Monday, April 21, 2008

Murder and Mayhem!

Murder and mayhem….

I was taking my undergraduate classes at the University of Texas at Arlington. I ended up gravitating towards classes in the English Department. Up until this time in my life, I only read romance novels. I am not ashamed to admit it. But, then I took a class that changed my reading preferences. It seems like centuries ago when I took the class with Dr. Lacy.

Hard-boiled or traditional detectives, Dr. Lacy taught a class illustrating the difference between the two. I was introduced to the world of mysteries. Dr. Lacy had us compare the hard-boiled detectives in the Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes novels against modern authors such as Sue Grafton, and Elizabeth George. I even read the Maltese Falcon. I would NEVER have picked that up before his class. His class wasn’t easy. However, I will always remember his teaching and test methods.

Dr. Lacy taught us to pay attention to all of the details in a mystery. We played games such as Concentration or Match Game, where we had to know the details of the story and which book it was in. If you got the answer correct, he gave you a tootsie roll pop. His exams were multiple choice, however, they were quite difficult. For instance, what color was the lamp on the table in the living room? We learned to remember those details. The experience is something I will never forget.

Fast forward to 2008. Mysteries are all I read, for the most part. However, because of his class, I was encouraged to read all types of mysteries. I have read the entire Detective Kinsey Millhone, alphabet series by Sue Grafton. The series works of lawyer Ben Kincade, by William Bernhardt, or the gruesome works of Patricia Cornwell. The Inspector Linley novels of Elizabeth George, which takes place in Great Britain, and the Cat Who books of Lilian Jackson Braun. However, lately, I am reading Harlan Coben.

His mysteries are keep you at the edge of your seat. You NEVER know who did it and how it is going to end. I love his work because as the reader, you spend your time reading the book just positive you know who did it! The latest book that I read by him is The Woods. Some very bad things happened to several young adults during summer camp. As the reader you get so involved in the lives of the characters that you are trying to figure out what happens too. He has a new title out Hold Tight. I can’t wait to read this new title—even though I work at the library, I have to wait my turn just like anyone else.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Exercising at the library

At work, I am participating in a Health and Wellness program that encourages city employees to eat right and exercise. Being at the library, I have a head start on all of the information I need about exercise and diet. Three fat chicks on a diet: because we're all in it together is an excellent book in trying to decide what diet is right for you. You get the pros and cons of each diet, guilt-free ways to snack and still stay with the program, and straight talk for making the diets work for every meal of the day from not only the authors but opinions culled from their online forum.

Once I decided what diet I wanted to try, keeping on it has been hard. One gigantic help has been the website They find the nutritional information on various store brands as well as tons of restaurant information. The best part is that they don't promote one diet over another so you can find not only carb information, but also calories. Its like having your own nutritional labels that you can read before you buy. And I couldn't get by without finding some good recipes when I have time to cook at home. I love Alton Brown's [of Food Network fame] I'm just here for the food: food + heat = cooking, because it explains why you cook certain foods in certain ways, but unfortunately, he doesn't do calorie counts. For that I can read a book such as The Good Morning America cut the calories cookbook : 120 delicious low-fat, low-calorie recipes from our viewers. Or I can also go to my favorite cooking website,, which converts all of their recipes with the calories and fat per serving.

As for exercise, the library has tons of DVDs from cardio to pilates to bellydancing! Kathy Smith is the queen of aerobics, and The rules of fat burning doesn't dissapoint with five separate workouts. Since there is such a variety of DVDs I won't get bored. Keeping to a schedule will be the hardest part.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Poetry, Financial Aid, Gardening and more!

There is always some event going on at the Central library or one of the branches. This month will be especially busy. Look for more events in May, such as a home organization workshop, and during the summer when we will be hosting our annual summer reading club. This year our theme is Vacation Readers go Everywhere.

While you are waiting for summer, take a look at what is coming up this month:

An Evening with Texas Poet Laureate Larry D. Thomas
April 14, 7-8:30 p.m. Southwest Branch

Please join us for An Evening With Larry D. Thomas. Mr. Thomas was appointed by the Texas Legislature as the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate. He retired in 1998 from a thirty-one year career in social service and adult criminal justice, and has since that time published eight collections of poems. His ninth poetry collection, New and Selected Poems, will be published by TCU Press in May 2008 as the fourth volume of the TCU Press Texas Poets Laureate Series. Mr. Thomas will read to the audience from his work.

Addendum: Mr. Thomas's book, "New and Selected Poems" is available at the Arlington Public Lirary

College Financial Aid
April 15 from 6 to 7 p.m. Southwest Branch

Need financial aid for college? Silvia BriceƱo from the Educational Opportunity Center will be available to advise interested adults, 18 years or older (U.S. citizens or legal residents), about financial aid to pay for college. You can receive information and assistance with admission and financial aid paperwork as well as career counseling and information about scholarships.Bring your questions and family members or friends who would also benefit from this FREE assistance! Space is limited so call the Southwest Branch at 817-459-6386 to register. Door prizes will be given!

Gardening in Texas: Joys and Challenges
April 20, 2-4 p.m. George W. Hawkes Central Library

Attend this program to hear local experts talk about gardening in Texas. Steve Chaney, Tarrant County Horticulture Extension Agent, will speak on Earth Kind Roses. John Darling of the Arlington Conservation Council will discuss gardening with native plants, composting and Texas Smartscaping. Please bring your questions for an informative event that will keep your garden in bloom all summer long!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Ghost stories, mysteries, and England. Life is good.

I'm a bit of an Anglophile. Okay, more than a bit. When I was a child I repeatedly tried to persuade my parents to pack up and move us all to England. Oddly enough they wouldn't cooperate, so I consoled myself by reading books set in England.

I especially enjoy those books with a strong sense of place, not just of England as a whole but of the smaller regions of England in which they are set. Which is one of the reasons I was delighted to discover the Merrily Watkins series of mysteries by Phil Rickman. They take place primarily in Herefordshire, a county which borders Wales and is known for its black and white half timbered villages and for being the most rural of all the counties.

It isn't only location that draws me to this series. The main characters are sympathetic souls, good people but not perfect. There's Merrily Watkins, a widowed Church of England vicar, who is often too kind for her own good and who isn't even trying to give up smoking, and Jane, her precocious teenage daughter, sarcastic, prickly, yet endearing. And finally there's Lol Robinson, a bruised and fragile musician trying to make his way back into the workaday world. They are joined by a varying cast of supporting characters, some of whom I'd love to have as friends, and others of whom range from mildly annoying to downright duplicitous. Not to mention an occasional villain who is frighteningly worse than that!

In the second books of the series, Midwinter of the Spirit, Merrily is appointed the Deliverance Consultant for the diocese of Hereford. That's a very PC way of saying exorcist, so ghostly presences are always a pivotal part of the plot. That's fine with me; I love a good ghost story so long as it's not too scary. And in these books, it's humans who do the real harm and are the most scary.

But what I enjoy most about the series is discovering which aspects of each story are true and finding out more about them: which characters are or were real people, which things actually happened, which places actually exist. And now I have to make an admission. I very rarely read introductions or credits. Prologues and epilogues are different; they're still part of the story. But introductions and credits are outside the story, and I've always considered them a waste of time. So I'd already read several books in the series before I realized how much of the real world Rickman incorporates in his work. The author states which elements are real in the credits at the end of each book, and if I'd read them, I would have known this a lot sooner. But the gradual realization was kind of fun too, like finding a second gift in a box I thought I'd already emptied.

Among the various things I've been led to investigate are:

the ghost stories associated with Ludlow Castle

the controversy over which location inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's description of Baskerville Hall (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

the ghost stories of M. R. James and his relationship to Herefordshire

the poetry of Thomas Traherne

the folklore of Herefordshire especially as related to apples

Romany folklore

a book on leylines written in 1925, The Old Straight Track (I previously assumed the concept of leylines originated in the sixties or seventies)

the music of Nick Drake who died too young in 1974

the Knights Templar's church in the village of Garway and its nearby dovecote which dates to 1326 and for reasons unknown has 666 nesting holes

the "Hungarian suicide song"

I've also learned what a donkey jacket is, the meanings of various British colloquialisms, and that yew trees can live well over a thousand years and become hollow inside as they age. Sometimes one thing leads to another, and I discover all sorts of interesting things that aren't in the books at all. One of these is the Herefordshire Field Names Database where you can do a search for all the fields (yes, fields, as in "lower forty") in the county with historic names relating to apples or blacksmiths or leys or... and be shown on a map where the fields are. Isn't the Internet wonderful?

The books in the series are:
The Wine of Angels
Midwinter of the Spirit
Crown of Lights (not owned by the library)
The Cure of Souls
The Lamp of the Wicked
Prayer of the Night Shepherd (not owned by the library)
The Smile of a Ghost
The Remains of an Altar
The Fabric of Sin

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Books by Presidents

The year 2008 has been one of the most active and interesting years in decades for politics. There has been record voter turnout, and technology has allowed us to keep up with up to the second information (my favorite: CNN's amazing touch screen map--I want one of these at home on my wall). However, as much as I am enamored with technology, I still like to hold books in my hands and read in-depth information that is much harder to find on the internet and in 30 second soundbites. So I've decided to take a look at books written by presidents. Some presidents are more prolific than others. For instance, Jimmy Carter has written over 15 books, while Gerald Ford's entry on my list was actually "written" by Thomas DeFrank and is comprised of interviews between the author and Ford. Presidents writing books is rarer when you go back through time, so mostly 20th century presidents are represented. One interesting exception is the diary of James Polk, who managed to add three states to the U.S., issue the first postage stamp, and abolish the bank in one term as president. A couple of the writings are more personal than others, but all are entertaining. Click on each book to see the Arlington Public Library's holdings.