Book Cupidity

Book Cupidity

Lover of genre fiction; Romance, SFF, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller and Horror. I read the occasional classic and a cookbook or two.

"Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction."  Erich Fromm

If it's a book, I'll read it.

Homemade Poptarts

After pie, I decided I must try these pop tarts that Whiskey and others were mentioning. They sounded THAT awesome and amazing and wonderful and like they were going to give me a sugar induced coma, that I had to try them RIGHT AWAY. Tasty Tuesday Challenge accepted.


I used the pie dough recipe from the Art of the Pie book. I used the filling ingredients from Whiskey's link - I used a heaping measurement for the flour because that felt right to me, and dark brown sugar because that's what I had on hand, and a scant measurement on the cinnamon because I like my cinnamon scanty.


Here's a picture of the little toasty twins:




I did not roll the dough out thin enough to make more than a few- with one rolling, without a re-roll of the scraps, I could do only 4. Still, I was very happy with the 4 that were made:




The filling is really good and in terms of flavor, it tastes like nostalgia BUT...Yodamom was right, once you try these, there's no going back to the box! We're definitely doing these again sometime, trying a fruit version using jam.




5 Stars
Art of the Pie - a personal pie experience
Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life - Kate McDermott, Andrew Scrivani


Funny thing happened to me with this book - I actually didn't LOVE it the first time I read it. I thought it was a little trite, a little cliché, a little too cutesy..."In life, like in pie, you must vent"...and so on.

I read this over a month ago and something just told me that I needed to withhold my initial judgment until I could actually make the pie. After all, once you get past the introduction (which was mostly about how pie making can be applied to live and vice versa) the pie making teach part of the book is bountiful with loads of information, experience and understanding in making a pie in whichever way you want to tackle it - from types of dough to alternate ways to roll and how to create all the fillings that go in between: hot, cold, sweet and savory. It's not just a list of her recipes, she gives you practical knowledge with tactile insight.

And that's the thing that gave me pause before rolling my eyes too hard - I've made pie before. I wouldn't say I'm heavily experienced or even super successful (there's a difference between edible and awesome, agreed?), but I've done it and anyone who's made pie before knows that it takes a certain touch -- in short, it is an art. With that in mind, why not take some of her 'feelings' advice into account and give this an honest go? I think the best way to review this is to just give you a taste of my journey making my own pie, the Kate McDermott way.

First, I waited until I could be totally chilled, relaxed and in a good space. I chose a Sunday when we had no plans - when I could play with the kids, get them involved if they wanted or work on it while they were busy chasing each other around the house. I didn't even let their crashing and yelling disturb my pie-zen. It helped that mid-day my parents came to pick them up for fun. I'm not going to lie, this is when I *actually* made the pie. ;)

First, the dough. I've only ever made all shortening crusts. One time when I was trying to be a better person, I tried my hand at an all butter crust. The all butter crust did not love me. The all shortening crust is how I was taught and makes a serviceable dough. McDermott has a recipe for half shortening and half butter and this is what I went with because it's what I had on hand - she recommends using leaf lard for pie dough but that was a little too much commitment for me at this point. She has recipes for all butter, gluten free and many more.

McDermott's dough making tips may have not changed my life, but they changed my dough game FOREVER. First, I chilled all the ingredients and tools (rather than just the fat and water). That means that I put the measured flour, salt, shortening, and butter in the freezer. I put the mixing bowl in the freezer. I put the ice water in the freezer. Only when everything was super cold did I start to assemble the dough.

Secondly, I prepared a dish of ice cubes on the side. Why, you ask? One of Kate's tips is that if you use the 'smoosh' method, which means that you combine the dough ingredients by hand, that cold hands are optimal and to use ice. When the heat from my hands started warming the fats a little too much while smooshing, the handy bowl of ice was there for me to cool them off again for further smooshing action.

Lastly, I've read a lot of dough recipes and McDermott's description of what the dough should feel like and look like was a little different. She said the fat should have varying sizes including pea and almond sized pieces and when adding the cold water, once you can pinch the dough together and it holds, it's ready. The variation in fat size was new to me…I’ve heard pea sized again, but always assumed I needed a more consistent size and texture and also looked for the dough to ‘come together’ instead of the pinch method. Here’s what my dough looked like after it was ready to turn out and wrap into ‘chubby disks’ to chill:


Once chilled, here's my rolled dough - bottom crust:

I meant to get a picture of the apple filling once I piled it in and dotted it with butter. But I guess I was so worried about the dough that it slipped my mind. One thing I did do, as recommended by McDermott, was use a couple varieties of apples. Granny Smith and Gala made it into this pie, at 70/30 ratio respectively. One thing I did NOT do that she recommended was leave the skin on the apples which seemed ALL WRONG. I just couldn't bring myself to do that to my pie.

My pie filled, fluted, and vented:

I tucked this baby into the oven. There was some fussing over the bake, 20 minutes at 425 degrees, 30 minutes at 375, and a final ten minutes with a sugar sprinkling. Here's the finished product:


Because my pie making day was very chill and lazy, I didn't do what all our grandmothers or legitimate pie makers do which is make it in the morning so that it's cooled and ready after supper. I made my dough mid-afternoon and did an early evening roll and fill. Basically, it came out of the oven at 9pm - too late to be cooled and consumed last night.

This is fine. Pie for breakfast gives me another reason to get out of bed in the morning. Here's the only shot of filling I have:


You might have noticed from my pictures my scarred farm kitchen table, general mess of my pie making, heavily scratched and used pie tin. There are very few areas in my life that are shiny, new, or perfect. I lean towards comfy, relaxed, well-loved and well enjoyed - maybe even a little damaged. Even scarred things can have a lot of life left to give. I feel like that myself most days - a little imperfect, but with some use yet. Maybe a little of that pie-as-life or life-as-pie has rubbed off on me in the end. I say all this because this was THE BEST PIE I HAVE EVER MADE.

True to myself till the end, I can't even get you a good shot of the piece I enjoyed with my coffee at work, here's a shot of it 'tossed' in my to-go container. But seriously, look at that flake!


Overall, this book was quite valuable to me – I used more techniques than I could even journal. For example, I’m convinced ‘thumping’ the dough before rolling made some sort of difference. I also listened for the ‘sizzle-whump’ to check for doneness. Most of all though, I loved the approach to pie making the most – it doesn’t have to be perfect. Her advice gave me room to try new things and, in retrospect, her tone wasn’t pretentious and allowed me be okay with any failure. You can tell that her heart is in teaching this craft.

This makes total sense.

Chocolate, coffee and Books. My three favorite things.

100 Essential Novels Scratch Off Chart?!

A good use for all those pennies I have laying around! 

3.5 Stars
How the West Was Won by Louis L'Amour
How the West Was Won - Louis L'Amour

I was inspired a couple weeks ago to pick up a western – I remember stacks of Louis L’Amour books around as a kid and thought he’d be a natural choice for such a compulsion. I had picked up a used copy of this book in great condition at Half Price Books and decided to crack it open – I didn’t notice until that particular moment that this book is actually a novelization of a screenplay for the epic movie by the same name. If it didn’t say that right on my cover, I probably would have assumed that book came before movie. Nevertheless, I wasn’t discouraged and figured that at least I’d get what I was hankerin’ for and I’d get a sense of L’Amour’s style.

Mission accomplished on both counts. A multi-generational tale spanning 50 years of history, there was plenty ‘Western’ to appreciate. Indian battles, outlaw battles, saloons and gambling – tough, rugged and honorable men and the strong woman that supported them. Each family member had their own vignette that showed a different aspect of expansion west - from the rivers to the prairies to the Civil War and the Gold Rush. I think my favorite, by far, was Cleve and Lilith’s story – that of a reformed gambler and a highly independent singing beauty. It was easy to love that one because Lilith had so much character and vim – she partners up with another single lady in a wagon train to head west, proving that she didn’t need a man or a traditional life, she could find her own way.

A real highlight of the book for me was this running gag from the patriarch of the book – Linus Rawlings. And this isn’t L’Amour because I’m pretty sure it’s in the movie, but Linus going to ‘see the varmint’ as a euphemism for sex is probably the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Straight from a mountain man’s mouth, sure, but the way that this runs through the generations of the book was very amusing. Towards the very end, the outlaw in this family recognizes distant kin because he mentions someone had ‘see’d the varmint’. I’ve actually said varmint so many times this last week (because I'm just *that* immature) or two that it’s become almost a non-word, but do you know what I see when I think of varmint?

I can’t help it.

Without seeing the movie, I’m fairly sure that L’Amour inserted some of his own knowledge and history therein this book – a man who’d been there, done that, he adds some interesting commentary regarding the Indians and other things, relating them to other parts of history. My book jacket says that L’Amour’s great grandfather (or was it grandfather?) was scalped by a Sioux Indian - there’s just a certain amount of weight given to someone who was related to someone who was scalped. That’s probably as close as I’d like to come to any bloody event, anyway. I’m a right pansy about things like that.
It can’t go unsaid that the West was really won by us running roughshod over the peoples here first, but the book doesn’t really excuse that bad history, it just tells the story. I’ll be looking for another L’Amour down the road, one of his originals this time.

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5 Stars
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick

What a gorgeous treat!

Do you recognize this still from the early film, “A Trip to the Moon”?

I just viewed it myself for the first time in the last couple of years. It’s bonkers - surreal and imaginative, right? I loved this book because it was a lot of that weaved around a great little fiction of George Melies life and work.

A middle grade sequential art story, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is chock full of secrets and automatons, illusions, magic and BOOKS and dreams, and Hugo - a young, orphaned boy. All good stories need an orphan, right?

Hugo is talented with clockwork and is surviving on his sneaky ability to stay hidden, his hard work and a good dose of broken hearted sentiment. Before his father tragically died he was working on an abandoned automaton found in the attic of a museum, just for Hugo. Hugo just knows that if he can finish the restoration, a message from his father would be found in its completion.

Set in Paris in the 20’s – the mixed media black and white art has a transportive quality - the lack of color does not dull the story and in fact, I think rather enhances it. There’s a somewhat subtle thematic element around dreams and the entire premise floats on your ability to appreciate the wonder. And think about it, do you dream in color or do you dream in black and white?

Hugo’s efforts in rebuilding the automaton, his thievery and run-ins with the old man from the toy booth (guess who!), and his interest and friendship with a mysterious bookshop loving girl who helps him uncover secret after secret, all come together making this a superbly compelling tale. For the curious type of kid, this book also serves as a great little introduction to early film. ;)

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3 Stars
Tales from the Royals Dugout by Denny Matthews & Matt Fulks
Denny Matthews's Tales from the Royals Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Stories Ever Told - Denny Matthews, Matt Fulks

“When it’s your turn, when it’s your year, you’re going to win and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that for the new(er) generation of Royals baseball fans, this is one of the quotes that Denny Matthews, play-by-play announcer since the Royal's inception, could be remembered for. I can't tell you the goose bumps it gives me just to read it because Denny's voice is in my ear – he’s always been a part of my baseball life – and considering the turnaround in baseball, in many ways, he’s part of my baseball bedrock. This quote is certainly memorable for that ride in 2014 to the Series, but for me, when I think of Denny Matthews, I think..."He had a notion..."

This is one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf for years. I had the opportunity to meet Denny after his HoF induction during a special event in 2007. He signed my copy (which was the 2006 revised edition, I've actually read the 2014 update) and dished about his induction weekend. It was very memorable and I'm glad I was there.

What needs to be said about the stories in this book is that it was written originally during some very painful years in Royals baseball history, basically not a lot of good things were happening at the park. In short, we stunk. This book, therefore, highlights the glory years more than anything – it’s about the late 70's and the '85 team. It hits on some other players and coaches briefly, like Bo Jackson and Sweeney, etc...but, mostly, it's those Hal McRae, Frank White, George Brett years that gives the retellings life.

In fact, Denny mentions that he stopped hanging out with players sometime in the 80's and that's where all the really good, fun recalling happened - when he talked about all those players with their big on-field presence and their antics after the show. Some of those stories had me in stitches - Lou Piniella, John Maberry, Amis Otis and Brett Saberhagen in particular.

In between the laughs is some Denny baseball wisdom which, surprisingly, I seemed to highlight more than anything. Matthews isn’t an overly charismatic announcer – he has a great voice and there is most definitely cheer in his style, but he’s someone who knows what a 162 game season is like and he kind of exudes that feeling that crazy things happen in baseball and you can’t know what’s going to happen until it’s over in his broadcast. He's pretty unexcitable. He gives credit where’s its due, is frank about the downside without being negative, and is all around a class-act. All of this was true in his book too. You won’t find dirt in here, just the good stuff – it’s a feel good read that you can pick up and put down and not miss a beat.

The style is a little choppy so it’s difficult to get lost in, but the funny thing is that it reads like a radio show – you get the feeling that he could have inserted anything in the book as an antidote during a particularly grueling pitching battle or batter that steps out of the box after every pitch. A ball game only has about 18 minutes of action, that’s a lot of air time that these guys have to fill. With that, I’m going to end on a chuckle that had little to do with actual baseball, but funny all the same. From Denny, about year two (1971?) in his career:

“We have commercial drop-ins during each game that you slip in between pitches or batters, or whenever possible. Ed Shepard, our producer-engineer, handed me the card that said “Guy’s Food drop-in". Everybody in Kansas City knew about Guy’s Foods. The card was in front of me, I was thinking about how they were a good sponsor, so I wanted to really pump them up. I started thinking about the holiday weekend, everybody out picnicking, boating, whatever. So I said, “For those of you planning a holiday picnic, we sure hope you take along plenty of those good Guy’s potato chips.” Fitzy was wasting time on the mound. I obviously had more time to fill, so I thought I would give Guy’s another plug. And the next line out of my mouth was “And when you’re in the store, be sure to grab Guy’s nuts.” I thought my career was over right then and there. I looked over at Buddy Blattner, and he looked like somebody had shot him.”

A good book for the shelf of a fan.

4.5 Stars
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
Smile - Raina Telgemeier

Nothing makes me smile harder than seeing my little ones read. I caught my oldest little man reading this check-out at odd times... those times being any time when he could be watching his favorite you-tubers. He loved it, I adored it.

This is where I'm supposed to tell you about the whole story and stuff...but it's late, this isn't really subject matter that appeals to a broader audience, and it's been awhile since I've really just let it all hang out. So, here's the very specific reason why I really liked this story...

On one fateful night after girl scouts, Raina, 11 years of age, trips racing to her doorstep with friends. Her resulting injury is, frankly, pretty traumatic. One front tooth is knocked out completely while the other disappears into her gum line, pushed beyond sight by the impact. Raina goes through four years of extensive dental work with a lot of going-by-the-seat-of-the-pants type of treatments just to see what would work to give her a confident smile again. From fake front teeth dentures, to multiple rounds of braces and headgear, she triumphs in her own middle grade coming-of-age story.

Now that is great, and it's told really well but, the BEST part??? The mom does not freak the eff out. Mom, this fascinating character, calmly and rationally handles the entire situation like she knows the sun is going to shine another day. Now, let me back up... this teeth trauma thing is pretty much my worst nightmare. While some people are afraid of the dentists for themselves, I'm actually afraid for my children. Put me in the chair? Fine. The minute we walk into one of those poshly decorated hell-traps with my little? Full on anxiety. Wait. That's not being honest. I can't even call and schedule the appointment without a meltdown.

Granted, I don't actually display any really crazy behavior in public, per se, but get me behind closed doors and I'm in the fetal position.

So, a story (it's autobiographical, by the way. Should have mentioned that earlier which would have made more sense, but see? Just typing this all up has me out of sorts), where a kid of eleven endures trials akin to medieval torture (just, humor me and my neurosis) and comes out the other end happy and whole and successful? I feel like this is a life book that I need to reach for in times of desperation.

At first I really didn't understand why my kid connected with this so much... but then again, I think that some kids can just intuit the needs of the parents sometimes. Yeah, I'm going with that.

3.5 Stars
Unmentionable by Therese Oneill
Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners - Therese Oneill

Oh, my.

"You are a devoted fan of simpler times, I suspect? You can’t resist any film where the heroine wears petticoats, lets her long, beautiful locks fly away from their tight bun in dramatic moments, and calls her father “Pa-PA!” when defying his choice of husband for her..."

"Most of the things you love about the nineteenth century aren’t real, child. They’re the curations of gracious hosts who tidy up the era whenever you visit through art, books, or film. You see only the world they want you to see."

Speak to me, Therese Oneill, I am your avid listener.

As someone who routinely reads the heavily romanced side of the Victorian (and Regency) era, I'm the perfect audience for this such book. I may not need reminded that I'm in love with an era as seen through very rosy glasses, but I'm surprised at how delightful I found the shattering of my very fantasies...and how horribly I'd fit into such a society...

According to what I learned here, I'd struggle enormously in society based on my very nature:

1.) I'm a friendly, fun loving gal.

“Undue familiarity cheapens a girl even in her lover’s eyes and lays the foundation of future jealousy and possible murder. There is plenty of time for familiarity after marriage.” Our author does not diagram the transition from flirting to homicide. But does he really need to? I mean, who doesn’t look at a teenager fluttering her eyelashes at some boy and think, “That’s going to end with three corpses in a filthy, blood-soaked basement”?

2.) I'm basically a happy individual. One could say that I've always been a 'whistle while you work' type.

Men don’t find an outward display of joy appealing! “Joy” doesn’t get the roast on the table by 6 p.m. sharp!

3.) I might have a wee bit of a temper.

After all, “too much fluency and animation in discourse are incompatible with true feminine modesty.”

And lastly...

4.) I do enjoy thinking. Sometimes, excessively so. is scarcely possible to be less than hideous.” And how did she get that way? Either physical labor, excessive thinking, or vice.

To recap, in the 1800's I would have likely been a murderess (if my center is my uterus, mine is a crazy, crazy one. I probably have hysteria. The recommendation would be a hysterectomy. Did you know the root of that procedure was to cure madness? Me neither. Back to it though), very unappealing and my very lack of an attractive face would be proof of thinking too much. Geez, at least in this century I can blame that last one my parents ignorance of eugenics.

Beyond attitude and disposition, there are many, many intolerable things about the time that made me cringe in horror. For the sake of anyone reading this, I'll leave out all references and quotes pertaining to women's hygiene, and for the more delicate minded, that of disease, the wedding night, and the necessary. Let's just say that there's very good reason that the 19th Century is commonly referred to as the filthiest. These, of course, are the chapters where I could not look away - disgustingly riveting stuff.

I did my fair share of laughing through this book - I'd call this history lite perhaps. The writing is heavily laced with quippy humor with quite of few illustrations and photographs, many of which were more style than substance. Though Oneill admits to this at the beginning, the way in which she hops all around history anecdotally proves a bit of a problem for sorting out how one stupid thought led to another's insane medical practice or societal expectation. If you're looking for a scholarly book of the period, I wouldn't say this is it - but it is a fun flavored adventure into the century with enough references that you could seek out other material if you'd wish. I did have a really good time with it, and am very thankful that I landed in the here and now with things like pants and showers and refrigeration (and, okay, okay...mascara).

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
Night Broken - Patricia Briggs

This is the Mercy Thompson book that I've been putting off. All things considered, having tackled it finally, it was about as bad as I thought it would be in the drama department with enough upside with the progression of the series to keep me sane.

Has there ever been a book in history where the ex-wife is a welcome character problem? I can not think of one. Having no desire to venture down the path of Mercy's suppressed annoyance (and perhaps jealousy) and the hurtful overtones of Adam's inability to create boundaries, I could not bring myself to get excited about reading this Mercy installment.

Christy Hauptman, Adam's ex-wife who left him for a more 'normal', i.e. non-werewolf laden type of life, calls in the middle of the night needing help and protection from a crazed and violent boyfriend... in short, she wants to come home.

On one hand, Adam, Mercy and pack have their hands full once Christy arrives, finding that this is more than a little relationship drama - Christy is badly hurt, her friend was killed and in short order, her home is burned to the ground. It's the unfortunate consequence of getting yourself involved with a vengeful and jealous volcano god.

On the other hand, what the hell is wrong with not writing a book with crazy ex-wife drama? Between Christy's multiple attempts to undermine Mercy, her clinic on manipulation and Adam's looks and placating tone, I could barely focus on Canary Island tribal legend, the return of Coyote and the walking stick and, surprise, the introduction of Mercy's half-brother. Not to mention the angry Fae who would like nothing better than to annihilate the Tri-Cities if he doesn't get his way.

Clearly, I could have done without a lot of the spectacle of domestic discourse and been happy to have explored any other story line more. The thing I commend Briggs on in her writing is her handling of her female leads... in a genre inundated with bad ass female heroines, Mercy (and more so, Anna) have a sense of stillness, a somewhat introverted nature, and the desire to make sound, contemplative decisions. There's a maturity to her heroines that I greatly admire. Sure, they can do some damage, but they're not the most powerful in the lot and they generally need a fair amount of wit and heart to win in the end. In this case though, I very much needed Mercy to stand up for herself in some of those stereotypical ways, even if it rocked pack politics.

In a nutshell, I'm glad this book is over. The urge to punch a fictional character in the face is not one I find enjoyable or healthy, and I was very much glad to get Christy as a central problem out of the way and out of this series, finally. Hopefully.

4 Stars
A Prisoner in Malta by Phillip DePoy
A Prisoner in Malta: A Christopher Marlowe Mystery - Phillip DePoy

Going to the library on a lazy Saturday is a dangerous proposition, especially without a mission. Unlike a bookstore, at the library you can have all the books - or at least according to the card holder guidelines, one hundred check-outs at a time.

Librarians are worse than any bookseller too, they entice you the way no sales table can -- by creating displays, like 'Fall in love with First Lines' and 'If you liked this, you'll like that'. Something that just begs you to investigate. I succumbed to one such display and picked up a book whose title and cover sang to me...The English Agent. Scanning the inside cover, I found that it was book two - I quickly remedied that problem (reading in order is a must) by locating a digital copy of A Prisoner in Malta in Overdrive and made my way, practically whistling, to check out.

One might wonder why this book called to me - I'm not a history buff and have never really ventured into a ton of historical fiction either. BUT, I do have a passing interest in Shakespeare and a couple of months ago I came across this article that gave more credence to Marlowe's influence on Shakespeare, even attributing co-authorship of some work. I've always known of some theories along these lines, but this in particular is what was floating around the surface of my brain when I ran across this book.

In truth, I'm probably an excellent fit for this book - I'm someone who's not overly familiar and who is willing to let go of accuracy in the name of a good time. The mystery is mostly based around a true plot to poison Queen Elizabeth I...for reasons, mostly religious ones:

"In point of fact, Marlowe’s father had been born just after King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy, the law that established the English King, and not a foreign pope, as head of the church. The Anglican Communion was in all other ways indistinguishable from the Catholic—confusing times for the religious in England. But by the time Henry’s daughter Elizabeth was on the throne, that confusion had been removed: it was illegal to be a Catholic in England. The Pope’s subterranean war to pull England back into the fold was met by Elizabeth’s iron determination to uphold her father’s law, provoking the most savage plots and heartbreaking betrayals in the history of the country. So Marlowe was absolutely unwilling to admit any religious affiliation, especially to such rude strangers."

Major historical players are present, like Dr. Rodrigo Lopez:

“Dr. Lopez?” Pygott jeered, recognizing the famous name. “The Portuguese Jew bastard what made poisons for Robert Dudley?”

And if that name isn't familiar, perhaps this fellow, the original spymaster:

"Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth, was the man in charge of Her Majesty’s foreign, domestic, and religious policy. His reputation was towering, and Marlowe found himself in reluctant awe. A rabid Protestant, he had, almost single-handedly, enabled exploration of foreign lands, established English colonies across the globe, and created the greatest navy in the world."

And, of course, a young but brilliant student and aspiring poet/playwright, Christopher Marlowe:

“Marlowe,” he said. His voice was unexpectedly melodious, like the low notes of a viola da gamba. Marlowe nodded once and, with some effort, held his tongue. “We require your services.” Marlowe swallowed. “The Queen and I,” Walsingham continued.
“I—I’m not certain—sir,” Marlowe stammered.
“My men have been watching you for two years,” Walsingham interrupted, “in Canterbury and in Cambridge. You are a remarkable young person. We believe that you have certain talents which will serve your country well.” “Talents?” His voice sounded strange in that room. “You are unsurpassed in your ability at using words to persuade,” Walsingham began, “and if your words fail, you are likewise adept with a dagger and a rapier. You rarely exhibit fear. You never avoid confrontation. Your theatrical talents make you a man able to play many parts. Your amorous exploits are legendary among your companions. And you are a spectacularly convincing liar.”

One of the things I loved about this writing was how artfully crafted it was - carefully weaving history and intention into the fiction. Even though I'm not even remotely intimate with Marlowe's factual personal history, what I do know is that he died young in a fight over a bar tab - I think it's a fair assumption that someone who dies over something so silly is someone who has faulty fear and confrontation synapses.

DePoy is not only thoughtful, but he's funny. For me, the storytelling was a reminiscent mixture of several movies that I adore, “Shakespeare in Love”, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”, and the “The Princess Bride”. DePoy weaves the creation of Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepard to his Love” into the story while he’s sleuthing, there is some nearly absurd humor with clever word play in the dialogue exchanges, and even, a laughably inconceivable villain.

All the while, the action and mystery never stop – it’s almost ridiculous in how it never stops. The turns and twists abound and character after character are introduced. In fact, DePoy quips:

“Well,” Marlowe allowed, “the possibility (view spoiler) being the killer had been building in my mind for some time. First, I systematically eliminated all other suspects.”
“By which you mean you guessed incorrectly several times.”
“Yes,” Marlowe plunged ahead,”

Though the journey is truly the long way around, all the groundwork is there to solve this plot. Personally, it seemed there was purpose in such a long journey, the purpose of showing the breadth of turmoil and intrigue possible for the period. For this reason it did drag a smidge in the middle but this could easily be a symptom of how quickly I consumed the book – I raced through it in less than a day. I could say how a smidge more attention to atmospheric detail would have been swell to really land us in Renaissance England, but I can’t fault the dialogue heavy narrative for a character that was himself, a playwright.

Overall, I pretty much adored this read and might even compliment the next librarian I see for their book-pushing ways. The English Agent is on my night stand for soonish consumption, and in the meantime as a once upon a time thespian myself, these Christopher Marlowe words will stick with me:

“Theatre is the truest metaphor of life we human beings have yet invented. Better: this life is a play, you understand?”

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2 Stars
City of Wolves by Willow Palecek
City of Wolves - Willow Palecek

A very okay piece of quick fiction, it felt like a beginners effort if I were being completely honest. I wasn't entirely hooked into any part of the story, but pushed to finish it because it was only 96 pages, so why not?

Whatever this was trying to be, whether steampunk, or noir, or some hybrid of gaslight paranormal slash urban fantasy, I'm not sure, but it didn't work. It lacked all the pop on the page that any of those categories require - in short, it was shallow. One might argue that it's intent was to be quick and perfunctory, it is a novella after all, but length is hardly an excuse a lifeless execution.

Here's my biggest gripe. The author forgot that magic has a price, whether that price is paid by performing it or by having knowledge of it, treating it flippantly destroys any wonder for the reader.

Along those lines, even the title is a little careless...the only punchline to the book is given away by those three words. How anti-climatic is that, to get through all 96 pages to find out the the city is full of wolves. You don't say?

The protagonist himself, Alexander Drake, starts as a drunken fellow who might have something interesting up his sleeve - he's private drunk detective who is seemingly broke and perhaps disreputable? A little cliche but perfectly ripe for a nice backstory. Unfortunately, all personal characterization is tossed aside in the name of pacing, or at least, that's what it felt like.

I picked this up on my Overdrive account and it was such a quick read that I can't fault anyone for trying it. As a short mystery, it does work even with its problems - a puzzle was solved. I would give this author another shot down the road if anything else was published. There was a spark here that could catch light if allowed some greater fuel...but in this case maybe the paper was a little damp or something.

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The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss
The Butter Battle Book- Signed Ltd Edition - Dr. Seuss

We all are intimately familiar with the glorious rhyming and the honest joy of reading a Dr. Seuss book aloud. Considering some of the check-outs that my kindergartner has brought home this year - the kind I begrudgingly cracked open and read each night with the sort of over-taxed smile and forced lilt necessary to make it through the more inane children's books - seeing a Dr. Seuss was a great relief. One that I've never read or heard of to boot!

Unfortunately, the nightly recite until turn-in-time for this library book has probably already been nixed.

"That was boring."

Sigh. Even though I poured every ounce of theatre into that first reading, I have to admit that I tend to agree. Not only that, but I had to do some quick thinking about how to talk about the book with my kiddo... in a surprising turn for a Dr. Seuss book, I wish I would have known the subject matter before diving in.

This book, published in 1984, is anti-war cautionary tale. It probably has good intentions. There's no denying that it could be said to be relevant to today.


As told by a Zook grandfather to his dear grandson, the Yooks butter their bread on the wrong side, which cannot be tolerated - so a wall had to be built, patrolled and armed. But with each Zook arm, came a better, more spectacular Yook arm - to the Zook Tough-Tufted Prickly Snick-Berry Switch, a Yook VanItch Sling shot to smash it smithereens. And so it goes...until they both come up with the "Big-Boy Boomeroo" which will destroy both Zook and Yook land with loads of toxic blue goo (or something very close to that).

Zooks and Yooks march underground. The last page, a cliffhanger, a face off between the two sides ready to drop the annihilating boomeroo. The question hangs, "will they or won't they?".

The problem I faced with this possibly timely and important subject matter is that it's more relevant to adults than it is to my child. We're not born with war, we teach it. It was boring because for my kid the conflict was worse than stupid, it wasn't even something he could comprehend. Why would two people be so angry over which side the bread is buttered on? Beyond the fact that I had trouble with the story that equates some real moral issues with something as simple as a matter of opinion - I was faced with a slightly deeper dilemma - do I explain to him that this type of supreme idiocy exists in the world? Surely he'll find that out for himself soon enough?

Because it was bedtime I decided to put off that revelation for another day and preserve whatever quiet innocence I could for just a little longer. I'm sure many people would disagree with me there, but I think a parent should follow their own compass.

"It was boring. Last book for the night, should we let the Pigeon drive the bus, again?"

Sting by Sandra Brown
Sting - Sandra Brown

3.5 stars

After my last dud of a thriller, I was in a specific mood...a Sandra Brown mood.

Sting is unapologetic fantasy wish fulfillment but when it comes from the keyboard of Sandra Brown, I rarely care. I'm a junkie for her romantic suspense because she knows how to write a page burner. From the palpable zing of her plot twists to the scorching tension between hero/heroine, she takes you right to the edge of dangerous territory before showing you her hand. It is something that you have to experience to understand.

When professional hit-man, Shaw Kinnard (view spoiler), abducts Jordie Bennett to negotiate an increase to his fee, he surmises pretty quickly that he'd do anything to protect her from the man that wants her dead.

Jordie would do anything to make sure she survives. Finding out why her brother, Josh, is on the lam is important to her but returning him to the care of the FBI who is protecting him after he turned informant on the very man that wants her dead, is even moreso.

Murder and running and chasing and tracking ensue. Jordie has her moments (view spoiler) but she has her secrets too and just like falling dominoes, they tumble out one by one until the end.

And, I have to say this, SB is great with her mystery, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention how insanely hot her the sexual tension is - I'm warning you for your health because it is ratcheted up to the nth degree. Buyer beware of the anticipation, I've encountered few writers who handle this so well.

This is a formula book, absolutely. The saving grace in a formula book is that there are still surprises and points in it's favor - I didn't guess the result of the mystery even though I'm very familiar with SB's formula, so that's a point. The cops and other agents who are actually doing their job to track all perpetrators were actually likeable and not idiots, so that's a point. For the most part SB steers clear of things she has no knowledge about, she doesn't get into procedure, doesn't over complicate the motive or try to be overly clever with the plot - that's a point. I just can't give it all the stars because it is what it is and I've read a variation on her theme in the double digits.

All in all, it's a fun piece of escapist fiction with a level of professional writing that I really appreciate in a mass marketed book.

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The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Laura "Lo" Blacklock has the opportunity she's been waiting 10 years for, to cover an exclusive cruise on it's maiden voyage for the travel magazine, Velocity. Before she sets foot on the gangplank however, the tide of her opportunity pulls away to reveal a nightmare, sucking her into an undertow that just won't let her go.

I've already made this sound more interesting than it is because for however much this book tried to be thrilling and action packed - Lo was faced with a home robbery, strangling insomnia, a mysterious woman, and a likely murder - overall, it was dis-jointed and boring, never really picking up the steam or smarts necessary to keep me engaged.

When insidious intentions by every character were hinted at, Lo's reactions were so strange that I was wondering if it was all just a paranoid hallucination. For the briefest moments I felt like it was veering towards a psychological thriller but when the protagonist won't stop drinking long enough to be lucid, characterization takes a nose dive into too-stupid-to-live territory. That should be a no-fly zone for any 'strong female' character that's going to have to use her brain to solve a mystery and ultimately, evade abductors.

And it didn't stop there, after the visit to TSTL territory, Lo tripped into the land of make-believe where a character can overcome incredible physical obstacles, like a badly sprained ankle, to run barefoot in the woods of Norway for miles uninhibited.

The week I read this book, I fell asleep early every single night after cracking it open to put a new dent in the current chapter. I got more sleep that week than I had in the previous 8 years - ten hours, every night with this baby. If you're thinking that that is pretty much the worst endorsement for a book, you'd be right. Especially one that is touted as an edge of your seat, nail biter.

This one was a best-selling dud, it lacked any real thrill and was very slow through the middle. All attempts to mislead the reader worked against the character who comes off as rude and unlikeable. I rarely regret reading a book because even when I don't enjoy it I've come away with a new experience....but I do regret buying this book. Then again, hey, maybe I have some HPB credit in my future?

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Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists

Sisters: The Lives of America's SuffragistsSisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Cast off the shackles of yesterday..."

Abusive husbands, isolation, overwhelming work of the home, sole responsibility in rearing children, little to no outlet for creativity, demands for sex in a marriage where the thought of pleasure plays in the background under the fear of getting with child, again. The physical drain of multiple pregnancies, the emotional drain of infant death and the unknown postpartum depression. All experiences of some woman in marriage, many in which they had little say and even less recourse.

The inability to be independent. The societal pressures of place. The inability to own property, speak in most public places, hold positions of authority or really, positions anywhere except in the home. The understanding that you have no voice, even in your own life once you marry - but no honest and decent way to be successful without marriage. This what most women faced in the 19th century.

It makes perfect sense that the cause of woman's rights piggy-backed those of anti-slavery.

"Shoulder to into the fray..."

Lucy Stone's oration, Susan B. Anthony's strategies, E. Cady Stanton's words, Frances Willard's accommodation (which paved the way for modern day feminism), and Paul's radical actions that tipped the pot - all women who worked tirelessly for the cause of women's rights and the vote. In this book, Jean H. Baker showed me their hard fought accomplishments (even when they seemed slight), and made me stand in awe of the very sacrifices and difficulties they shouldered their entire lives. For my sake.

"Our daughter's daughters will adore us..."

It's hard for me to put comprehensive thoughts together without simply repeating the history learned, but there were things about each woman that stood out to me...

Lucy Stone's words, from letters mostly, were gorgeous and I wish she had written a personal history like the others. Striving to put herself into school for seven years, then doing so, then spurning the dogged advances of Henry Blackwell until he proved himself, and then being the first recorded woman in American history to not take his name in marriage? Fascinating and brave.

And it's such a shame not to mention how she was a most popular and successful anti-slavery lecturer, how she stood for independence in a marriage and the right for women to speak publicly and own property. She was forever a 'woman disappointed' but was a portrait of hard work for many woman's causes, including and most importantly, the vote.

Susan B. Anthony. In my mind, this woman was a bully. She lived in 'blessed singleness' and was doggedly single minded - women needed to be able to vote to accomplish any type of equality, to gain any form of freedom. She was devastated when Lucy Stone dared to marry and put-out when her own best friend, E. Cady Stanton also succumbed (and had children, the horror). As Baker said, she was Napoleon. Her strategies were what gave Woman's suffrage a voice, and while others were seeking suffrage at the state level, she understood that true change would only come from a constitutional amendment.

Though Anthony positioned the voice to be heard, her best friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, gave the voice life. Cady Stanton was the writer and organizer. She backed Anthony every step of the way (although sometimes only after she was done nursing her babe) and proved an integral cog in Anthony's machine, yet neither taking credit for their part. Cady Stanton most inspired me with her vocal stance that women be self-reliant, something that my own mother instilled in me and of which I'm grateful.

She was a mother of seven children, five of which were boys...needless to say, there was a lot in that quarter that I identified with and yet, though exhausted and in need of a long vacation, she found the time and stamina to do big things.

One of the most refreshing things about these women was that they were flawed. In fact, I'm not sure that I actually like any of them, though I certainly admire and respect them. Frances Willard, on the other hand, had a way that appealed to me and a philosophy that encouraged me. She was accommodating. Of the strong belief that women should stand for their vote, she encouraged this by any and all means chosen by that woman. Unlike Stone's roots in her Quaker background, Anthony's determination that women not marry and give up what little rights they had, or Cady Stanton's belief that only the educated be allowed to vote, Willard felt that all women had the right to pursue the course best suited for them. She was most inspiring, to me.

Which brings me to Alice Paul. I think, without really having any basis in fact, that beyond Anthony, Alice Paul is most remembered as being the driving force to suffrage victory. The interesting thing to me about this book is that though this may be true, she certainly was the last, loudest voice in the final push, it seemed to me that the ratification of the 19th amendment was more of a result of perfect timing. In the end, after decades of speechifying, traveling, lectures, petitions and picketing by thousands of women, Alice Paul's radical drive to get the woman's vote above all other concerns (including that of WWI) tipped a stubbornly self-righteous Woodrow Wilson over the edge into hypocrisy. Paul's prison time and horrid treatment within (which caused public outcry) during a time when Wilson was calling for democracy among other nations while he sat in a country where 20,000,000 of its citizens could not themselves take part...well, there wasn't anything left to do but save face and encourage Congress.

"And they'll sing in grateful chorus..."

This isn't to downplay Paul's amazing courage, or those women who stood with her. What the adage "timing is everything" does remind me of in this movement and Paul's time, is that when we truly stand up for the things that are important, when we are in the midst of a long battle, when the mountain seems so insurmountable, when there is no coming dawn on our horizon- the battle is still worth fighting - we do not know how things will unfold or when that last piece necessary for victory will come.

I really enjoyed this book. It did read like a textbook and it was a little dry, but it was also compelling and marvelously written. Baker has such a deft hand with her history, teasing you with interesting and relevant tidbits but never veering from her topic at hand. I did a deplorable job relaying that this book is really about these women's lives more than their accomplishments and public face. To make up for that in the end, all I can say is that for those who are interested in this history, this would be a great book to pick up.

"Well done, Sister Suffragette."

(Can you tell that Mary Poppin's Sister Suffragette played on repeat in my head during the duration? I won't expound on the disappointing epiphany I had about the movie after reading this book however...)

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