Set at the start of the 13th century, The Alehouse Murders by Maureen Ash is the first in the Templar mystery series. In this opening tale, Bascot de Marins, a Templar Knight has recently returned to England after eight years as a Saracen captive. While imprisoned, he lost his right eye and during his escape from a ship wreck his right ankle was crushed. On his return to England, he finds that his family has all died of a plague, all of which plays a part in his loss of faith. To help him recover from his suffering in body and mind, de Marins is sent by the Templar Master in London to the city of Lincoln to service at the castle there under Nikolaa de la Haye, the castellan and her husband, the sheriff of the county.
Not long after his arrival, four people are founded murdered in an alehouse in Lincoln, including the barman. The only witness to this gruesome act is the alewife, who is found hiding in the out building. De Marins is asked by Nikolaa de la Haye to look into the murders and so he does with his young servant, Gianni at his side. What at first appears to be a simple, tavern brawl soon turns into a complicated who-dun-it. The Alehouse Murders, while having a few weak points, is an enjoyable read for fans of medieval history and/or historical mysteries, especially with its insights into life in Lincoln around 1200.
The order of the Templar Knight Mystery Series:
1. The Alehouse Murders
2. Death of a Squire
3. A Plague of Poison
4. Murder at Christ's Mass
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“…first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 Inaugural Address
Fear, in many cases, is a particularly nasty emotion - one capable of causing all sorts of trouble for us, often in the form of deplorable actions executed by otherwise kind, sensible people. In fact, one could say that to live in constant fear is perhaps the worst scenario possible for the human animal. In 1946, the German author Rudolf Ditzen, writing under the pseudonym Hans Fallada, penned an amazing work entitled Every Man Dies Alone (Jeder Stirbt Für Sich Allein) in a mere four weeks, which was published for the first time in English in 2009. Set in 1940s Berlin, the Nazi regime exercised total control of Germany and subjected the entire populace to intense scrutiny and intimidation, resulting in a reign of terror that maintained a ceaseless level of fear over all.
It is within this climate that the reader meets a rather broad spectrum of characters, who contend with this environment in very different ways – there is the sniveling snitch, the common criminal, the grieving parent, the dangerous opportunists, but most are everyday folks who are simply trying to survive the war and the regime with their lives and wits.
Mr. Ditzen found his “inspiration” for this novel in a Gestapo file given to him of a real-life couple, who conducted a campaign of anti-Hitler, anti-Nazi postcards that were anonymously left in various spots all over Berlin, and while this may sound rather small in scale; this was a capital crime at the time. Obviously, since there is a Gestapo file involved, there was not the happiest of endings to this story, but then, I don’t believe it was written for that purpose; rather, Mr. Ditzen paints an astounding and somewhat dizzying picture of what wartime Germany under Hitler and the Nazis was like for the average German.
Through the many short chapters jumping back and forth between characters, Mr. Ditzen creates a story that keeps the reader wanting, nay, needing to continue in order to know what comes of the various characters and their intermingled lives, lives that, to varying degrees, confront their fear in the end.
A concise biographical narrative of Mr. Ditzen is available through the Biography Resource Center database, accessible through the library’s website:
Hans Fallada. (2010). Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from Biography Resource Center database.
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I don’t know how many of you out there are familiar with a lovely little piece of American history called the Federal Writers’ Project. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, feel free to jump ahead and for those of you who don’t know, let me enlighten you. The Federal Writers’ Project was an arm of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was created in 1935 at the height of the Great Depression. The purpose of the WPA was to provide employment for the millions of unemployed throughout the United States, including writers, journalists, editors, and novelists.
The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) is best known for creating a series of regional and state travel guides. Within five years, the state travel guides were wrapping up and by 1939, the administrators of the FWP were looking for another large, culturally pertinent project to take on. This is when America Eats was born. The intention of America Eats was to create a guide to American regional foods! This was a time before mass marketing of prepared foods and before the American highway system enabled quick and easy travel. Work on America Eats began, but soon the energy and finances of the nation were drawn to the beginning of war.
With the advent of World War II, the hard copy for America Eats was dumped into the National Archive with very little organization or cataloging. Nearly 70 years later, Mark Kurlansky, an author that can only be described as brave and insatiably curious, poked his nose into the five boxes full of carbon copied and blurry typed manuscript pages that constituted America Eats. Kurlansky has edited this mass of primary source material detailing a way of living and eating that no longer exists in America and assembled into the book The Food of a Younger Land .
This is a lovely little gem of a book. It can be picked up and put down whenever the mood strikes you. It is far far more than a list of pre-war recipes. Recipes are included, as are essays on regional eating and little anecdotes written by Kurlansky himself. There is an excellent introduction, written by Kurlansky that provides insight into the inner workings of the FWP. The book is arranged by region and includes a table of contents and an index, making it easy to find specific state, regional, or author references.
Some of the articles include an author byline and many do not; often, Kurlansky has provided us with background information on an author letting us know what they did after America Eats. Eudora Welty is probably the most notable FWP contributor in this collection. She provided an article on Mississippi food, including recipes for Stuffed Eggs, Lye Hominy, and Vicksburg’s hot potato salad. There are some recipes from Kentucky included as well as the Brown Hotel’s 1940 Christmas Dinner. I would encourage any armchair historian or really anyone who enjoys eating or cooking, to check out The Food of a Younger Land.
Interested in more works produced by the WPA’s Federal Writer’s
Federal Writer's Project
Kentucky Federal Writer's Project
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When you are surrounded by books and book reviews all day choosing what to read in my spare time can find me agonizing over many different titles. So how do I choose? Sometimes I will read for fun and entertainment, so my love of a good mystery usually wins. However, I believe the biggest motivator for me is to find books that take me into to the lives and experiences of others in order to understand the world in which I live. Therefore mainly I read biography, history and realistic fiction.
As I write, it is one week until African American History Month, 2011. Most of my understanding of the African American experience in this country has come from books so I want to share some that have been important to me.
Like many other high school students, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, opened my eyes to racial bigotry and its consequences. Over the years there have been many more books that have continued to educate me. To name a few: Alex Hailey’s Roots; Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman; the biographies of Maya Angelou; Alice Walker’s [i]The Color Purple; Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Jazz; Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; and Valerie Boyd’s biography of Hurston, Wrapped in Rainbow.
This past year I have read four titles that have added to my awareness of African American life and culture.
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a novel about the black women who were the enslaved mistresses of their white owners.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot documents the struggle of the Lacks’ family to understand how harvested cells from Lacks, a poor black woman who died from cervical cancer, advanced medical breakthroughs over the last 60 years.
Like Harper Lee, Kathryn Stockett is a young, white, fiction author. Her book, The Help, is about African American maids in the South at the time of the Civil Rights movement.
In Grace of Silence NPR correspondent, Michele Norris chronicles her family’s racial history, she discovered while researching the book she started out to write about race in America.
You don’t have to wait until African American History month to read books by and about African Americans but February does remind us to seek them out and add them to our reading lists.
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In light of the recent popularity of Cory Doctorow’s first YA joint, Little Brother , I decided to re-read one of his earlier works. I chose Eastern Standard Tribe because I enjoy Doctorow’s writings and the premise had seemed a bit wacky at the time. As I suspected, it has gotten more plausible in the intervening years.
The novel’s basic premise is that our high-tech world has created new Tribes, ones wherein its members have more in common by the hours they keep and the types of activities they remotely participate in rather than by proximity, blood, or soil. The main character, Art, is a kind of spy working to advance the interests of the title Tribe. Art is a User Experience consultant for a European communications corporation where he actively designs poor-quality products and services that help to give his Tribe an edge in the global marketplace.
No longer wacky is the idea that people who live in disparate parts of the world “synch” themselves up to each other. At the time of its release, the electronic world was not as seamlessly integrated into everyday life as it is has become. Six years ago, most had never heard of Facebook, Skype, or other advanced social network platforms that are an integral part of today’s social life. Communication between cell phones, PCs, laptops, and audiovisual peripherals was difficult – when not impossible – so that one’s online time was allotted to mostly one thing or the other rather than today’s everything anytime situation
Art confronts very real existential questions about meaning and loyalty throughout the book. The narrative is intertwined in two stories – Art’s present-time incarceration in a mental ward and the months leading up to his current predicament – with each perspective presented in alternating chapters. Doctorow throws in just enough of a mystery twist along the way to give the tale some oomph and enough humor to make Art’s musings less ponderous than they could have seemed.
I would recommend this story for lovers of cyberpunk, “lad lit” (humorous British authors such as Nick Hornby ), and the fiction of Douglas Coupland.
*Download Eastern Standard Tribe or Little Brother for FREE! Thank you Cory Doctorow.*
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