Friday, 26 April 2013

Chemistry, Murder, and Sibling Rivalry

I'm writing this entry on Mike's new laptop, our desktop still being MIA, and I think I never want to give it back to him again! Very slick . . . but then he'd just retaliate, our home would become a war zone, our children taken away from us, and then our cats would starve. So, I'd better just give it back when I'm done with it. It's for the cats.

I wanted to share a fabulous series with you that I'm totally addicted to, and am very ticked off that I have to wait until "early 2014" for the next instalment. My friend Lynette has belonged to a book club for a while now, and though she invited me, I simply could not commit to another weekly thing. However, I started creeping on their book choices, and the first one that Lynette had me read was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Allan Bradley. Bradley is a Canadian author, and actually worked at the University of Saskatchewan for 25 years, so when this book came out (his debut novel), there was a lot of local buzz. However, it's not a setting you'd expect when you hear his background.

It's rural England in 1950, a small town known as Bishop's Lacey, and nearby is a crumbling estate, where a single father is raising his three daughters. Colonel de Luce is a WWII veteran, and a widower, and has retreated emotionally from his girls with a very stoic, stiff upper lip demeanour. The three girls rather run wild, from 16 year old Ophelia (very vain, a flirt, but a musical prodigy), to 13 year old Daphne (a sarcastic book worm who's a encyclopedia of knowledge), to 11 year old Flavia.

Flavia is the main character of Bradley's books, and I love her to bits. Really. She's a genius chemist, whose has a special place in her heart for poisons, and routinely uses her knowledge to avenge herself on her horrible sisters. Flavia hates taking baths, has her own laboratory, and is the person in the family most able to deal with Dogger, their valet/butler/gardener. Dogger fought with Colonel de Luce in the war and had been imprisoned with him in a POW camp in Japan. Dogger is a touching picture of a PTSD case, his duties at Buckshaw varying according to his mental capacity. However, Dogger is often Flavia's silent partner in figuring out the mysteries around Bishop's Lacey's sudden rise in murder statistics.

Every book has Flavia discovering a body, and then trying to beat the police in solving the crime. She's precocious, but not annoyingly so, and quite the little rebel. Racing around the county on her bicycle, Gladys, Flavia introduces us to the typical residents of the countryside, who we find not so typical in the end. Just as you get caught up in thinking this girl an adult, something happens between her and her sisters that pulls you back into childhood rivalries. Many poignant notes are sounded regarding the girls' departed mother, Harriet, whom the Colonel is still grieving after 10 years, and whom Flavia apparently closely resembles.

I have really enjoyed every book in this series (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I'm Half-Sick of Shadows, and Speaking from Among the Bones), but I think the first is my favourite. The newness of these characters, the delightful authenticity of the setting, the almost Addams Family/Agatha Christie/Nancy Drew feel of it is so unique to anything I've read before. The wit is dry (just how I like it), the pranks hilarious, and the way you slowly learn more about Harriet in every book just keeps you reading. They're great mysteries, but have an emotional depth and meat to them not always seen in cloak-and-dagger fiction.

So get writing Mr. Bradley!!! The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches can't come out soon enough!

Saturday, 20 April 2013


A blog post? Really? Do you even consider yourself a blogger anymore with your erratic posting "schedule" and obvious lack of discipline? Well, yes, I feel the usual Blogger's Guilt that accompanies a neglected blog, that feeling hanging over your head when you don't post with any kind of regularity. Then I thought, wait a minute, if you're here reading this YOU HAVEN'T GIVEN UP! You actually care that I might have something to say, or at least you want to read my lame excuses for not posting. Either way: I love you. Let's be friends, friends who forgive each others' shortcomings, or at least each others' procrastinating tendencies.

But I digress. The Kobo is going well, although since my desktop computer is MIA after it's hard drive bit the big one, I have not set it up on said computer, and so have not taken advantage of the library's ebooks. I really want to do this, but the browser the Kobo is equipped with sucks, so I can't do it wirelessly apparently. I also look forward to sharing titles, etc. Also, Mike bought a Kobo Mini, which is perfect for him, as the screen size is not much smaller, but the device is small enough to fit in his coat pocket. AND it was on sale (of course!) I picked up a paper book the other day, and almost forgot how to turn a page, that's how much I've been Kobo-ing it.

So, while awaiting my computer, I've read several free ebooks I've downloaded, some I've read before, others have been on my to read list for a while. I read Vanity Fair by Thackery recently, and actually quite enjoyed it. He has an almost Dickensian dryness to his humour, which is of course in his favour in my books.

I also read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I haven't read in at least 20 years. It still holds up, and it's theme of the power of hope to heal our infirmities is still so true today. How many of us have holed up inside ourselves, as Colin did in his room, convinced that we'll turn out badly just as everyone said we would? Or have shown the world a selfish, sour face like Mary's when we've been neglected, or overindulged, and just decide that we don't like people (after all, they don't like us)? How many of us have lost someone or something, and our grief poisons the very things we used to love, so we lock them away, and run away from the pain, like Colin's father? And how many of us are trapped in these thoughts and patterns, until exposed to wholesome pursuits, the ability to get some fresh air, to work up an appetite, and to THINK OF SOMETHING OTHER THAN OURSELVES for a time? Whenever the breezes of the moors, and the scent of the earth is described, I can feel it, smell it, and taste it. Perhaps it's my own longing for spring, but the spring in this book is so potent as to almost be a character in itself.

We all need those plain speaking Yorkshire folk from this book. Dickon, his sister, and his mother don't worry about stepping on toes, or the "proper" way of doing things. They call it like they see it, instead of worrying about whether it's their business to interfere. These are the people who pull us out of our dark rooms where we sulk, brood, worry, and grieve. They toss us outside with our coats, show us the wonder that is in the world around us, and remind us that we are NOT the alpha and omega of everything. And the more healthy food and air to the body, the more healthy breezes to the mind, the more we are pulled OUT OF OURSELVES, the better we are.

Is this not what Christ taught us? To see the people around us, see the world around us instead of brooding over ourselves. This simple children's classic captures all of this in such a sweet way, without being sappy. It's a good wholesome read, like sitting down to a hearty lunch after playing outside all morning, and having berries and cream to finish off with - good, sweet, but not sugary.

Anyway, this post was going to be about something else, but this tangent kind of took over. Words have a way of doing that with me. I never sit down to write without the feeling that I'm not really in control here, the story will do what it wants, and I am only a conduit.

Get outside, run, play no matter what your age. See others who give you hope and nourish your soul. Play fetch with a dog, cuddle a cat, chase a child, laugh with a grandma. Get out of yourself, and you'll find yourself getting "fat" like Mary: the healthy fat of a heart that grows and a soul that stretches beyond what you thought was possible.

Friday, 15 March 2013

I caved . . .

Well, in spite of my previous post detailing my doubts as to whether to get an e-reader, I just got a Kobo Glo for my birthday. The amazing thing is . . . I'm excited about it! I also got this cool faux-book cover for it, in an old Pride and Prejudice design, which eases some of my tactile worries about it. It looks cool! So, I've been setting it up, have purchased my first ebook, and started reading. I think this is going to stick, but I was also going to blog a couple of times a week, and we all saw how that worked out!

An unexpected bonus: Free ebooks! I went through the list they had and downloaded a bunch of classic reads that I didn't have on my bookshelves. I found many classic titles by the Brontes or Dickens, and since those titles are right up my alley this was an exciting find! Going to set up my lending from the library online as soon as I pay my $9 fine (oops!), and then I'll really be off and running! Now I can fit in with all the "cool kids" at work with their fancy kobos on night shifts!

So, I'll let you know how this goes, and how well I like it. So far, so good! And thanks for reading this, I know it's been a long time since I posted. Here's to trying new things, and good blogging intentions for the future!