Blog Posts by Ultra Violet

Posted by Ultra Violet on 03/17/11
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I picked this up because I wanted something light and fun. It was certainly witty, but it was much more than I expected in terms of the insight into women's rights. Nora Ephron's stories of her struggles as a young journalist were fascinating, and they were so clearly, objectively written that I felt like I was getting a real sense of what it was like in New York in the 60's for a young woman with ambitious career goals. Some of the other essays included in this book are about aging and her memory loss. Her anecdotes were poignant and charming.
I remember nothing: and other reflections is an enjoyable, pleasant read. Women of Ephron's age can relate to her personal stories, while younger readers can take away some valuable women's history told first hand.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 02/07/11
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This is Toby Ball's debut novel, and I can't wait for his second. The Vaults is a suspenseful tale of three men who get in over their heads while they try to unravel the secrets of a crooked mayor. It's an alternate history set in the 1930's in a nameless city that feels very real. Ball starts his story with Arthur Puskis who is the city's police archivist. For nearly 20 years Puskis has only left the vaults to go home and occasionally stop at the corner store. One day, he discovers a duplicate file. To his exacting mind, this is unthinkable. When he discovers a second forged file, he is compelled to leave his safety zone and investigate. Meanwhile, reporter, Frank Frings, is investigating the suspect mayor and his cronies. A bomb destroys the home of one of the mayor's underlings, and the local union is blamed. More bombings are on the way. One of the union's supporters happens to be a private investigator and he gets involved too. All three men spiral around each other as they piece together the complex mystery and reveal the truth behind the bombings.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 01/19/11
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You may know Chris Kimball as the host of America's Test Kitchen on PBS. This book is a very entertaining account of Kimball's journey through the Fannie Farmer cookbook to stage an authentic twelve-course 19th century supper for twelve in his Victorian brownstone. Kimball's anecdotes about his rather sketchy Boston neighborhood were interesting. But of course, the trials and tribulations he and his staff faced in recreating Victorian cookery were the most amusing parts of the book. Apparently, mock turtle soup is made by boiling a whole calf's head. Kimball tried actual turtle as well, but they are a protected species now, so that complicated matters. There were more adventures with the calves' foot jellies for dessert. 
This is a must-read for foodies interested in the history of American cuisine, but it is also of interest to history buffs, in general. Kimball includes quite a bit of information on life in Boston in the late 19th century. 
Posted by Ultra Violet on 01/05/11
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John Clare was a successful rustic poet in his own time. Set in England in the 1830's, The Quickening Maze tells the story of his time in a mental institution. Ironically, Alfred Tennyson was there at the same time, staying with his brother, Septimus, who was institutionalized as a melancholic. The doctor who owned the asylum, Matthew Allen, had his own problems. He had spent time in debtor's prison and became obsessed with his invention of a wooden machine to carve decorative wooden pieces. As he becomes more obsessed, and gets more investors to give him large sums of money (including Tennyson), Dr. Allen leaves the asylum in the care of a brutal man who abuses and rapes the inmates. John Clare manages to blackmail him into leaving the asylum.
I was not familiar with John Clare when I picked up this book, but I fell in love with some of the characters in the first chapter. It is obvious to me why The Quickening Maze was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. I look forward to more exquisite prose from Adam Foulds. Foulds has also written a novel called, The Truth About These Strange Times and a book-length narrative poem called The Broken Word.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 12/08/10
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When an aspiring self-help guru is murdered in the idyllic Canadian village of Three Pines, the townspeople may have been shocked, but no one was very upset about it. CC de Poitiers was a despicable woman who looked down on everyone, cheated on her hen-pecked husband, and made life unbearable for her over-weight 12-year old daughter. The method for the murder was particularly puzzling. How does someone get electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake during a curling match? It's going to take Inspector Armand Gamache and his plucky team of misfits to unravel this most bizarre mystery.
A Fatal Grace is the second in the Three Pines mystery series. Louise Penny writes with a style that is far above many cozy mystery writers. Although this book is a "cozy" in many respects, there are some instances of foul language that some readers may find objectionable. Penny's character development is a big draw for this book and this entire series. Another strength is the descriptions of the charming town of Three Pines. It reminded me of Cabot Cove from the Murder, She Wrote series in that the reader feels a strong sense of the place and it is so lovely and welcoming, you are ready to book a flight there immediately. Take note; we will soon be adding A Fatal Grace to our book discussion sets.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 11/15/10
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It was not the subject matter of this collection of shorts stories that caught my attention so much as the array of authors which are included. Some of them are old favorites of mine, while many of the others are writers who have been on my "read them someday" list for years. For example, Italo Calvino, Ursula K. LeGuin, Alice Munro, and Ray Bradbury were all familiar to me, but I also enjoyed the story by Anthony Boucher, whose work I had never read before. All of the stories included deal with libraries or librarians in some way, but with vastly differing results. There are romances, and mysteries and some stories which defy genre. With all of the novels and non-fiction books I read, I seem to forget all about short stories. It is singularly rewarding to be able to follow a story start to finish in one sitting.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 09/13/10
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The latest in the "mobile librarian" mystery series, The Bad Book Affairis a fun and delightful cozy mystery for readers who enjoy Irish culture. Isreal Armstrong is a Jewish, vegetarian from London who is working as a bookmobile librarian in the most remote northern end of Northern Ireland. He is wallowing in self-pity over being dumped by his girlfriend, but he has to pull himself together and help find a missing teenager before he ends up being implicated for her disappearance in the newspaper. Worse yet, the missing girl is the daughter of a powerful local politician who has it in for Isreal. With the reluctant help of his bookmobile partner, a very curmudgeonly old Irishman who makes merciless fun of Isreal every chance he gets, the mobile library sleuth manages to untangle the plot. The plot of The Bad Book Affairis not exactly thrilling, but the characters and dialog make it well worth reading. I plan on reading the others in the series to find out why Isreal Armstrong is stuck in this provincial town where he feels so out of place.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 08/30/10
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When I saw the cover of this book amongst the countless all-caps titles and author names with flashy images that adorn most of the new fiction collection, I snapped it up like a gold nugget in a muddy riverbed. The lack of words on a book cover was half of the attraction for me. In particular because it was in the fiction section, so it couldn't be an art book or a poetry collection. I was not disappointed. I wouldn't recommend this book for everyone because it is so unique that readers with a strongly held notion of "novel" will be frustrated by it. From start to finish every sentence in The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? is a question. Yet, Powell manages to establish a substantial character for his narrator, or should I say, interrogator? Not that this feels like an interrogation in any negative sense. The questions spark nostalgia, curiosity, introspection and at times, fear and disgust. By the end, I felt a kinship with the narrator and I appreciated Powell's mastery in crafting this most unusual book. I can't think of when I last felt so strongly that I wish I had thought of that.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 08/09/10
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From the city of Luthadel, the Dark Lord has ruled with an iron fist for over a thousand years. The Final Empire is such a disaster, that the legends of the days when trees were green and the sky was blue seem like a ridiculous fairy tale. The skaa are so oppressed that they aren't even considered to be people by the nobles. Kelsier is their champion, whether they like it or not. He was born a skaa but has the power of allomancy (the ability to manipulate metals to have incredible powers). Kelsier is a Mistborn, a rare type of allomancer who can use more than one type of metal. Kel knows that he can't put his plan in motion alone so he assembles a team of the most powerful allomancers for each type of metal. Through his search he comes across Vin, a teenage girl with remarkable abilities. Together they may accomplish great things but not without tremendous loss.

Brandon Sanderson does a fantastic job of creating an unique and believable world with characters that are very likable. Final Empire is the first of the Mistborn trilogy.

Posted by Ultra Violet on 07/09/10
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Most 19th century circus freaks were unfortunate people born with various physical deformities, however, there were individuals who chose to separate themselves from society; sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, snake-charmers and most of all, the tattooed ladies. The inate fascination with the forbidden along with the reputation of sexual deviance and primitive savagery that went along with tattooing until relatively recently made people willing to pay money to view a scandalously clad young lady covered with tattoos. What I found most intriguing in this book was the accounts of how common tattoos actually were for women throughout history. They were just hidden. Even Winston Churchill's mother had a tattoo which she concealed with jewelery. The Tattooed Lady is a gorgeous book filled with fascinating photos, well-designed graphics and vintage-style fonts that add to the mystique of the subject. An engaging book to read cover to cover or to just peruse for the pictures and captions.

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