Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bellfield Hall

Citizen Reader is one of my favorite book blogs, and a lot of the nonfiction books I read have been because of her reviews. Her tastes seem to be pretty similar to mine because I always enjoy the books she recommends. So when she said that Jane Austen fans should run, not walk, to get Anna Dean's new novel Bellfield Hall Or, the Observations of Miss Dido Kent, I obeyed. Well, I didn't run. One should never run in the library. But I did walk over and pick it up immediately.

She's right about its appeal for Jane Austen fans. This is an entertaining mystery set in Regency England. When Mr. Richard Montague abruptly leaves his home and new fiancé and a murdered woman is found in the shrubbery, Miss Dido Kent*, the spinster aunt to the jilted fiancé, attempts to uncover the answers to these mysterious events. Dido is clever and plucky, making her a very likeable main character. Dean does a wonderful job with the language and social customs of the time, as well as creating an interesting mystery. A fun read.

*Was Dido a popular name back then? I've never seen it used in fiction before that I can recall. Wonder why the author chose this name?

Monday, May 17, 2010

I have a maple tree I'd like to press charges against.

I was tooling around on Amazon, looking at new books, and I happened to see a blurb for a book called The Sorcerer's Companion: A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter. Of course anything having to do with Harry Potter excites me, so I decide to read the description. It turns out that this is not a new book, but Amazon's description of its contents immediately caught my attention:

"Harry Potter aficionados: remember when Buckbeak, Hagrid's pet Hippogriff, was put on trial by the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures? This crazy idea was not invented by Harry Potter's creator, J.K. Rowling. In fact, from medieval times all the way up to the 19th century, animals and even insects were often charged with crimes, arrested, imprisoned, tried, convicted, and sometimes executed."

I had to find out more. I marched over to Youth Services and found The Sorcerer's Companion, and it does contain a description of how animals were tried for crimes as early as the ninth century up to as late as the 19th century. Caterpillars, flies, locusts, worms, rats, pigs, cows, horses, etc., etc., etc. have been imprisoned and tried for crimes, sometimes tortured and even hanged. Surely, I thought, this has to be a joke someone is playing on unsuspecting kids. It's too absurd to be true. Sure enough, a little research on the Internets confirmed this. Animals have been tried for murder, theft, fraud (?), destruction of property; tortured for confessions, and even executed (unless they got a pardon). In 1386 a pig accused of murdering an infant was tried, convicted and hanged. Her six piglets were charged with being accessories to the crime but were acquitted "on account of their youth and their mother's bad example." Now, I abhor cruel treatment of any kind to animals, but this really just makes me laugh. People were really stupid.
I love my job. This is the kind of awesome stuff I learn every day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Love in Mid Air

First-time novelist Kim Wright spins a tale of suburban discontent in her new novel Love in Mid Air. Mildly unhappy in her marriage, Elyse finds herself questioning her identity and risking her comfortable life after meeting an intriguing stranger on an airplane. Secret monthly meetings and heated cell phone exchanges ensue as Elyse begins to explore her sexuality and re-examine her life. She points out that in fiction women often leave their marriages while in real life what women do best is stay. Married for many years to a likeable if bland husband, Elyse suddenly begins to long for a more significant career and a deeper connection to those around her as Wright examines why some marriages endure while others collapse.

Although the topic is well-worn and the prose is just average, Wright develops well-rounded characters, creates believable dialogue and keeps the plot moving, tossing in a few twists and turns along the way. Love in Mid Air is a quick, engaging read from an interesting new novelist.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Did you know...

That David Ellis is the chief legal counsel to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives? I didn't. He also worked on the impeachment of Governor Blagojevich. I quite like Ellis's fast-paced legal thrillers. Ellis's second book in his Jason Kolarich series is due out in early 2011.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Devil in the Kitchen

I've never been inclined to watch any of Gordon Ramsay's television shows, like Hell's Kitchen or Kitchen Nightmares. Ramsay seems like a mean guy. He's always yelling and cursing at the chefs, which doesn't seem entertaining. But Gordon Ramsay got his start working for Marco Pierre White, who until I read The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef, I knew nothing about. Forget Ramsay. Forget Anthony Bourdain. White is a real bad-ass chef. White was the first British chef, as well as the youngest chef, to be awarded three Michelin stars. And he didn't get those stars by being a nice guy. White recounts his rise to fame and success in this entertaining memoir. He is known for his temper and demanding perfection. He's famous for giving his chefs a "bollocking" and tossing out customers who complain. I loved these anecdotes. Just once.... Despite his adrenaline and nicotine-fueled lifestyle, White does not succumb to drugs and alcohol, as so many other famous chefs have admitted to, which is refreshing. The other thing I loved about White: when he had enough, White gave back his stars and retired from the kitchen. He points out that a lot of chefs, once they become famous, stop cooking but pretend that they are still at the stove, while they are really in front of the camera or off doing something else. He didn't want to lie to his customers. Although he continues to own restaurants, his focus is no longer on the stars, but on enjoying the food.