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I haven’t written a book review for awhile, so I thought I’d share a little bit about what I’m reading these days.

I should start by saying that I finally took the time to step into a weird little shop down the road from me. The window is packed full of records, so I never really took the time to look more closely. Records are interesting and all, but not a hobby of mine. It wasn’t until I spotted the name of the shop, Diskovery (another reason I thought it was just music) on mysecretBoston.com that I came to learn that it was a used bookstore as well. I have been complaining lately about the lack of bookstores in my area, so I was a touch chagrined to learn that there has been one only a few blocks away for almost two years without me realizing it.

The place is delightful and odd. First of all, there are cats draped about the place. As in real, live cats. They are quite friendly as far as I can tell. Another interesting feature is the almost total lack of organization. This is not the place to go if you have your heart set on one particular book. Aside from being loosely arranged by genre (and a loose definition of the word genre) there is no alphabetizing whatsoever.

There is, for example, a section devoted to books that have been made into movies (I snagged a few photos with my phone while I was browsing today) –

This is what I mean by a loose definition of genre. It was in this section that I snagged a copy of Jane Austen’s Emma. I don’t own my own copies of any Austen books since I’d read them after taking them out of libraries. But while I found Emma in the “books that became movies” section, I found P&P, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility in a different section entirely (one which I guess could be loosely termed “classics”?). Those books have been made into movies as well, but… Well you see what I’m saying. Chaos!

The other interesting quirk of this place is that the books are layered. Meaning that most shelves have two rows of books. If you are feeling determined, you have to move the front stack in order to see what is behind it. Sometimes you will catch a glimpse of something interesting (The Spy Who Hated Fudge? What is that all about) and then you have to decide if it is worth possibly meeting your death under a pile of old books while you play Jenga in an attempt to investigate. Visual aid –

Incidentally, I kept pulling my phone out of my purse to take pictures, and I was a little worried the proprietor would think I was slipping books into my bag. But she seemed unconcerned about what I was doing rustling around in the stacks. It would be incredibly easy to steal from this place, there are no security measures whatsoever. But one would have to be an asshole of epic proportions since a) the lady who runs it is so darn nice and b) you can buy 8 books for 12 bucks, which I did today.

Another picture, to demonstrate the vibe of the place –

I took this last one sitting on the floor in the crime section. Mystery seems to be vaguely divided between the more traditional mystery novels, Agatha Christie and the like, and other kinds of crime like spy novels and noir. I spent my time there today chilling among the more traditional mysteries, where earlier in the week I’d come across an old favorite, Shroud for a Nightengale by P.D. James. I also found another novel by James, The Murder Room, and decided to give it a try.

P.D. James, who is a British writer, is around 90 years old at the moment. She is quite famous, perhaps a bit more so in England than here, for her detective novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh. She’s written 14 novels about that particular police officer, as well as a few others with different protagonists. Though her books are more modern, it would be fair to say that she is influenced a bit by Agatha Christie and a great deal by Dorothy Sayers, a favorite of mine and apparently hers. She also wrote the book The Children of Men, which many people probably remember as a film that came out a few years ago starring Clive Owen.

The Murder Room is over 100 pages in before the first murder even happens. This is fairly typical of James, who is rarely sparing with character development. It does get a bit tiring at times, especially with recurring characters like Kate Miskin. While James clearly wants to keep Dalgliesh a bit more mysterious and thus reveals a bit less about what he is thinking, we are frequently treated to Kate’s innermost thoughts and feelings. At a certain point, you kind of want to tell her to join match.com and stop obsessing about everything. Even though Kate isn’t overused in this particular novel, her inner monologue can still be an overshare.

Once the murders begin, things don’t exactly get off to a rollicking start. There are a plethora of suspects and not much to narrow them down. There is one character in particular whom I dearly loved, the serene, 60 year old Tally. James is quite good at making you feel what her characters are feeling and really understand them, which may also be why it can be hard to listen to Kate’s darker, sadder thoughts.

It isn’t until another death, many, many pages later that things get going a little more quickly. The novel is very, very slow paced. Did we really have to go along with two of the detectives to question the man who serviced the victim’s car? Yes, not because it furthered the plot but because it further unpacked the relationship between those two detectives. P.D. James will include these moments because they fit into the larger story of the relationships between recurring characters over 14 novels. It might not mean much to someone who is reading James for the first and last time, but even so, it isn’t boring.

If I have a complaint about James, it is her endings. In this particular novel, despite our villain having several excellent motives (along with many other people), James feels compelled to throw another one in there. A wrong from many, many years ago that is casually mentioned during a confessional moment at the end and never really elucidated upon. It doesn’t hurt the story, but it is completely unnecessary. In two of her other novels, James gives intricate secret Nazi backstories to characters that end up being the impetus behind the crimes (though these secret Nazis aren’t necessarily the murderers themselves). Granted, the idea seems to be that we get information at generally the same time Dalgliesh gets it, which is a very valid way of telling the story. My complaint is that in some of her books it can be overly clever and not always necessary. And if you are going to come up with these crazy backstories, why not let it come up somehow in the investigation or even hinted at? In this case, we are flat out told by the killer at the end. One could argue that there is some pretty heavy foreshadowing which adds some depth, but not quite enough for me.

Spoiler ahead. It doesn’t give away the killer at all, but it does give away a victim (who is easy to guess early in the novel anyway) and the silly extra reason the killer did it.  Highlight the white text to see it  –

The first victim, a psychiatrist, failed to hurry to see a patient 12 years ago and that patient committed suicide. That person was dearly loved by the killer, so the killer decided to wait over a decade and then brutally murder the guy, partially driven by the collection of other perfectly good motives that have popped up since then. So not necessary to throw in a 3 sentence add-on about a 12 year old suicide! 

So P.D. has a bit of a weakness for overdoing it. Overall, this is not her best Dalgliesh novel by a long shot. It was definitely not a “can’t put it down” book, in fact I put it down a few times when I found I just wasn’t getting sucked in. That said, I did enjoy it. The whole series is really very good and I plan to read all 14 of the books featuring Dalgliesh. I believe I’ve read about 5 now, with Death in Holy Orders being by far my favorite. Death in Holy Orders very much echoes Dorothy Sayers novel, Gaudy Night, which is one of my favorite novels.

If I were to randomly invent a star system for my book reviews, this one would get a 3 1/2 out of 5.

Edit: I just realized that my post title kind of makes it look like the bookstore is called The Murder Room. Which would be a fun, if confusing, name for a bookstore.

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100 Club

Done 50 out of the 100. Some of the remaining 50 I hope to do, others I’ll never do! (no sky diving for me thanks).

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain (not to the top)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors 
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance (I wasn’t the one ill)
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theatre
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant

London Recap

When I discovered that my last day of a summer teaching contract coincided with my parents heading over to London for 5 days, I may have delicately hinted that I would like to come along. This delicate hinting took the form of “pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease!?!?” Mom was happy to have the company, so late Sunday night I found myself winging my way over the ocean to London for a short break from the real world. Unfortunately, SleepyHusband was working pretty much non-stop that week, so there was no question of him coming with.

We arrived Monday morning after too few hours of sleep (I watched How Do You Know on the plane, eh). We headed to the house and I immediately took one of my favorite kinds of showers – the “rinsing off a 6 hour plane ride” shower. Mom and I decided to be tough and fight the jetlag with a little shopping. We stopped for a brief lunch of Greek salads at a local cafe and headed to the shops. Normally being tired and shopping are a terrible combo, but we found lots of cute stuff. I finally, FINALLY found new jeans after wearing pretty much the same two pairs for the last two or three years. Yea, long overdue, but the new pairs are cute stuff.

Monday night we had Italian, just ok. Tuesday we all lazed around a bit, I got up at 11 and was the first awake. Mom and I headed out to have afternoon tea at L’Orangerie at Kensington Palace. I’m a sucker for those little sandwiches. The scones and pastries are nothing to sneeze at either. Afternoon tea is definitely a tradition I would like to steal. Especially the tiny sandwiches. Nom.

Tuesday evening I met up with two English friends, Dan and Mike, who live in London. Beers, more Italian food (a far superior meal at At the Jam), and catching up. Always excellent to see friends when you only have the opportunity a couple times a year. Wednesday I headed out to Baker Street to meet Mike for lunch. I managed to get ridiculously lost in what was basically a two block radius. Half an hour late, I finally walked into a Starbucks and asked the first person I saw with a computer if I could look up the address. Fortunately he was a nice guy, and I finally sat down for some Turkish food. The rest of Wednesday I was on my own since my Mother had some appointments and a dinner.

After lunch I hit up the British Museum. Always something new and interesting to see there. New temporary exhibits and corners I haven’t explored yet (of which there are many, that place is enormous). I visited the temporary Afghanistan exhibit first, which was really very interesting. I think today was the last day it was open, so I’m glad I caught it. Then I visited Mexico and the rest of North America (Native American), and I stopped by Japan which has always been one of my favorite areas of the museum. I wandered a bit aimlessly after that, checked out what today would be called Jordan and Syria I believe.

After the museum my feet were hurting so it was home to order pizza and watch reruns of QI, a British show that consists of Stephen Fry and a selection of mostly British comedians and celebrities sitting around discussing various topics and being amusing.

Thursday my parents and I had lunch at a place called The Stockpot that does a nice English Breakfast, then Dad went off to work and Mom and I went to Hampton Court, a structure that is most well-known for housing Henry the VIII and his various wives. I actually learned quite a bit, and the place is pretty impressive. Hampton Court is famous for its extensive gardens, but since they were preparing for a gigantic flower show that would take place only a few days later. Afterwards we took advantage of a break in the drizzle to have some tea on the Thames, and then hopped on the train back to London. On Thursday night the three of us went to dinner at a neat little Indian place near our house. You ring the doorbell to enter, and the restaurant itself is fairly tiny. The food was unbelievable, as was the wine (no house plonk here, I am glad I wasn’t buying). The only downside was that the restaurant was a bit hot. It just isn’t that pleasant to eat hot, spicy food in an overly warm room, no matter how amazing the food is. I would 100% go back to get my hands on more of their prawns, but maybe the temperature is a little better in the winter time.

On Friday we were heading to the airport at 12:30, so I got up early to sneak in the National Portrait Gallery. Since I was in a hurry, I didn’t really get to see as much as I would have liked to. I will definitely go back next visit when I have more time.

The flight back was a bit hellish. Both bathrooms in economy broke down, so they made people line up behind the curtain for business and waved them forward one at a time. Once people realized there was a bathroom shortage, there was, of course, a rush. Since Mom and I were in the third row, that meant that were were people lined up in the aisle next to us for a solid two hours of the flight. It raised the temperature, since we were boxed in, and it was just plain irritating to have people looming over us like that. They nearly had to make a landing in Halifax when the business class bathroom nearly “reached capacity” as the pilot put it, but thank goodness we avoided that ridiculousness. At the end of the flight the purser went through apologizing to each row. He seemed genuinely upset, which was sweet. Doesn’t mean I’m excited to get on another tiny American Airlines plane to cross the ocean anytime soon. They were clearly using a domestic plane for an international flight in a pinch.

Friday night we arrived, I crashed out early, and the adventure was over. I was exceedingly sorry to leave London so soon, but exceedingly happy to be back with my husband and pets. With my tendency to apply to every job on the planet, perhaps someday London and home won’t be mutually exclusive.

Summertime

There is so much to love about summer in Boston. At least before it gets gross hot later in the summer. Just some things I’ve been enjoying so far this summer, despite not enough Rhode Island time.

Patios – I love eating on restaurant patios. They aren’t as plentiful as they are in warmer cities. It isn’t really worth paying rent on the space when it is too cold to eat outside most of the year. Right now we are living right down the street from a nice place that has a huge new patio, so I drag SleepyHusband there on pretty much any nice evening when he isn’t working (which is far too infrequent these days). There are fairy lights and plants and good food. They also make a decent sangria, which is always a plus. And goat cheese pizza. Ok, I have to stop now. Hungry!

Summer drinks – Like a hot cup of good coffee on a winter morning, there are many drinks that just seem to taste better in the summertime. Last night we opened a bottle of prosecco and drank it out on the steps of our apartment, waiting for the food we ordered to arrive. Tonight we plan to break into a bottle of Rose (I don’t know how to do the fancy e). Other happy summer drinks include sangria, margaritas, and much other brightly colored fun.

Ice cream cones – I don’t eat much ice cream. I’m not much of a sweets person and I rarely eat dessert (except flan, I freaking love flan) But an ice cream cone on a hot day is perfect. Hilariously, SleepyHusband has no idea how to eat an ice cream cone. No, seriously. Like it melts all over his hand and then he gets annoyed and throws it away. Ha! It is amazing to watch. I’ve tried to explain that you have to frequently lick around the bottom to keep it from dripping down the cone, but he can’t get the hang of it! It cracks me up.

Rhode Island – Heading down to RI when we can is brilliant stress relief. Some if you may be familiar with my family’s house there from attending my wedding, it is really lovely down there. Hanging out on the beach, playing with the various dogs and cats running around the place, grilling fresh fish from the shack down the road (fisherman come right up and and sell them freshly caught fish off the boat). It is nice to go down at any time of year, but summer is special.

Right now it is perfect out. Blue skies, warm temps, a light breeze. In fact, I think I might leave my computer alone for awhile go out and enjoy the rest of the sunshine.

Recently Blondie of Transatlantic Blond posted an entry for her regular Feminist Friday call for blog entries that featured a poster about how to avoid sexual assault. The entry is here – http://transatlanticblonde.blogspot.com/2011/06/feminist-friday-ix-theme-violence.html

When you click through, you will see the twist, instead of a list of tips about avoiding sexual assault these are tips on how to avoid sexually assaulting someone.

It struck me because I’d actually seen it from a different source recently, a friend on twitter. I clicked it, interested to see what tips it had to offer. I have to admit, I was disappointed to see that it wasn’t a legitimate list. To be clear, this isn’t because I thought it was disrespectful or not clever. It is an interesting subversion of what you expect when you click the link. I was, however, looking forward to seeing what kind of tips it would have for avoiding sexual assault.

There is the advice that many (though not enough) people get; keep track of your drink, keep track of your friends, avoid walking alone at night, have a ride home… The list goes on. But I wanted to know if this list would have some of the other advice I’ve gotten over the years from my mother, other family members, friends, and classes.

My mother is very much a better safe than sorry kind of person. Her list of sometimes strange advice plays in my head on a regular basis. Dr. Trollop, whom I have known for about 20 years, can probably come up with one of my Mom’s oft repeated maxims – never park next to a van. Because of my Mom, I walk to my car at night with my car key between my pointer and middle fingers to make it easier to stab someone in the eye if they attack me.

In college I took a class they called RAD, which stands for Rape Aggression Defense. My roommates saw a flyer for the class, which was run by the college police force (there are female police officers at the school, but this class was taught by three men), and we all decided to take it together. The first thing they told us was that it was a very bad idea to share any, ANY of the things we would learn in the class with the men in our lives. Not your boyfriend, not your best male friend, not your male relatives, not any man. To share these defensive techniques would be to put ourselves at a disadvantage if one of these men was not the person we though they were (that advice is a whole different, complicated, discussion). We watched videos and practiced defensive moves on dummies and each other. We also talked about the fact that in some cases, living might have to be more important than resisting. I learned that crossing your arms to push someone’s hands away from your neck from the inside is much easier than trying to pull their hands away from the outside. If someone is holding you while standing, dropping suddenly to the ground will often catch them off guard long enough for you to get your footing again. If someone is on top of you, lifting your hips with your shoulders and feet on the ground and tipping over uses your center of gravity to get people much heavier than yourself off of you.

So when I clicked on that link I wanted to know if the random bits of knowledge I’d accumulated over the years, valid or no, would make the list. It also made me wonder what bits of useful information other women had gathered on the subject.

Blondie – The code for the button doesn’t seem to work for me (maybe a wordpress thing?) sorry about that!

I’m digging…

1. The word “digging”

2. Dorothy Sayers. I bought a book of her short stories at a used book store while we were in Chicago. Love her stuff, she is a better Agatha Christie. I’ve read some of the short stories before (and all of the novels) but some of these are happily new to me. I’ve been reading a story or two a night before bed, and I am almost done. So not excited for that! What will I keep next to my bed next? Short stories are perfect because I can’t get sucked into reading too many chapters.

3. Bright lipstick, still. Kind of. I can wear it to go on walks. Working my way up to actually wearing it out with friends.

4. The Bruins. I am watching game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs right now and TENSE! Bruins are winning 3-0 right now, I hope it stays that way! With the way I write blog entries the game might be over before I finish and I’ll have to edit this. Edit: Bruins are Stanley Cup Champions! Won 4-0, what a series!

5. Restaurant patios. A place we really like down the street opened a new patio and it’s great. It is huge and has all these lights and plants and so on. Really pleasant way to spend an evening. The weather needs to be friendlier though, come on summer!

6. Curry and Greek Salads. Not at the same time, but just in general I’ve really been craving curry dishes and I’m still on my endless Feta cheese kick. I bought a Greek salad the other day and threw it in the fridge for the next day. Sleepyhusband ATE IT WHILE I WAS SLEEPING. Rageface. I’ve also been into anything really spicy. I pretty much dump cayenne all over everything I eat right now.

7. Nights out with friends. I tend to be the one who brings my group of friends together because a) I am sporadically employed and have a lot less to do and b) I get bored really easily and immediate start thinking of ways I can get people to enable my restaurant addiction so I don’t have to cook. On Saturday I managed to get two sets of couples to get Indian with SleepyHusband and I. It was my college best friend and my childhood best friend and their significant others, and we had a fab time. Then CollegeBest and her SO came over to our apartment and we played monopoly on xbox (and I won, long live the top hat!).

8. Travel plans. We finally got our act together to get tickets to fly over to see SleepyHusband’s Dad for his birthday in August. SleepyHusband’s brother and his girlfriend will also be there. We all have a fantastic time together, so excited to see them!

9. Summer TV. Standards are lower, because it is summer TV, but light, fluffy summer shows are perfect for a warm evening. Covert Affairs, White Collar, Memphis Beat, The Glades… Yes, I have a crime show problem. This is a cry for help!

10. Now that I’ve come this far, I want to post 10 things… Uuuuum… I’m digging that my week is half over! I am currently doing a 6 day week because of a weird scheduling thing with the 3 week program I am teaching for right now. It is only 3 days in, but I’m finding the psychological effects of knowing I have that extra day coming are making me a bit twitchy. I’ve found this job really, really intense because the kids are so low level. I never have a second to sit down and I have to be so hands on that I’ve started buying a smaller coffee because I don’t have time to drink my normal size before it gets cold. (hi teachers who work with young children! I don’t know how you do it! I would lose my goddamn mind!) This really isn’t a “things I’m digging” entry is it? Yay for my week being half over!

Lipstick

I was reading a post on thehairpin.com today about a “bold lip.” Specific post here . First, I’d like to say that I love The Hairpin. That site, like themarysue.com, is a great for women by women site. The writing is sharp and funny, the posts interesting, and they certainly don’t limit themselves to fashion, makeup, and jewelry but they have a healthy interest in it (as do I).

Anyway, I was bored and saw the cute/silly photo of Jane Feltes in her bright pink lipstick and thought, “I’ve been all about the dark eye and subtle lip for… forever now.” I’ve always shied away a little bit from bright lipsticks, even though I gravitate towards those colors. I’ve always worried that a bold lip makes me look clownish. But then I read the article linked above and thought, maybe I think I look silly the way this woman thinks she looks silly, which is to say I actually don’t. Just for fun, I decided to go digging through my makeup (I keep a small bag of stuff I use all the time, and a bigger tub of stuff I use infrequently/not at all.) I had a specific lipstick in mind. I bought a Mac lipstick called Rebel years ago. It was a dark berry lipstick, I brought it home and put it on… And I don’t think I’ve ever worn it in public since. It is fun, but strong and dark. Plus it is possible that at the time I was a little young for it. A baby face with dark berry lip can look a little silly. But I’m so glad I dug it out. I might need baby steps (I’m going to wear it to the liquor store later, ha), but I think it works on me now. I also found the lipstick I wore on my wedding day, which I’d forgotten I love. Definitely going to start wearing that again!

Anyway, this entry is pointless, but SnowyHusband is working and I’m bored. Also in dark lipstick I somehow look kind of like the Evil Queen in Snow White, somehow. I think it is the coloring and her tendency to squint at people evilly, which I do all the time.