Characterization is more important to me than setting or plot when I read fiction. . Even when I read a mystery I want strong characters along with the crime solving. That is why I like series with protagonists that grow more complex with each title.
I just finished reading City of Whispers, Marcia Muller’s 29th mystery featuring San Francisco private investigator, Sharon McCone. The series started in 1977 with Edwin of the Iron Shoes and McCone is considered to be the first hard-boiled fictional female detective. McCone was a young single working as an investigator for a legal coop, but over the life of the series, she has married and formed her own detective agency. Her fictional family and friends come in and out of her books and their growth as characters are strong.
Nevada Barr’s Rope is the 17th title in a series featuring National Park Service Ranger, Anna Pigeon. Track of the Cat, published in 1993, is set in Guadeloupe Mountains National Park in west Texas. Pigeon joins the National Park’s Service after the accidental death of her husband with each mystery is set in different National Park with settings as diverse as Mesa Verde in Colorado, Statue of Liberty Park in New York and Yosemite in California. Pigeon, as she encounters the evil set in mostly idyllic locations, is reflective, turning to her sister Molly, a psychiatrist, for counsel. As Molly has faded out of the series Pigeon aligns with Paul Davidson, an ordained Episcopal minister and sheriff in Southern Mississippi, who was introduced in Deep South set on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
My favorite British mystery series is the Inspector Thomas Lynley mysteries by Elizabeth George. Starting with A Suitable Vengeance in 1991 George has also just published her 17th title in the series, Believing the Lie. Although the series is named for Lynley my favorite character is Lynley’s partner, Sergeant Barbara Havers. The interaction between aristocratic Lynley and working class Havers adds depth to the well-crafted plots.
Three different mystery series are on my radar from author J.A. Jance. Starting in 1994’s Tombstone Courage, young widow Joanna Brady runs for sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona. There are now 14 in the series, including two, Partner in Crime and Fire and Ice, with one of Jance’s other series characters, J.P. Beaumont. Beaumont, first introduced in 1985 in Until Proven Guilty has grown over the 20 volumes in the series so try to look past his early chauvinism. Betrayal of Trust is the latest addition. The Ali Reynolds mysteries are also developing but I thought the first in this series, 2006’s Edge of Evil, was not on a par with Jance’s other offerings. The 7th in the series, Left for Dead, was just released in February.
I’ve read Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, starting with A is for Alibi up to the recent publication of V is for Vengeance. They almost always have strong plots, but I wish that Kinsey Milhone had not remained static in time. It would make her more interesting.
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A few years ago I did something life changing: I joined what is commonly known as a CSA. CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture, and what that means is a person buys seasonal food directly from a local farmer. It also means that a person eats better, period. Sure, it had its challenges; but the advantages the experience provided me, the knowledge I gained and was able to pass on, and the respect I now have for those persons providing the foods I eat far outweigh my initial trepidations. The food tasted better because it was fresh. I lost weight as I enlarged my intake of vegetables and fruits. My self-worth increased because I taught myself to cook.
On Saturday, May 12 the Louisville Free Public Library on York Street is hosting its first-ever How-To Festival. Assuredly, there will be something for everyone to learn and do. A book that will help you learn how to shop, eat, and cook better is Power Foods: 150 Delicious Recipes with the 38 Healthiest Ingredients. It comes from the editors of Whole Living magazine and is a powerful resource covering everything from what we ought to be eating to why we ought to be eating it. The recipes are easy to prepare, many contain fewer than ten ingredients, and all are tantalizingly photographed.
The book begins with an encouraging foreword from Martha Stewart and graceful introduction from the magazine’s editor, Alexandra Postman. Postman’s tone is neither preachy nor militant (sometimes food writing can be these and it is most unfortunate). A helpful primer or reminder, called The Golden Rules, is included. As suggested, copy it, and post it in your kitchen. But if you break them, all is not lost. They aren’t there as commandments, just knowledge.
A short section called Common Terms follows. This is a quick introduction ranging from why a body can’t function without carbohydrates to simplifying the differences between LDL and HDL cholesterols. It also covers fats: what types are found in which foods and why it’s important to monitor one’s intake.
Next are sections devoted to the Power Foods themselves: a full page for every vegetable, fruit, grain and legume, nut and seed, and healthier types of animal protein. Health benefits are explained in easy to read detail along with guides on how to buy and store as well as preparation tips. For instance, if the produce you have access to doesn’t look like the photos, don’t buy it. Spinach shouldn’t appear in slimy bunches. Carrots should be firm. Splits and cracks indicate age and anemically pale colors won’t give you the flavor or nutrients you’re after. Request better stock from your grocer or venture out to one of the many farmers’ markets we have here in Jefferson County. Recipes that include each item are listed on the Power Food’s page. Also fun and interesting is the “Did You Know?” feature.
Then there is the wealth of inspiring recipes for breakfast, sandwiches, soups, salads, main dishes, and desserts. Most recipes are straightforward, uncomplicated and require no special techniques or equipment. That’s one of the beauties of good, fresh food.
The book closes with a chapter on The Basics: a pantry guide to what items to stock, why, and how to use them effectively. An in-depth, clearly written glossary expands information on the common terms at the beginning of the book as well as explains possibly unfamiliar words. One of the best and most helpful aspects is the “Eating for Your Health” chapter. It offers dietary suggestions for people with or wishing to prevent allergies and asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease, diabetes and more. The book concludes with a nutritional index of all the power foods: their serving amount, calories, fat, fiber, and other important factors.
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Brother Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation by Ann Charters and Samuel Charterssubmitted by Tom
What would you expect from Ann Charters when writing about Jack Kerouac? Perfection? Yes, that is what you got! Ann had first seen Kerouac in 1956 at the famous Six Gallery Poetry Reading, later she would become his first biographer (Kerouac 1973). About a decade later she went to Kerouac’s house to work on his bibliography. There she met a drunken, defeated man.
I was unaware of Ann’s closeness to John Clellon Holmes, so this was a very pleasant surprise. I have read Holmes’ two most well-known novels, but was unaware that he was a poet as well. And I had no idea what he did with his life beyond the 1950’s.
Both Jack and John were young, budding, unpublished novelists when they met on 4th of July weekend in 1948. Jack and John were born on the same day (March 12th) four years apart. Jack was the older of the two. Both were New Englanders born in Massachusetts. Both went to Columbia University. Both were heavily into Jazz. Holmes was the first person to read Kerouac’s famous On the Road Scroll on April 27th, 1951.
Kerouac eventually became famous as “The King of the Beats” when On the Road was finally published in 1957. Holmes was virtually unknown and, if read, underappreciated. Kerouac was jealous of Holmes’ GO, but very fond of his second novel The Horn.
Holmes may not have had the talent or excitement of Kerouac, but nonetheless, he is a polished writer who shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored. Although Kerouac had a novel published first (The Town and the City, 1950), Holmes wrote what some consider the first “Beat Novel”, GO (1952). It tells a similar story as Kerouac’s On the Road, but from a different perspective. Many of the same Beat characters are in both novels.
Brother Souls delves deep into the psyches of both authors. Many sordid details of Holmes’ obsessive, drunken sex life are detailed. The language in his journals is frank, and not for the squeamish. Jack and John’s behavior in the 60’s was deplorable. Jack at times turned into a drunken, racist, stumblebum. But through all their unsavory behavior, both continued to write. In their lifetimes, both were ignored as writers much of the time, and often received cruel and unfair reviews.
John and Jack remained writers and friends throughout their lifetimes. This book finally gives Holmes his due as a serious writer who was an integral part of the Beat Generation and not just a writer friend and observer of Kerouac.
If interested, here is a good, in-depth review:
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Moon Called by Patricia Briggs is the first installment of an on-going series (there are currently five subsequent books). Like many first books in the Urban Fantasy genre, there is a good deal of exposition in order to describe the major supernatural beings that inhabit this world. However, the author handles it so smoothly that the reader never loses sight of the unfolding plot.
Mercedes Thompson, better known to the citizens of the Tri-Cities area as Mercy, is not your ordinary young woman. She loves vintage cars and owns her own garage, sure, but that’s not what makes her different. No, Mercy is a shapeshifter that takes the form of a coyote and was raised by werewolves. She regularly crosses paths with other creatures, such as her former boss (a gremlin), an old client (a vampire), and the local witch who cleans up evidence of activities that might reveal the existence of magic to the mundane world.
In pursuit of justice for a young werewolf taken into her care just days before his death, Mercy exacerbates tensions between two wolf packs and takes on nefarious lone wolves who work for a shadowy organization doing medical experimentation on other werewolves. She is also key to discovering the deadly secret that links the various factions to each other. Along the way, Mercy has to navigate the rivalry between a former lover and a potential suitor, each of whom is a powerful player in their respective wolf pack.
There is also a graphic novel adaptation of Moon Called that comes in two volumes.
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If you are an introvert, you've got to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Even if you are more of the extroverted persuasion, it could help you understand the third to half of our population who prefer a “quieter” approach to life. Susan Cain (who, in another lifetime, was a high-powered corporate lawyer and somehow knew she was a fish out of water) admits that she has been working on this book since 2005, but has really been thinking about it all of her life.
We in the USA live in one of the most extroverted countries in the world, one where the subtle strengths of an introvert are not often valued. From the time you were a child you were probably told to speak up in class, make large groups of friends, and join lots of group activities. As an adult, you may work in an open office with no private space and attend meetings in which your quiet voice is not often heard.
This book is filled with fascinating research into how the “extrovert ideal” came to dominate in Western culture. Ms. Cain traces the time in our history when personality with a capital P, rather than character, came to be the most valued trait. The extrovert ideal began to blossom as people moved into teeming urban settings where, unlike life in the farming communities from which they had come, an individual person was just one of the crowd. It became necessary to “sell yourself.” Books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie became popular. Later in the book, she notes how individuals of Asian descent, whose cultures emphasize the qualities of humility and harmony with the whole, may have trouble navigating the extreme extroversion required in our places of education and business.
Ms. Cain looks at current brain research and speculates on how evolution may have required the two aspects of behavior as balancing strengths for human survival. She discusses introverted children in the home and classroom, and partnerships in which one member is an extrovert and the other an introvert. Ms. Cain also suggests ways for introverts to manage their lives to ensure their requirements as an introvert are met.
This is an empowering book for the quiet, reflective, and introspective among us. As the author says at the end, "We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world...The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted." (p.266)
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