Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

And here it is!  The Don Quixote post!  In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have written as much about reading it as I did, because I probably set all you readers up for a good analytical post, when I definitely don't have that in me.  Still, here is a post about my thoughts on Don Quixote.

So, Don Quixote.  I'll admit that I had my doubts.  It was long and I wasn't in the mood for a tome when I started it, but it's one of those classics that I really wanted to approach again for Classics Club-a wonderful motivator for this kind of thing.

Most people know the basic plot of Don Quixote.  However, here it is.  Don Quixote is divided into two parts-the first one being tales of his escapades and stories of the people around him.  The second is, well, I didn't love it.  I'll say more later.  Don Quixote is a fairly wealthy man living in La Mancha.  He adores exciting adventure stories full of chivalrous deeds.  And this, according to our narrator, is his downfall.  The books, or so we are told, turn his brain to mush so that he sees everything as part of his fantastic stories.  So, he proceeds to try to live his life as much like a chivalrous knight-errant.  He helps all the poor and needy, tries to win his love (a woman he barely knows), and perform brave deeds.  He takes along his trusty steed (a frail horse) and his side-kick (Sancho).

This part of the book was so fun-adventures and thrills, dangerous quests.  And, through it all, I began to see his world as Don Quixote did.  This is the part of the book that includes the famous windmill story.  For the first 1/8 of the book, I laughed at Don Quixote, with his silly adventures and his delusions.  I identified with Sancho, although at times I wondered why he didn't just leave Don Quixote. And then, something clicked.  I realized why Don Quixote was doing what he was doing.  I started to see a method to his madness.

By the second part of the book, things start to change.  Sancho is now tricking and lying to Don Quixote (for reasons that confused me for awhile, but that became clear later) and there are a slimy Duke and Duchess in on it.  They have convinced Don Quixote that his love has been put under an enchantment and that only he can perform all kinds of deeds to save her.  And so they cruelly send him on task after ludicrous task, which he performs tirelessly.

His imagined events become more and more insane, but, strangely enough, that actually made me empathize with him even more.  His imagination is a reaction to the world in which he is living.

This is where I grew sick of the book and went from smiling complacently to close to outrage.  The tormenting, the joy that all the people around him were getting out of tormenting him sickened me.  The brutal behavior displayed by so many people made me ache for Don Quixote and, all at once, I realized something.

Now, I know that this is not a new statement and that plenty of people have made this observation before.  But, I still was so struck by it. Don Quixote is the one in the right.  In the first part of the book, we are the complacent villagers watching his insanity, wondering why he can't just settle down and do things like everybody else.  By the end of the book, we are supposed to have realized that Don Quixote  is demonstrating the need for, and lack of, chivalry.  His willingness to do anything to help people, however deluded those actions may be, is admirable.  And we, the readers, are supposed to empathize with that.  Cervantes is making the observation that, in his culture, chivalry was being lost.

In the final chapters, Don Quixote is alone, exhausted, and sick.  It is in these final moments that he realizes that chivalry is dead, that his efforts have been in vain.  And then, he dies, leaving the reader to be brought back to reality by the narrator.

While this book often gets labeled as comic, I definitely didn't see it that way.  Well, maybe for the first section, but after that, I was left feeling melancholic and slightly wrenched by Don Quixote's life events and his last moments.

And that, I think is the sign of a wonderful writer.  I have almost no knowledge of 1600s Spain. And yet, Don Quixote speaks to our human condition-our desire for chivalry and bravery, though none of us would say that we particularly are longing for those things.  Cervantes's use of words and poetry and imagery brought goosebumps to my arms multiple times.

The translation I had was fantastic and I think that made a huge difference.  If you're interested in getting a copy of Don Quixote, I highly recommend the one translated by Edith Grossman.  She did what all good translators do-kept her voice in the background and Cervantes's in the front, simply giving the reader the impression of an enhanced view of the original author.  And then she had all kinds of fascinating notes at the end, which I really appreciated.

Do, please go read this book, if you're in the mood for a long classic.  It was worth all those days spent slogging through chapter and after chapter.  Now, on to Frankenstein!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

Lately, my life has been nothing but a whirlwind of deadlines and stuff to do and, as you may have noticed, this is not good for my blog.  Today, I forced myself to take the afternoon off and spend it normally-weeding the soft fruit bushes, which were filled with grass, puttering around the sewing room, and then, finally, doing some recreational cooking.  My eye flitted over The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book and I knew that I had to make something out of it.

This beautiful cookbook is written by the two owners of a pie shop in Brooklyn.  It is of the modern style of cookbook that I think of as being heavily influenced by blogging.  Lots (and lots and lots) of beautiful pictures, styled within an inch of their lives.  If you look at old cookbooks, there might be a few diagrams, a few sparse pictures just for clarifications, but piles of pictures?  Goodness, no.  And, I have to say, while I am fond of old cookbooks, I appreciated lots of pictures.

The recipes have to be some of the best pie recipes I've ever seen-interesting pie crusts from a chocolate all-butter crust, a cornmeal crust, a pistachio coconut crust, an animal cracker crumb crust. And those are just a smidgen of the gorgeous pie crust recipes.  But wait, we haven't even delved into the pies themselves.  Chamomile Buttermilk Custard Pie, Apple Rose Pie, Concord Grape Pie (in a gorgeous design),  Cinnamon Apricot Pie with Vanilla Pouring Cream, Bourbon Pear Crumble Pie....

Pie is something that has a bit of a bad reputation.  It's viewed as something that is terrify and impossible to do, particularly the crust part.  This cookbook calms all these fears.  The writers of this cookbook seem to assume that, of course, it's easy to make a pie.  Of course, pie is not the easiest thing in the world, but it is not an unsurmountable task.  And these writers communicate this through their cheerful, confident approach to pies.  There is probably about 40 pages at the beginning of the book just going over the basics and I really recommend that everybody read those thoroughly, although I still maintain that the best way to learn to bake a pie is to look over an experienced pie baker's shoulder.  However, this is definitely the next best option.  I loved how carefully they covered everything from utensils to types of flour to using locally sourced ingredients, all accompanied, of course, by stunning pictures.  Who knew that a pile of winter kitchen scraps was so beautiful?

While I love a good basic peach or apple pie for everyday, I am an experimenter cook at heart and so I really appreciated this kind of cookbook.  However, I know lots of cooks who prefer to stay with the tried-and-true and perfect the basic recipes.  If you are that kind of cook, then I probably wouldn't recommend buying this book.  But everybody needs to at least check this out of the library.

Tonight, I will be serving a lovely Buttermilk Chess Pie made with a cornmeal crust.  What a treat!  Now, go out and get your hands on a copy of this cookbook and improve your pie baking skills.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Favorites This Week: Week 1

Here is a new segment that I hope to do every week.  I could call it Friday Favorites, but I scoff at alliteration for the most part, so I will rebel and just call it My Favorites This Week.   In it, I'll list a couple of things that I have been enjoying over the week.  I'm expecting that the majority will be book-related, but who knows.  So here goes!

1. Chocolate Buckwheat Granola-This comes first because I'm eating a bowl of this as I write this post.  This recipe comes from the beautiful food blog, My New Roots.  It's been my go-to granola recipe for a couple of weeks now.  It is just decadent enough to be a little bit out of the ordinary, while still a responsible breakfast item.

2. This beautiful album, from Spotify (actually, I've just generally been enjoying Spotify).  This link is a preview from amazon.


3. Don Quixote-I'm just about finished!  It was slow at parts, but, overall, a very enjoyable book.  And, speaking of Don Quixote, here's a fascinating article about woven tapestries with images from Don Quixote.

4. Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food has been my cookbook of the week.  I've pored over it and drooled and so I'm planning on spending a good portion of my weekend in the kitchen with this cookbook.  It is interesting what Jamie thinks of as comfort food.  A lot of it isn't my comfort food, but it still looks delicious!

5.  On my interlibrary hold list (because I always have far too many books on the hold list):

  • Shakespeare:The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson
  • The Provincial Lady in America by E.M. Delafield
  • The Diary of Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
  • The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (yes, the author of Sophie's World.  He's written a lot of books!)

6. Goodreads has introduced me to so much!  My TBR list has grown exponentially and all I can think about is the books that I want to read, particularly over the summer.  Tell me, do you have any books that I should have on my Goodreads TBR right now?



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Here's an interesting book that I just recently finished-and really enjoyed.  Philosophy is something to which I would devote copious amounts of time, if I could.  People endlessly debating?  Yes, please!  Probing theoretical questions that, pragmatically, aren't going to matter, yet give deep insight to what it means to be a human?  Of course!  I picked this book up about two years ago and it, along with so many other books, just never made it onto my current reads pile.  I ignored it and ignored it and let it drop to the very bottom of my list.  Then, in a fit of responsible readership, I decided I was going to pick something that had been on the bottom of my list for ages.  I book I felt sorry for, if you will.  And Sophie's World, it was.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder is an interesting book.  It's very much a work of nonfiction, yet it also is a novel.  I think that it's technically a YA book, but it doesn't read that way at all.  Sophie's World is really an introduction to philosophy.  A Philosophy 101 course of sorts.  However, it's also an engrossing, well written novel.

Sophie is a fourteen year old girl who starts getting regular letters from a mysterious pen-pal, a philosopher.  The first letter asks, "Who are you?" and from there, the questions in the letters grow more and more complex, introducing all the great philosophers in Western culture along the way.  Sophie is instantly captivated.  But there is more mystery.  Sophie keeps getting mail written to a girl named Hilde-somebody that she's never heard of before.

I think that "charming" is really the best adjective for this book.  It is fresh and interesting and like no other book I have ever read.  Unlike so much young adult fiction, there weren't these dark, complicated layers.  No dramatic family situations.  No near-death incidents.  In so many ways, it read like a 50s novel, except that there was something more to it, a wiser sense that isn't present in so much of fiction from the 50s and earlier, a lack of naiveté.  Hard to explain, but enjoyable to read.

After musing on this for awhile, I think that this may be a perfect example of post-postmodernism, sometimes referred to as the New Sincerity movement.  Here's a very interesting article about it from The Atlantic.  And a useful Wikipedia article.  In summary, it is a rejection of cynicism and irony delivered in large amounts and a return to sincerity.  However, it differs from the modernism of the 50s and earlier in that it acknowledges the progress that we made in boycotting a lot of the problems of modernity-the patriarchy, the racism, the inability to question some things (I'm not saying that these things aren't a problem any more, but we at least have started to acknowledge them).  Post-post modernism takes the best of both modernity and post modernity.  In the Atlantic article I linked above, the author writes, "Across pop culture, it's become un-ironically cool to care about spirituality, family, neighbors, the environment, and the country."

And I think that, in some small way, that was what I saw in Sophie's World.  A new kind of sincerity, with nods to post-modernity and what it gave us, particularly in regards to the philosophical world.  Maybe I was completely reading into it because I happen to be interested in the idea of this new movement (although it really isn't that new).  At any rate, I have been bitten by the philosophy bug.

Jostein Gaarder is a good writer, too, which made this book even more enjoyable to read.  Writing the voice of a 14 year old girl must not be an easy feat and he very successfully writes in Sophie's voice.  I admit to devouring the book easily within 2 days.  In addition to this, this book definitely made me want to read Sartre and Aristotle and everything in between.  I do think that I am going to add some philosophy classics to my Classics Club list, though.

This is one of those truly good books.  A nourishing book.  I spent a good portion of the book taking plenty of notes and underlining because there were so many things to remember, but then I became so engrossed that I forgot to take notes.  All this to say, this is a book that is definitely worth your time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Last week, I went to hear Rachel Held Evans speak.  I had barely heard her name and knew her only as some kind of "theology-ish" person.  However, her topic-The church and its young people-sounded very interesting.  Still, I didn't have very high hopes.  I thought it might be kind of dumb, actually.  I feel very strongly that the church is far too obsessed with "getting young people" and that the current gimmicky trends are ridiculous.  I expected Evans's talk to be more of the frantic hand wringing, but I went anyway.  I am so thankful that I ended up going!  Sure, what she said was preaching to the choir, but it was still fascinating and inspiring and generally wonderful.  In addition to a wonderful talk, all the people in attendance were given signed copies of her new book.

I hurried home and stayed up till one in the morning ploughing through this book, thoroughly enjoying and agreeing all the way.  (Warning: In this post will be a lot of Christianese and pretty divisive topics currently in the church and I'm going to spout opinions left and right.  If this sounds boring to you, I understand.  You may leave now.  Okay, let's continue.)  Evans grew up in what she calls, "the buckle of the Bible belt", namely, Dayton Tennessee.  Dayton is also home to the famous Scope's Monkey Trial and hundreds up churches.  You can read all about her church-going story in her book, but, she grew up in a typically fundamentalist evangelical Christian home and church, only to realize that she was having all these doubts and questions, doubts that her church was unwilling to let her have.

After years of struggling to regain her faith, Evans now writes and talks about what the church is doing wrong-and right-particularly in regards to the Millennial generation.  It is no secret that many people under 35 aren't coming to church.  In response to this, churches wring their hands and get a praise band and a coffee shop in a frantic effort to become relevant.  Evans, in response to this, is writing about what the church really needs to do.  I fall in the Millennial generation myself and I did resonate so much with a lot of what she said.  She argues that the church needs to lose the fog machines and the coffee shops (if you've ever been to a church-wide convention, you know exactly what she's talking about) and regain its weird. Go back to doing the strange and the uncomfortable.  The foot washing and the confessions.  The communion and taking care of the sick and wounded.

She writes that Millennials are sick of having to choose between science and faith or feminism and faith, sick of people stirring politics into religion, the culture wars, rampant exclusivity.  Tired of having church be a place that prefers the pretty, everything-put-together people over the dirty, sick, lonely, wounded people, the very people that Jesus first called to follow him.  And, as encouragement, there are many examples throughout the book of churches that have taken this radical approach to their community.

The book is arranged around the seven sacraments, as named by traditional high churches-baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.  There are stories Evans's journey towards reconciliation with the church, stories from other people, and beautiful, poignant reflections.  In addition to be a brilliant writer, though, Evans is hilarious.  I haven't laughed so hard in I don't know how long.  The topic is serious and there are heartbreaking stories, but through it all, Evans manages to maintain her humor.  And you all know how much I appreciate a funny writer.

There were so many other wonderful points made in this book, but I don't want to give the whole book away.  It's really something that I think every Christian needs to read.  Evans is unapologetically progressive (which I appreciated), but she is also a serious Christian.  She isn't the type of Christian progressive who breaks out in hives at the mere mention of the words "confession" or "sin".  Her fresh insight into our broken, but beautiful, church inspired me in so many ways-and made me want to have all kinds of discussions.

I can't even begin to recommend this book enough.  Heck, even if you're not a Christian, I think this book might be interesting (and definitely amusing).  Also, the book, while it talks about Millennials quite a bit, is definitely geared to anybody who has left the church, was annoyed by the church, or is just interested in somebody's thoughts on how our church needs to change.  Really, go read this.


Monday, April 20, 2015

After the Rain

After it came tumbling down
in fat, wet drops that made us sprint for the barn,
the rain stopped.





And we walked outside to see
the most beautiful rainbow 
arching across the pitch black sky.

Then I blinked, and it was gone,
leaving in its wake a sky,
turning blue with puffy clouds.



And the only signs that it had rained
were the rushing of the gutters
and the puddles on the soaked grass,

the muddy, wet feet,
the patch of sky in the puddle,
and the buzzard in the tree, drying his wings.

(This was a late afternoon poetry inspiration that came to me as I walked to the chickens.  A surprisingly unexpected post idea for me.  I think the beautiful day went to my head.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TBR Tag

(Lory just joined in the TBR tag and invited her readers to join in as well)
I thought this would be an excellent tag, seeing as my TBR pile is always overflowing (A TBR pile is, for the non-book-bloggers, a To Be Read pile).  So here goes!

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
The short answer?  I don't.  But that's not entirely true.  The whole contents of my TBR pile reside in my head.  However, the things that are on my "reading soon" TBR pile are in little piles all over the house.  By the sofa, the stove, on a kitchen window sill, in the summer, on the front porch or the picnic table.

2. Are your TRs mostly print or e-book?
Now this is an interesting topic!  And one that I don't think I have addressed before.  I am not an e-reader.  The few times I've tried, I get annoyed at the lack of physical book presence, the flick of pages, that old book smell.  So My TRs are all print.

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR pile to read?
I wouldn't say that I have any kind of method.  Often the pretty, fresh books get bumped to the top of the pile, meaning that there is quite a collection of sad, neglected books sitting way down at the bottom.

4. A book that's been on your TBR pile the longest?
Okay, let me go dig through the recesses of my brain and try to remember a very old TBR.  Oh!  Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.  It was very enthusiastically recommended to me and I have been meaning and meaning and meaning to read that book and then it just slips from my mind.  This one is so old, I don't even remember when I put it on my TBR list.

5. A book you recently added to your TBR pile?
Well, any of my classics club list would fall under this heading.  But the thing that is the absolute newest is How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman.

6. A TBR on your list strictly because of its beautiful cover?
I don't have anything currently on my TBR list, but about a year back, I read Dragonwyck by Anya Seton.  I got it because it was cheap and the cover, while not beautiful, amused me endlessly.  It was a melodramatic Victorian cover drawn in the 50s.  But the book was truly awful.  A Jane Eyre knockoff so bad it made me laugh.

7. A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
What?! This category confused me.  I am far too pragmatic to put something that I'm not going to read on my TBR list.

8. An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited about?
The next Flavia de Luce, obviously!

9. A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you?
Gone with the Wind.  I know, I know.  I haven't read Gone with the Wind.  I don't even want to read this book, but I feel like everybody needs to read Gone with the Wind at least once in their lives.

10. A book on your TBR list that everyone recommends to you?
Hm...probably some kind of famous biography like I am Malala.  Oh!  The Princess Bride!  This could go under the "basically everyone has read but you," heading, too.

11. A book on your TBR that you're dying to read?
Actually, that How to Be a Victorian book!  The only thing keeping me back is all the current reads I have right now.  I will get to it, though!

12. How many books are on your TBR shelf at Goodreads?
Now I'm going to admit something.  Up until about 5 minutes ago, I didn't have Goodreads. I'm not quite sure why.  For some reason I was holding out.  But, inspired by this, I joined and started adding books like crazy.  Currently, there are 25 books on my TBR shelf.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler has to be one of my favorite actresses.  I have loved everything she has been in (at least that I have seen).  Parks and Recreation kept me from my huge reading stack more than once this past winter.  So when I saw a woman taking Yes Please from the new book shelf, I instantly wanted to get my hands on a copy.  After a couple of weeks of waiting on the hold list, I finally got a copy.

The book is arranged under the categories: Say Whatever You Want, Do Whatever You Like, and Be Whoever You Are.  Then under each category are a number of essays, not really in chronological order, but all more or less relating to the category.  I think I would say that I mildly enjoyed the book. I laughed out loud maybe four times and smiled maybe ten times. I'm afraid Amy just needs to stick to comedy through film and television.  I had pretty high hopes because, when I read Bossypants last year, I was impressed by Tina Fey and her writing skill and I expected that Poehler, with her similar style of humor would be able to pull of a book.

The writing was kind of awkward and just a little stilted.  I think Poehler tried to imitate her  (extremely talented and funny) voice on paper and was not successful.  There were some good moments.  Some important points made, the occasional good life advice, even some humor.  But I still expected more and ended up being pretty disappointed.

I have discussed the concept of an autobiography several times on this blog, but I never cease being struck by it.  In my mind, there are three kinds of autobiographies-The ones written by amazing people did fascinating things in their lives or had a very unique life experience (eg. Anne Frank, Benjamin Franklin).  Then there are the autobiographies written by people who haven't had the world's most interesting life, but are very talented writers and know how to make something ordinary interesting (these are the writers that I most admire).  Finally, there are the celebrity autobiographies.  These books aren't well written (since most of them aren't written by, you know, writers) and they aren't interesting because, honestly, celebrities actually aren't very interesting people for the most part.  These books get published because the people are famous.  Sadly, Yes Please fell in the final category.  

While I was thinking about this post, I also started writing a rant in my head.  Why, my brain fumed, does every Tom, Dick, and Harry/Harriet think he/she can write?  Nobody would for a minute consider giving an hour long piano performance if they'd had 2 years of piano lessons.  So why do so many people attempt (and, unfortunately, succeed in) publishing and writing a book?  Keeping a journal for future generations?  Of course!  Writing a blog?  Yes!  I'm all for it.  But why is book writing something that we, as a society, have decided anybody can do?  

But, my brain argued back, think of all the undiscovered talent that wouldn't be found if book writing was something that was only done by people with extensive training. I really am in favor of do-it-yourself in so many other areas of life, so why not extend that to the area of book writing? I'd love to hear what you think.  Is book writing something that should be attempted by anybody, or is that disrespectful to the professional writers out there?  Does it cheapen book writing, or enrich it?  

But back to Yes Please.  If you've barely heard of Amy Poehler, then I probably wouldn't bother reading Yes Please.  However, if you are a staunch Amy Poehler fan, I wouldn't turn you away from reading this book.  You might be nothing like me and really enjoy the book!  What about you, readers?   Did any of you read Yes Please?  Did you like it?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Classics Club Spin #9

I haven't forgotten about Classics Club, I promise.  It's just that I've become entrenched in Don Quixote.  I'm enjoying it, but it is a long process.  Anyway, I decided to add another book to my plate and join the Classics Club Spin last week, completely forgetting to blog about it (we're going to blame flu brain).  So aaanyway, this was the list I made:


1.) Paradise Lost
2.) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
3.) Don Quixote
4.) Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
5.)  The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper
6.) Something by Emerson…haven't nailed that down yet
7.)  Something by Dickens that I haven't read…
8.) Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
9.) A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstencroft
10.)  Poems by Tennyson
11.)  One of Alcott's earliest writings that
12.) How Like an Angel Came I Down by Bronson Alcott
13.)  Brave New World by Alduous Huxley
14.) The Wind in the Willows (This is going to be my children's classic for the year)
15.)  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
16.)  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
17.)  Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
18.) Watership Down by Richard Adams
19.) The Frogs by Aristophanes
20.) Lady Susan by Jane Austen


So that's the list!  Number 2 was drawn (thank heavens.  I was praying I wouldn't get Paradise Lost).  So now I am embarking on Frankenstein as well.  I think that it'll be an interesting read.  I'm mostly posting this just to keep me accountable in my classics club challenge.  I'll be checking in May 15th with a post about Frankenstein and, hopefully before that, I'll have finished Don Quixote and written about it as well!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

And here it is!  The long-awaited latest Flavia de Luce mystery.  It was eminently confusing, thrilling, shocking, and very strange.  I loved it.

(I recommend reading this post before you read this if you haven't read these books)

Flavia has been sent from her beloved Buckshaw (the name of her home) in England to the Canadian girls' boarding school that her mother attended.  Feeling rejected and lonely, Flavia sets off with the awful Rainsmiths, members of the school board, to her new school, Miss Bodycote's Female Academy.  However, there may still be hope for Flavia when, on her first night at school, a mummified body wrapped in a Union Jack falls out of the chimney.  Rather than the expected child's response of fear, she pockets some pieces of evidence to examine and sets to work solving the case.  But there's more-along with all of this runs the mystery of three missing girls who are never discussed.  In addition to this, she's making friends, constantly having run-ins with the strict headmistress, and taking private Chemistry lessons from the Chemistry teacher.  And Flavia is determined that she will be the one to solve both mysteries.

Parallel to all of this is an overarching mystery that has been growing throughout this entire series.  Flavia's mother, who died in Himalayas on a mission, was in some sort of secret spy organization, or so we gather, which Flavia is now expected to join.  It is only hinted at and pretty much all we know about it is its name-the Nide.  It begins to be revealed in this book that Miss Bodycote's is a cover for all sorts of work done by the Nide, something that some of the girls and teachers are in on.  Even in this book, things just grow more cloudy and confusing, but this just gives me hope of another book in the series.

Reading through this summary, I am struck by how ridiculous and formulaic these books could be. It's my own opinion that mysteries can veer off in that direction very easily and everything about these books could, if given the chance, scream "unbelievable and cheesy".  But, Alan Bradley never for a second even considers allowing that to happen.  The books are crisp and funny and exciting and, yes, even believable.  Flavia is a gem of a character, brilliantly written, and even made me interested in Chemistry (her specialty).  The supporting characters are no cardboard props, but 3-dimensional characters with interesting stories and unique personalities.  Even the villains aren't formulaic!

In reading people's reviews, I discovered that a lot of people objected to this book on the grounds that it was too confusing and that Flavia didn't end up with a clear ending or even direction.  I will agree with this objectors that this book did feel a bit like just setting the stage for the next book.  However, what I disagree with is the objection that Flavia didn't end up with a clear direction.  She is told that she "passed with flying colors" and, though we don't know what this means yet, we can understand that she clearly accomplished something.

If you've been reading the Flavia series, you really need to get your hands on a copy of this one.  If you haven't read any of them, well, you are in for a big treat, I think.  And if you have read this book, please chime in and let me know what you thought of it!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Where I've Been and My Reading List

Goodness, I left you in the lurch, didn't I, readers?  First, my family generously shared a head cold with me that left me sneezing and feverish for several days and then on Good Friday I was stricken with a nasty stomach bug, also generously shared by my family members.  So, basically, I've been lying on the couch whining all week.  That's where I've been.  Easter Sunday, I skipped church in favor of sleeping in, then, feeling 100% recovered, I went to the family Easter Dinner and had a lovely time.  On the way home, I started to feel myself crashing.  I came home and relapsed back into my stomach bug.  So here I am, the Monday after Easter feeling weak and still pretty whiney, but I'm at that stage where I have a very strange list of food I'm hungry for, including:
1. Pizza
2. Sushi, but the pickled ginger is what I'm really after
3. Vanilla Custard
4. Chocolate Ice Cream
5. White Rice with Soy Sauce

None of these are probably a good idea, but I did end up caving and eating White Rice and Soy Sauce for breakfast and, oh, did that taste delicious!

But enough about my aggravating viruses.  Because with all that sickness comes a lovely stack of books:
1. Great Quantities of Little Women
2. A bit of Don Quixote
3. Do Butlers Burgle Banks by P.G. Wodehouse
4. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
This book was the very best medicine.

While the rest of the books were all very enjoyable, can we just focus a moment on that last title?  Do you know what that is??  It's the latest Flavia de Luce!  Squee!  This is the book that kept me alive through these last couple of days.  Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember that I dearly adore Flavia de Luce.  In general, I don't love mysteries.  They can be formulaic, gory, boring, unbelievable (what on earth is wrong with your supposedly charming small town that there's a crime every 2 weeks?), and/or drone-y.  But Flavia is the exception.  Everything about these books exudes charm and brilliant writing with just enough thrills to keep the books exciting.

I'm not going to give a full review today because I doubt I'd be coherent, but let me just say that it was everything I expected it to be and more.

And that is where I have been, plus what I read.  Tell me, dear readers, how were your Easters?