Saturday, March 26, 2011

Death of a Chimney Sweep

In the isolated villages of northern Scotland, the residents rely on chimney sweep Pete Ray. After Police Constable Hamish Macbeth finds a dead body stuffed inside a chimney, the entire town of Lochdubh suspects Pete. Then Pete’s body is found on the Scottish moors, and the mystery deepens.

I have a crush on Hamish Macbeth and look forward to every new book in the series. Since I long ago reconciled myself to the idea that Hamish will never progress in either his personal or professional life, I was able to enjoy Death of a Chimney Sweep without expectations. I found this 27th entry to be as light and charming a read as its predecessors.

My passion for Hamish lives on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beowulf on the Beach

With Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits, writer and professor Jack Murnighan says it’s time to give literature another look, but this time you’ll enjoy yourself. He claims that with a little help, you’ll see just how great the great books are: how they can make you laugh, moisten your eyes, and leave you awestruck and deeply moved. Beowulf on the Beach is your field guide for helping you read and relish fifty of the biggest (and most skipped) classics of all time. For each book, Murnighan reveals how to get the most out of your reading and provides a crib sheet that includes the Buzz, the Best Line, What’s Sexy, and What to Skip.

This book is probably most appealing to people who are already lovers of classic literature and would be little help for a non-reader looking for a quick summary of storylines. Although I rarely agreed with Murnighan’s What to Skip recommendations—the first chapters of Jane Eyre? the last chapters of Pride and Prejudice? really?—I did enjoy reminiscing over my favorite classic literature, and learning more about books I haven’t yet read, with someone who clearly enjoys reading the classics as well.

Friday, March 18, 2011

All in the Family: A Look-It-Up Guide to the In-laws, Outlaws, and Offspring of Mythology

What would Apollo's online profile look like? What would Aphrodite say if she had her own blog? Greek mythology hall of famers meet the modern age in a new series that brings the superstars of Greek myth to life with stories that put them in the pantheon. Complete with profiles, headshots, family trees, fascinating sidebars and irreverent surprises, Mythlopedia is for readers who love action, romance, power struggles and more.

This entry in the Mythlopedia series isn’t quite as exciting as the above promotional material makes it out to be.

All in the Family is directed at a young adult audience and profiles the lives (and usually deaths) of several non-Olympian heroes and mortals. At times, Otfinofski tries so hard to sound hip (Midas: “Aw, snap! Check this out, player—anything I touch turns to gold!”) that I found the narrative both irritating and distracting. Most of the relevant information, though, is provided in a concise, easy to understand format.

This book is a good resource for anyone trying to understand basic plots of Greek mythology, but despite its attempts to make family connections clear, I still find the Olympian family tree a muddled mess.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby

I had high hopes for this short story collection. For one, I couldn’t resist its title: There Once was a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales. I also have an affinity for Eastern European literature.

Sadly, the first few stories left me disappointed. Although the author is Russian and the stories take place in Russia, I felt like I'd heard many of them before. In fact, some read like a rehash of scary stories I heard at sleepovers as a child. I also felt no spark in the writing—which, granted, might have been a problem with the translation.

The more I read, though, the more interesting the narratives became. I got into Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's rhythm and found the stories fascinating although traditional. I wouldn’t describe the book as scary, but it definitely leans towards the macabre.