natural History — in their quests for answers.
Charming and masterful, Wonderstruck offers you essentially a movie inside the cover of a novel. Do not let the book’s size scare you off, as it will only take a few delightful hours to read it start to finish, and when you close the cover with a smile, you’ll be tempted to begin again, or, at the very least, flip back through to better appreciate the detail that went into the pictorial portion of the novel. A recommended read for … well … everyone.
January 9, 2012
It’s only been a week since the dawn of 2012 and already I’m behind on my book reviews. Please know that it is the fault of civil engineering and the need to understand the different types of drawbridges that got in the way, and I can’t see that being a repeat problem. (Procrastination, on the other hand, will be a relentless foe.)
Rest assured that I’ll be writing about Wonderstruck on Monday. And later in the week I’ll share thoughts about The Christmas Rat and Ivy + Bean. But for now, I’m turning in.