Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

R.I.P. XI Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Holly Mackey, a 16-year-old student at St. Kilda’s School in Dublin, walks into the police station early one morning and hands a PostSecret type card to Detective Stephen Moran. The card — actually, a photograph — showing a candid shot of Chris Harper, a young man who had been murdered the previous year, had been pinned to a school bulletin board with the caption “I know who killed him.”

RIP 9 Peril the Second

Detective Moran immediately takes the card to Antoinette Conway, the detective who had been in charge of the fruitless investigation into Chris Harper’s murder. Conway reluctantly decides to include Moran in her renewed investigation and together they descend upon St. Kilda’s in the hope of turning up something more concrete than a blurry photograph and an enigmatic caption.

Once at the school, Moran and Conway quickly narrow down the list of students who had opportunity to place the photograph on the bulletin board to two sets of cliques: the “mean girls”, Queen Bee Joanne and her minions; and the “weird girls”, including Holly Mackey herself. Throughout a long day and well into the evening hours, the detectives interview the girls, one at a time, digging and probing and prodding, doing their best to penetrate a shield of teenage obstinacy and purposeful misdirection.

In between the present-day interviews, the story pops back in time to detail the events leading up to Chris’s murder, with a chilling countdown to death each time the young man makes an appearance on the page.

RIP 11Who placed the card? Who killed the boy? Tana French kept me guessing right up to the last moment, and did so in a spectacularly well-written fashion. I have yet to read one of her novels and be disappointed.

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Reviewed for R.I.P. XI “Peril the Second” Challenge. Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.

Posted in Books, Reading

Banned Books Week 2016 — Better late than never, right?

Banned Books 2015 BannerI suppose there are some individuals out there who are NOT aware of the American Library Association’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. If you, dear reader, are among them — or if you’re not and want more information anyway — click the badge to the left to be taken to the ALA’s webpages and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the subject.

I was lucky. My mother read to me all the time, probably from the moment I was born. I honestly don’t remember when I learned to read myself. I know I was already reading by the time I entered kindergarten at age 4, although it must have escaped the notice of my kindergarten teacher. Mom told me once that my first grade teacher called her shortly after the start of school and asked her if she knew I could read. Mom said, “Of course.” Teacher said, “No, I mean really read, not in a halting one-word-at-a-time fashion, but easily? In flowing sentences?” Mom said, “Of course, why wouldn’t I know that? I taught her.”

My mom rocks.

This was the library when I was a kid. Now it's the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.
This was the library when I was a kid. Now it’s the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.

Every Saturday in the summer, when Mom went into town to do the grocery shopping, she dropped my sister and me off at the public library. I still remember running up the big stone steps and then down another set of stairs that led into the basement where the children’s section lived. Sissy and I would spend a couple of hours reading and picking out new books to take home. We always checked out as many books as we were allowed, devoured them through the week, and brought them back the following Saturday. During the school year, we had access to the school library and didn’t visit the public library all that often.

My folks never questioned the appropriateness of any book we brought home from the school or the public library. We were reading and that’s all that mattered. And I read everything as I grew up: Walter Farley‘s horse books, abandoned children books (such as Island of the Blue Dolphins and Green Mansions), Mother West Wind stories, science fiction, biographies, horror, fables, fairy tales, books about science and rocks and dinosaurs and geology. I read the books my parents had read: mysteries and crime fiction, mostly, with the occasional steamy romance tossed in for good measure. I was forbidden to read a book only once. When I was 12 years old, The Exorcist was the hottest title on the bestseller lists. Mom bought it for herself. When she finished reading it, she told me, “You may not read this book until you are older.” “Okay, Mom,” I said, and never gave it a second thought. With the wide open freedom I had to choose my own reading material, being barred from one book in which I had only a vague interest was not a big deal.

So how is my being barred at age 12 from reading The Exorcist not censorship? Simple. My mother exercised her parental prerogative to control the reading material of her minor child within our family unit. And then she stopped. She didn’t try to prevent other people’s children from reading it. She didn’t mount a protest with the school or public library to have that book removed from their shelves. She and Daddy didn’t write letters to the editor of the local newspaper proclaiming that devil worshippers and Satanists were trying to indoctrinate the youngsters of San Luis Obispo, so stop them, stop them, stop them now!

Parenting. Yeah, they did it right.

That’s where the line gets drawn, you see. At the edge of the family unit. No one, I repeat, no one, other than my husband and me, has the right to restrict what our children (if we had any) will read. I applaud those librarians who tell the naysayers and it’s-for-your-own-good-niks to stuff it. I weep for the school boards who cave under the pressure of a very loud and vocal minority. I want to buy a copy of every book removed from a middle school or high school reading list for every student in that school. I want to tell every single one of those parents who object to any book their child brings home to leave their objections at the door of their house. They have no right beyond that. My goodness, if they’re that afraid of what their children might be reading in school, why are they sending them to school in the first place? Home schooling is an option in every state of the Union, you know.

Books are the best weapons

Books open minds, point in new directions, reveal different viewpoints, question received wisdom. Books encourage thought. Books are powerful. This power threatens certain individuals. I get that. But be afraid in your own house, and stay out of my library.

By the way, some 40-plus years later, I still have not read The Exorcist. Not because my mother still forbids it. In fact, when relaying this story at a family gathering several years ago, Mom said, “Well, you’re allowed to read it now if you want to.”

Thanks, Mom.

(NOTE: This piece was originally written for 2012 Banned Books Week, but I liked it so much that it’s now become an annual essay.  Even though this year it was posted late.  Oops.)



Posted in Life in general, Miscellaneous, Movies and TV

R.I.P. XI Catch-up: Screen time

RIP 9 Peril on the Screen

How did I let two weeks go by without posting anything?  It’s amazing how quickly times runs past me these days.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve imbibed a few Perils On The Screen to quickly discuss.

longmireThe new season of Longmire came out on Netflix a couple of weeks ago.  This show was originally on some cable channel, got cancelled a couple of years ago, and Netflix picked it up to continue making new episodes.  It’s a contemporary Western that tells us the story of Walt Longmire, a widowed sheriff who, on top of investigating the murders that take place in his rural Wyoming county, deals with political maneuverings, shady businessmen, and tension with the neighboring Native American reservation.  Sheriff Longmire is played by Robert Taylor, an Australian actor with a pitch perfect American West accent; Katee Sackhoff plays one of his deputies; and Lou Diamond Phillips plays his best friend.  A host of other recurring characters and guest stars rotate through this well-acted series.  Highly recommended.

aftermathI watched the pilot of SyFy‘s new show, Aftermath, the other night.  Oh dear God, what a jumbled mess.  According to the show’s blurb, “When people start disappearing and disasters start to indicate the end of the world is at hand, the Copeland family – Karen, Josh, Dana, Brianna and Matt – must fight for their survival while piecing together clues on how to save what’s left of humanity.”  Mom (Karen, played by Anne Heche) is a badass ex-military pilot; Dad (Josh, played by James Tupper) is a wimpy academic; and the kids are one-dimensional.  To be generous, perhaps the idea was to plop the viewer right down in the middle of the apocalypse with the Copeland family, who themselves have little idea what’s going on, but this was done better in Cloverfield — and that movie had at least some exposition or background chatter (in the way of TV/radio snippets) that gave the viewer a vague idea of the circumstances.  I’ll give episode two a try, because it might get better.  But I don’t have much hope.

slitherLast night, spouse and I watched Slither, a worthy addition to the “Bad Movie Night” list.  It’s bad, but it’s fun bad, because it’s just so absurd AND it doesn’t take itself seriously.  A meteor crashes to Earth somewhere in North Carolina, a creepy crawly from that meteor takes over the body of a human being, and then multiplies itself in an effort to take over more humans.  Featuring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker.  And a number of gross-out scenes, so if you’re sensitive to that, beware.  (I watched a couple of them through my fingers, but mainly turned my head and closed my eyes.)

maltese-falcomFinally, the 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon graced our flat-screen a few weeks ago.  Humphrey Bogart is at his snarling sardonic best as the world-weary private dick Sam Spade; Mary Astor is luminous and beguiling as the damsel in distress; and Peter Lorre plays as sniveling a criminal character as he can muster.  Great fun to watch, but set aside any modern feminist sensitivities when you do.

RIP 11Reviewed for R.I.P XI “Peril on the Screen” Challenge.  Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.


Posted in Movies and TV

Video review: The Day of the Triffids (BBC mini-series)

This 1981 BBC mini-series wasn’t what I intended to order from Netflix.  I had intended to order the 1962 B-movie starring Howard Keel, which I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager camped out in front of the television watching Bob Wilkins host Creature Features on Saturday afternoons.  So when the single-disc mini-series, comprised of six 26-minute episodes, arrived, I was somewhat puzzled until I looked at our Netflix account and realized “Oh, yeah, the 1962 film isn’t available, that’s why I got this one.” (IMDB indicates there’s yet another version, a two-part mini-series made in 2009, also British.)

No matter.  I watched it anyway, the day after I finished the book.  And the show is a faithful adaptation of its source material, which much of the dialogue coming straight out of the book.  It’s been updated so that it takes place in the early 1980s, so the chauvinism and sexism are somewhat lessened — omigosh, there’s an actual female who speaks from a position of authority — but the basics of the plot are fully intact.  I was fascinated by the depiction of the triffids in this version.  Keep in mind the only triffid I had ever seen on screen was that from the 1962 film — to the best of my recollection, they looked vaguely like walking asparagus with flailing “arms” and a kind of a dandelion-type “head”.  But the 1981 version looked a great deal like a titan arum, also known as a corpse flower.

PerfumeHere’s the titan arum my husband and I visited when it flowered at UC Davis in 2007. It’s huge. And it stinks.  Imagine this plant on a six-foot stalk, with the ability to walk — well, shuffle — and sting and eat carrion flesh.

Absolutely terrifying.

I didn’t make the connection until seeing it on the screen, but that first episode, set in the hospital where Bill Masen awakens to a silent world, vividly reminded me of the first episode of The Walking Dead.  Same eerie quiet, same vacant streets, same desperate effort to find other living human beings and discover what happened.

So, set aside the cheesy early 80s fashion — sheesh, did we really wear our makeup like that? — and the horrendous videotape production quality so common in early 80s TV (on both sides of the Atlantic), and prepare yourself for about two and a half hours of post-apocalyptic fun and games, dodging deadly triffids and ruthless press gangs and militia groups intent on enforcing their version of law and order.

Reviewed for R.I.P XI “Peril on the Screen” Challenge.  Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.


Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Day of the TriffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bill Masen missed seeing the end of the world by sheer happenstance. He was hospitalized with bandages over his eyes on the night of the spectacular meteor shower that blinded everyone who watched it. Now he’s wandering the streets of London, one of the rare sighted individuals left, trying to avoid the gangs, the looting, the violence, and the triffids.

What are triffids? They’re a strange plant of unknown origin, with a sting of sufficient venom to kill a human being stone dead, and the perplexing ability to walk from place to place. But triffids had proved commercially useful and were cultivated under controlled conditions throughout the world. Bill Masen studied triffids before the meteor shower; he knew them and their habits fairly well, and in fact had begun to suspect they were not merely plants, but far more complex creatures. And now that nearly 100% of humanity was blinded and helpless, triffid containment failed: the plants were on the prowl.

Bill eventually joins forces with Josella, a woman a few years younger than he, and together they make their way through the city in search of a place where they can live safely. Danger and trouble abound; their road to security is neither smooth nor straight.

Some classic science fiction stories age well. Some do not. The Day of the Triffids falls in the latter category, at least in some respects. Reading John Wyndham’s tale through modern eyes means wading through the rampant sexism that permeates much of the story. For example, when our hero first meets Josella, she is described as a girl. It took me several paragraphs to realize the author was talking about a grown woman in her early 20s, not someone who was had not yet reached her teenage years. There are no scientists who are women, no female leaders (except one, and she’s a caricature), and no women at all who had careers other than teacher or nurse, secretary or, in Josella’s case, author.

Still, if one can manage to overlook the male chauvinism, or at least accept the novel as a product of its time, the story itself is a rollicking adventure tale, full of frightful moments and feats of daring. Above all, it’s a survival story. One can only hope to fare as well as Bill and Josella and their band of adventurers at the end of the world.

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RIP 9 Peril the SecondThis post is part of R.I.P. XI Peril the Second Challenge. If you’re interested in knowing what that means, clickie the badgie to be whisked away to the blog post that explains it.

Posted in Finished object, FO Fridays, Knitting

FO Friday: Kayson’s Blankie

100_4662-2By the time this post appears online, my family will have increased by one.  My niece expects to deliver her second son sometime between September 7 and September 14.  All new babies in my family get a special blanket made just for them, and Kayson is no exception.

Pattern:  My design, and it doesn’t have a name yet.

Yarn:  Bernat Handicrafter Cotton in Caramel, a discontinued colorway; 1.1 skeins for a total of 767 yards.

Needle:  US 9; I used Addi Turbos Circular.

Size:  34″ x 24″, after a machine wash and dry.

Satisfaction with end product:  It’s soft and absorbent and can be thrown in the washer and dryer.  That’s the perfect baby blanket as far as I’m concerned.  I hope my niece likes it.

The pattern came about because I couldn’t find a blanket that I liked among all the blanket patterns that I already have.  Let me rephrase:  I couldn’t find a blanket pattern that I liked that suited this particular yarn, and I was determined to use this yarn because of its easy care.  And so I fiddled around for a while with stitch patterns and finally settled on a classic basketweave, but with a twist: the small basketweave sections that bookend the center portion of the blanket.

This time as I made the blanket, I remembered to make pattern notes.  I’ll get the pattern written up and made available eventually.  I have to figure out how to upload PDFs to Ravelry someday, don’t I?

Here are a couple more pictures of the blanket, for good measure.  Click the pic to see it larger.  And you can click that large picture up top to go to the Ravelry project page.

FO Friday Avantaknits Badge (2)Do you have a finished project to show off? Please share it with us by linking up here. You’ll be glad you did!

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When we first meet Holly Sykes, it’s the mid-80s and she is a sullen teenager who discovered her boyfriend, with whom she had planned to live after running away from home, cheated on her with her “best mate”. When we last meet her, it’s the 2040s, and she’s trying to figure out a way to save her granddaughter from a living hell. In between is a ramble through the world of late 20th, early 21st Century, peopled with narcissistic, entitled English schoolmates and other people of consequence, some of whom manage to grow up and become decent people, but most of whom don’t. And lurking behind the scenes, manipulating people and events, are creatures with special abilities who snatch people with special abilities out of the world and use them for…nourishment? Entertainment? All of the above. It sounds like a mess, but it’s glorious and frightening and altogether wonderful.

The Bone Clocks is my second David Mitchell novel. Cloud Atlas was the first. Often when I read a second novel by a new-to-me author, I’m disappointed because it doesn’t match up to the excellence of the first novel I read. Not so in this case. The Bone Clocks is every bit as magical as Cloud Atlas. I’ll definitely be getting more David Mitchell from the library.

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Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: Saturday by Ian McEwan

SaturdaySaturday by Ian McEwan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ulysses for those who can’t be bothered to struggle with Joycean prose.

My goodness, how this novel dragged through the minutiae of Dr. Perowne’s Saturday: from his contemplation of a plane crash in the pre-dawn sky through his preparations to leave for a squash game to a fender-bender on a crowded street to his day at the hospital to the evening events stemming from a chance encounter earlier that day and, finally, to contemplating the pre-dawn sky once again. Full circle. Full stop.

It’s exhausting. Beautifully written, but must be read with a certain determination of purpose and gritting of teeth.

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Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: A Murder In Time by Julie McElwain

A Murder in TimeA Murder in Time by Julie McElwain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kendra Donovan, FBI agent, darts into the secret staircase of an English manor house to escape an assailant. Woo, oh, I’m so dizzy and nauseated, and my god my head hurts, let me open this door, and ta da! Now she’s in the 19th Century.

I hate time travel novels that have no explanation for the time travel other than woo. It’s one of the reasons I stopped reading the Outlander series. Also, for all the smarts Ms. Donovan supposedly possesses, it takes her forever to figure out and accept that she’s no longer in the 21st century.

Those caveats aside, this is a well-written, fast-paced mystery that kept me guessing the identity of the bad guy right until the reveal. I won’t go looking for further volumes of this series as they’re published, but all in all, not a bad way to kill some commute time.

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Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After AliceAfter Alice by Gregory Maguire
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Normally, I’m enthusiastic and giddy over Gregory Maguire’s take on familiar stories. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West just knocked me out. So I especially looked forward to reading Maguire’s version of one of my favorites, “Alice In Wonderland”.

Note the three lonely stars above. So, this one? Not so much.

The title is clever. Ada, whose purpose in life seems to be to run after her neighbor and friend, Alice, somehow manages to fall into Wonderland after Alice tumbled through. Everywhere Ada goes, Alice has already been. It’s as if Alice drained all the color and wonder from Wonderland by her mere presence; and Ada sees only the minutest bit of the whimsy and magic. A tragedy for Ada, if she only knew. And a tragedy for the reader, as well. The Cheshire Cat is merely an annoyance rather than a menace; the Caterpillar is stoned out of his mind; and the Tea Party is breaking up by the time Ada arrives.

Perhaps Maguire was making some metaphorical point. If so, I missed it. His writing is a treat, as always, but this story was a slog.

I think I’ll go read the original again, to clear my palate.

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