Bye bye #BBSReads

So, #BBSReads. 

I finished all three books, and I think I could have actually squeezed in a fourth had I not gotten completely sidetracked by Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess. (Both of which were purchased copies, so I couldn’t count them towards the readathon.) The first couple days of the readathon were a bit slow. I was visiting family that weekend, and so most of my time was spent doing stuff with them. I did manage to squeeze in a few hours of reading, though, and by Day 3 I finished my first book, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I’m planning on doing a standalone review of the book soon, so I’ll go more into detail about what I thought about the book then. But for now, I’ll just say that it was exciting, and very action-packed. Narrative-wise, it wasn’t as polished as Clare’s subsequent books in The Infernal Devices. The prose in City of Bones was rather choppy, and veered on cheesy at times. And the drama, while catalyzing, was a little much for me. (Dare I say, soapy?) But the book was enjoyable. 

I followed with City of Ashes, which is the next book in Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. The main story arc progresses, but at a much slower pace than I thought was necessary. Also, the romantic drama at this point got more irritating, and I was pretty certain that Clare only included certain scenes to artificially propel the angst. By the end of the book, I was wondering why Clare decided to stretch out the series into six installments. I feel she could have condensed the story into a trilogy, and the series would have been better for it. But we’ll see. Maybe there’s some plot twist in City of Glass that requires an additional three books to resolve. 

I finished the readathon on a much different note—a historical mystery called The Hangman’s Daughter. I didn’t get to finish it in time—dang it, The Infernal Devices!—but I had a lot of fun reading it. The central mystery was fascinating, and it kept me guessing all the way to the very end. There’s elements of spookiness to the story—like man with the skeleton hand—that made me wish I had saved this book for Halloween. I really liked the titular hangman, Jakob Kuisl, and his spirited daughter Magdalena. I like that Jakob was a compassionate man, shrewd and intelligent, and incredibly progressive for his time. (17th Century Germany, where witch hunts were still in vogue.) He insisted that Magdalena be taught to read and write, and is himself very well-read. His friendship with the physician’s son, Simon, was also one of my favorite things about the book. (Also, I’m just tickled by Simon’s fascination and love for coffee, which at the time was considered an exotic drink in Germany, and not entirely orthodox.) The author has so far penned three follow-ups to this book, and I am eager to read them all. 

Overall, the readathon was a BLAST. I had so much fun, and in part it’s thanks to YOU guys who read a long with me. You guys definitely made the experience all the more enjoyable, and I hope you guys had fun as well! I’m hoping to do the readathon again next year. The one thing I want to do differently is to also include daily challenges or activities, along the lines of Booktubeathon. I think it would make the experience all the more fun and interactive. But otherwise, same time, same theme. See you guys there?

Happy reading,


IF YOU LIKED : Anya’s Ghost

Welcome to the inaugural post of my new blog series, If You Liked! I was inspired to start this after reading the fabulous blog, Go Book Yourself, and thinking it would be fun to try my hand at book recs. I’m limiting this series to a once-a-month basis, so expect to see more of these on the last Friday of each month. Hope you enjoy!

If you liked Anya’s Ghost, why not try…

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

… for more stories featuring plucky girl leads, mystery, and a dash of the creepy.

Readers—What have you read lately that you would recommend?

Whitechapel (Series 1)

I don’t remember how or when exactly I came across the series initially. It must have been sometime last year and somewhere online. But I do remember being instantly intrigued. The premise was promising, and I was eager to see Rupert Penry-Jones in another role. (I liked his performance in ITV’s Persuasion.) But after the first fifteen minutes of the first episode, I had to hit the stop button. I like to think that I’m not squeamish. I can handle the sight of blood, both on the screen as well as in the real world. But Whitechapel was unlike anything that I had previously watched. It wasn’t excessively gory, but it was downright creepy. I watch TV to be assuaged, not stressed, so I dropped it.

But then came last weekend. I was chatting with a friend, who had recently finished the Whitechapel series. Watch it, she said, it’s really good. And I figured, why not. I don’t have anything on the docket, and I really did enjoy the series—all fifteen minutes of it, before I chickened out. So I watched it. And I don’t think I regret it.

The first series opens in modern day London. It is evening, the 31st of August, and two significant events are happening simultaneously. Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler is at dinner with the big boys of Scotland Yard, tuxed up and charming, and at the verge of a promotion. On the other side of town, a community support officer witnesses a woman’s gruesome death. The victim’s throat is slashed, and she is drowning in her own blood. These events come together when Chandler takes up the DI position at Whitechapel, and subsequently the case of the murdered woman—the final stepping stone, he is told, to his big promotion. The case seems straightforward at first—a “simple domestic”—but Chandler soon finds himself over his head. His team, under Detective Sergeant Ray Miles, is anything but the polished men he was expecting to work with. “Has anyone heard of a shower?” he demands angrily one night, when their unruly attitude and slovenly habits become too much for him. On top of that, the investigation is going nowhere. Once warm leads turn up cold, and quick, and forensics have nothing concrete to provide.

Headway is provided, however in the least likely of forms: Edward Buchan, a cozy, tweed-wearing chatty type who, despite his amateur credentials, prides himself on being the foremost expert on Jack the Ripper, the infamous killer that once stalked the streets of Whitechapel two hundred years ago. Buchan offers a theory: the woman’s murder is a copycat kill of the Ripper. The similarities between the two cases are uncanny, he argues, nearly identical, down to the injuries, placement of the bodies, and the dates & times of death. DS Miles irritably writes Buchan off as just one more overeager local fishing for a contemporary connection to Whitechapel’s sordid history. Chandler, on the other hand—partly out of sincerity, partly out of desperation—believes the theory worth pursuing. His suspicions are confirmed when two more murders surface; each, as Buchan predicted, nearly identical to the subsequent canonical victims of the Ripper.

What follows is a desperate cat-and-mouse chase. Armed only with historical records and grit, Chandler and his team race against the clock to prevent history from repeating itself. If the killer is truly a copycat, there will only be three more murders—three more chances to catch him before he disappears, his true identity spirited away like the Ripper.

Although memory has a funny way of altering itself, I do think that the series was as creepy as I remembered it. Again, it’s not so much the bloody bodies that gets me as the atmosphere of the show. Much of it, I think, is product of the Ripper legend. Even now, just thinking about it makes me tense up. There’s also the chilling sound effects (good grief, those shrieks), the horror-esque camera work, and the eerie score. Working together, they make quite the masterful blend of creepiness, which I find discomforting and yet intriguing. Something to boast about, I think, since mystery series are about as plentiful as vampire books in the YA section, and crime, at the end of the day, is a crime is a crime is a crime.

Creepy aside, I also liked the characters. Penry-Jones makes a easily sympathetic DI Chandler, a man whom you only THINK you’ve got figured out when he pulls up at the crime scene in a tux and posh car. A fast-tracker, a “paper policeman.” And maybe he was at first. But the case changes him, and for the better. He no longer cares for the promotion, the glitzy title, the cushy office. All he wants, in the end, is for the murders to stop, for the killer to be caught. “Do you even know [the victims’] names?” he spits at Anderson, when he realizes that the senior officer’s only concern is politics and standing.

Phillip Davis plays a sharp and delightfully crusty DS Miles, whose initial antagonism towards Chandler is anything but unreasonable. He has thirty years’ experience to Chandler’s middling handful, not to mention the post of command for a good long while. To give up the helm, and to someone he deems as totally unworthy, is a hard reality to swallow. But as the series progresses, his begrudging attitude towards Chandler melts by degrees; almost imperceptibly, until the two of them are sitting, dog-tired and unshaven in a Middle Eastern restaurant, and Miles starts talking about his carp, and you realize, this is the beginning of a new Holmes & Watson, and by Jove it’s gonna be awesome.

Steve Pemberton plays the exuberant Edward Buchan, and I really think he should get some sort of award for the performance because he gives Buchan such depth for a side character. While borderline obnoxious at times, and mildly bumbling, Buchan is no dunce, and he is anything but disingenuous.

The remainder of the crew, although minor characters certainly, are equally memorable. DC McCormick is a big goof at heart with an amiable brogue. DC Fitzgerald is unsavory. DC Finlay Mansell is somewhere between Jason Statham’s Handsome Rob and a douchebaggy older brother. Dr. Caroline Llewellyn is team coroner, whose sense of humanity remain refreshingly untouched by her work. Rounding out the line-up is DC Emerson Kent, the baby of the team whose near-instant loyalty to Chandler warmed my heart. One of my favorite moments is when Kent walks into the incident room with a tailored suit, an unspoken deference to the boss’ new dress code, when everyone else sported ties stamped with questionable phrases like, “I Only Fire Blanks.”

To close what has become an unexpectedly long post, I don’t know if I would recommend Whitechapel. It’s definitely a good show, well-made. But it’s also dark, especially this first series. Not to mention, fodder for panic because … well, the Ripper copycat was someone’s neighbor, and OMG HE LIVED IN AN APARTMENT COMPLEX JUST LIKE ANY OTHER JOE HOW SAFE ARE WE REALLY DO WE REALLY KNOW OUR NEIGHBORS. And honestly, all the good stuff that goes on in the show, like the dry, dark humor—”Sir, she was stabbed 39 times. She couldn’t really say.”—can’t scrub away the creepy imagery that I’ve inadvertently retained in my memory, try as I have. I guess it boils down to your own personal constitution and tastes. If you like horror, then go for it. This stuff is right up your alley. Otherwise, tread cautiously. Or skip the first series altogether, and start from the second, which is far more tame.

As for me, I’ll continue to follow the series. I was impressed by the third series, and can’t wait for the fourth one set to come out later this year.

Whitechapel, Series 1 is currently available on Amazon Instant Video and Netflix.

Image credits: screencaps by me

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Much of Saturday afternoon was spent convalescing in the wake of a very stubborn headache. Managed to go to lunch with friends, but collapsed shortly after. Re-surfaced from depths of very accommodating down comforter around dinnertime. Head and eyes were still pounding, but the discomfort was manageable enough for me to potter about the apartment, catching up as much as possible with my to-do list.

One of the things that I managed to complete was finishing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I admit, I sort of skimmed the last chapter; but I’ve BEEN skimming the book for the last dozens of chapters, and honestly I just wanted to be done with the book. I haven’t been enjoying it. The book seriously lacks in suspense, which I just can’t forgive because BY JOVE THIS IS A MYSTERY NOVEL AND WHAT IS A MYSTERY NOVEL WITHOUT SUSPENSE. And while reading it, I didn’t feel that much was at stake, even though I intellectually recognized that there was much at stake. (For crying out loud, there’s a Soviet mole running loose in the top tiers of British Intelligence!) No one really freaks out, no one makes a scene—I suppose they’re all too pro to do that—they just calmly, matter-of-factly address the problem, threading us along through a series of somewhat bewildering interviews with past Intelligence agents, conducted in paragraphs chock full of Intelligence lingo that, sure, added to the atmosphere of the story but had me feeling more lost than impressed. There was also the issue I had with Jim Prideaux’s stint as a school teacher. Cute, and humanizing, and humorous, but otherwise tangental.

Still, I appreciated the subtlety of Le Carré’s writing. Which I realize undermines everything that I’ve just said. But I guess one can appreciate something without liking it, right? I thought it was neat that he introduced the characters through dialogue and details made offhand by the narrator. It was tiring, keeping track of everyone and where they all stood in relation to each other, but different. And subtle. And I like subtle. I also liked George Smiley. He reminds me a lot of CSI Foyle from Foyle’s War, with his dry humor and understated intelligence. He was a good lead character: strong, smart, and someone you could trust.

I’ll conclude with the trailer from the recent film adaptation starring pretty much every single male big name in contemporary British cinema: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Mark Strong… After reading the book, I can say that the movie was incredibly faithful to its literary original. Definitely give it a watch, if only for the star-studded cast.

A BOOK BY ITS COVER — #1 : Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

When people talk about books, they often talk about the contents of those books — the plot, the characters, the themes and motifs. And rightly so! But oftentimes, I don’t hear people talk about the aesthetic aspect of books — the cover design, the page layout, the excellent (or not so excellent) choice in fonts — and I find that rather disappointing. How a book is packaged and designed is just as much a part of the book as its content! Plus, I like it when people take notice of good design.

Which brings me to introduce with much pleasure a new column, A Book By Its Cover! Every Friday, I’ll feature a book edition which cover design I find interesting or just plain pretty.

Today, I’m kicking off this column with John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Cover illustration by Matthew Taylor. Cover design by Buckley and Kulick.

Isn’t the cover so deliciously eerie? Love that the man’s glasses pops out against his darkened body and the subdued crowd, creating in the reader an immediate sense of panic and suspicion not too much different from that felt by Smiley and his men as they hunt for a Soviet mole. Also, love the blocky text arrangement. I noticed that the author and title are indented into the cover, giving it a sort of letterpress feel. I like the added texture!

 * * *

Readers — What do you think? Does a book’s cover matter? What are some of your favorite book covers?

Bicycling tips from the world of Flavia de Luce

So, this is a bit of a silly post, a (hopefully) fun post. Definitely not a Let’s sit down and discuss literary theory and see how long we can go before we broach the inevitable of Freudian interpretation sort of post. (Although I’m really itching to wash over this book series with a more analytical treatment. Future post, yeah?) But it’s a post that I’ve wanted to do ever since I came up with the idea a couple of weeks ago. And with May being National Bike Month – whooooo! – I figured, why not? I want to make it clear, though, that I don’t really know what my intention is for this entry. I’m certainly no bike guru, and I don’t want to sit you all down for a nice, stern, matron-with-spectacles lecture on how to be a respectable modern-day bicyclist. (I point you to the DMV and local bicycle coalitions for that sort of thing.) Nor am I claiming that Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books should be treated as a manual for the noob bicyclist who wants to learn how to avoid the inconvenience of becoming splatter on someone’s front grill. I guess I just want to draw parallels between the fictional world in my hands and the real world I’m living in. And amuse the inner child in me who can’t help but tug at her mother’s pant legs and exclaim, “Mommy, look! Minnie Mouse and I are wearing the same dress!”



Don’t be afraid of buying secondhand. And maintain thy bike!

Until I rescued her from rusty oblivion, my trusty old three-speed BSA Keep Fit had languished for years in a toolshed among broken flowerpots and wooden wheelbarrows. Like so many other things at Buckshaw, she had once belonged to Harriet, who had named her l’Hirondelle: “the swallow.” I had rechristened her Gladys.

Glady’s tires had been flat, her gears bone dry and crying out for oil, but with her own onboard tire pump and black leather tool bag behind her seat, she was entirely self-sufficient. With Dogger’s help, I soon had her in tiptop running order.

— pg. 72-73 (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)

Going the secondhand or vintage route may take more time and money than buying a glossy new thing fresh out of the factory. Depending on the condition of the bike, you may need a new coat of paint, new gears, new brakes, new tires, and/or a new seat; not to mention, time to research the different makes and models (pros & cons, that sort of thing), as well as time to hunt down good deals on Craigslist and other similar venues. But as Flavia demonstrates throughout the series, going secondhand is definitely NOT settling for second-rate. Flavia is very fond of Gladys, and Gladys has proven herself many times over to be a very sturdy and reliable bike.

Also, this is a good reminder to always keep your bike in good shape. Wipe it down, oil the gears, check tire pressure from time to time, that sort of thing. If you have a leather saddle, it’s a good idea to occasionally treat it with a suitable conditioning cream. Please don’t doom your bike to a slow and rusty death in the family tool shed. I will cry if you do.


Be visible, especially in the rain.

“When cycling in the rain,” Dogger had told me, “being visible is more important than keeping dry.”

“You mean that I can always dry out, but I can’t be brought back to life when I’m impaled on the horns of a Daimler,” I said partly joking.

“Precisely,” Dogger had said with a perfect tiny smile, and gone back to waxing Father’s boots.

— pg. 262 (A Red Herring Without Mustard)

While it would be ideal to be visible AND dry, when pressed to choose between the two always opt for visibility. However, this doesn’t mean you have to run to the nearest outfitter and go crazy on neons! (Although you certainly can if you want to.) Bright colors will do just as well, in my opinion. In this scene, Flavia dons a yellow raincoat, and that gives her ample visibility on the country roads around Bishop’s Lacey.


Give your bike a good name. 

In the kitchen garden, I grabbed my faithful old BSA Keep-Fit from the greenhouse. The bicycle had once belonged to Harriet, who had called her l’Hirondelle, “the Swallow”: a word that reminded me so much of being force-fed cod-liver oil with a gag-inducing spoon that I had renamed her “Gladys.” Who, for goodness’ sake, wants to ride a bicycle with a name that sounds like a sickroom nurse?

And Gladys was much more down-to-earth than l’Hirondelle: an adventurous female with Dunlop tires, three speeds, and a forgiving nature. She never complained and she never tired, and neither, when I was in her company, did I.

— pg. 102 (A Red Herring Without Mustard)

I think this goes without saying, but … bikes need good names too! For those who have trouble coming up with names — I know I fall into that camp sometimes — try names of people you admire, or fictional characters that you like. If that fails, you can always tweak a stranger’s random comment.


Always remember to lock up!

I strolled casually over to the bicycle stand. Ten seconds more and I’d be on my way. And then, as if someone had thrown a pail of ice water into my face, I froze in shock: Gladys was gone! I almost screamed it aloud.

There rested all the official bicycles with their officious little lamps and government-issued carriers — but Gladys was gone!


Fear filled me and then anger. How could I have been so stupid as to leave Gladys unlocked in a strange place?

— pg. 167 (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)

Flavia has a habit of leaving Gladys unlocked wherever she goes, and I always wince whenever she does because to me it’s utterly unthinkable to leave one’s bike unprotected and utterly vulnerable to thieves like that. But Flavia does live in a small country town, where everyone knows everyone, and no bike thief would be able to go very far before their stolen good was identified by someone on the street, and their person dragged unmercifully by the ears to the constabulary or to the rightful owner for a good old-fashioned tongue-lashing. And in that sort of environment, I suppose it’s really not necessary to lock one’s bike.

But Flavia does get a good scare once, in the scene above. Luckily for her, Gladys wasn’t stolen at all: a well-meaning police officer had stowed her into the truck of his car, and later offered her a ride home on account of the rain. But nevertheless, it’s a good reminder to lock up one’s bike, regardless of how “safe” you feel your city to be. A u-lock is a basic must; pair it with a cable for double protection. Or even better, store your bike indoors if possible.


Don’t be afraid to explore!

I think there must be a kind of courage that comes from not being able to make up your mind.

Whether it was this or whether it was Gladys’s willfullness I can’t be sure, but there we were, suddenly swerving off the main road and into the Gully.

— pg. 273 (A Red Herring Without Mustard)

Certainly, there is wisdom in avoiding unfamiliar places — what if you end up in a bad part of town, or somewhere where road conditions are dangerous? — but that doesn’t mean you can’t be safe AND adventurous. One of the joys of bike-riding is being able to wander at will and happening upon tucked-away gems, like a cafe that serves up a mean espresso, or a hidden park filled with sunlight and beautiful flora. But be smart about it. Research your environs beforehand; know which streets are the most bike-friendly. And go! See where your bike takes you.


Have fun!

Gladys’s tires hummed their loud song of contentment as we sped along the tarmac.

Summer is icumen in,” I warbled to the world. “Lhude sing cuccu!”

A Jersey cow looked up from her grazing, and I stood on the pedals and gave her a shaky curtsy in passing.

— pg. 113 (The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag)

Bicycling has a bunch of benefits: it’s good exercise; it gets you out of the house and breathing fresh air; it’s an excellent alternative to driving, especially for short trips. But best of all, it’s just plain fun. So go out there and enjoy!

Some ideas that I’ve come across and have found tantalizing or interesting:

♦ Sign up for a tweed run! For Bay Areans, there is the San Francisco Tweed Run that happens twice a year.

♦ Call up friends and go for a ride together!

♦ Deck out your bike with pretty things! I spotted one young lady complementing her ride with a bouquet of flowers.

♦ Switch things up a bit! Ditch your spandex and fluorescent safety vests, and dress up in bright colors.


♦ I don’t think Flavia wears helmets … but you definitely should! Helmets are an absolute must, regardless of where you’re biking, or how unlikely you think the chances are of getting into an accident, or how experienced you are as a bicyclist. Accidents do happen, and truly, truly, it’s better to be safe than sorry! If you don’t like traditional bike helmets, there are plenty of alternative shapes & sizes out on market for you to choose from. Gala Darling mentions a few in her article on cycle chic. Nutcase Helmets is also a good place to look; they have some awesome designs in their collection! And just for kicks, because this is really too epic to not share: go supervillain. (Warning: some swearing, ahoy. Also, thanks to Anne for the head’s up!)

♦ Your local bicycle coalition is an excellent place to start for information on bicycling etiquette and bike safety. For those in the SF Bay Area, you can check out the SF Bicycle Coalition, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, and the official SF Bay Area Bike to Work Day website. Their online resources are super helpful!

Readers — What books have you been really into lately? Do you bike?

TV: Sherlock – A Study in Pink

It’s been a little over a year since my introduction to BBC miniseries Sherlock, and since then I’ve gone through several re-watches and many blank stares from friends and acquaintances who, alas, don’t share my affinity for English literature and television. In that stretch of time I’ve grown fonder and fonder of the miniseries. While I do frown during certain scenes, or purse my lips at how a certain shot was framed — how snooty of me, I know — overall I continue to like Sherlock because it’s such a well-made miniseries.

For the unfamiliar, Sherlock is the modern reimagining — retelling? — of what is arguably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous literary creation: the brilliant Sherlock Holmes and the faithful Dr. John Watson. Rather than being a straight and literal adaptation, Sherlock is best described as being inspired by the canon stories and fitted with enough creative license to accommodate the series’ contemporary setting, both geographically and culturally — but not so much that the series fails to capture the heart and spirit of the originals.

The first episode called “A Study in Pink” (sound familiar?) possesses, I think, the most balanced blend of textual fidelity and deviation. The episode opens with the introduction of Dr. John Watson, an injured soldier just lately returned to London from Afghanistan, where he had been serving as an army doctor in the present war before a wound to the shoulder shipped him out. (An eerie parallel to the Watson in the books, who served in the same capacity but in a different war in another century.) A chance encounter with a former classmate leads him to the acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant but sociopathic young man who works with Scotland Yard as “the world’s only consulting detective.” Although initially put off by Sherlock’s erratic and seemingly self-absorbed behavior, John is nevertheless intrigued by Sherlock’s almost freakish ability to make accurate deductions about people, especially complete strangers. (Hint: it’s in the details.) And the two soon hit it off when a lead presents itself in a puzzling police case involving linked suicides.

I’ll say no more about the episode, as I don’t want to give away the ending. Instead, I’ll close with remarks concerning my own observations of this episode in my most recent re-watch.

Color and lighting — I really like the color palette used in this episode. There’s a strong leaning towards cool and neutral tones of the muted variety. No sharp, eye-piercing accents here, the sole exception being the quasi-titular victim dressed in what Sherlock coins a “frankly alarming shade of pink.” The muted colors I think are meant to highlight the urban coldness of characters’ London environment, and by extension heighten the darkening mood and suspense surrounding the central mystery. It could also be an extension of the city itself. I remember writer Steven Moffat — or was it Mark Gatiss? — remarking that production wanted the series to, amongst other things, “fetishize” modern-day London in the same way Doyle did in his books to the London of his day. Granted, I think they were referring to the numerous street-level shots when they said what they said, but I can easily see the cold, skyscrapers of glass and steel mirrored in Sherlock’s grey suit and midnight blue scarf, and damp cobblestone streets in John’s twill jacket and mud-brown jumper.

The lighting — an unusually piercing but burnished variety of white — worked really well with the deep greys and neutrals to elicit a paradoxical mood. On one hand, the lighting is exposing, being so sharp and focused. On the other, it sort of vignetted the night scenes and thereby heightening the shadows already creeping into the frame from all corners. Going along with the fetishizing London idea, the lighting when working with the colors in the characters’ costumes and environ, heightens the already strong presence of a metallic, and very modern feel.

Little is more — Something that I’ve noticed moreso in British actors than in actors on this side of the Atlantic is the ability to express very clear yet understated emotions in very small movements. Martin Freeman, who plays John, does this very well: a solitary twist of the lips, to express frustration; three strong and rapid blinks, to convey disbelief; and so on. It’s hard to describe in words. One needs to see it to understand. I like this sort of acting. There’s something very pragmatic and very intense about it.

Watch movies unconventionally — My latest re-watch was hardly a re-watch in the traditional sense. I was screencapping more than watching, so the audio wasn’t turned on and I was jumping from scene to scene, often rewinding and pausing and rewinding and pausing on a single scene just so I could capture a moment just right. In my doing so, I was able to focus more on what was going on visually within the frames of each scene. And by revisiting certain scenes I was able to notice little gestures and prop details that I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe next time, I’ll shut my eyes and listen purely to the audio, and see what things I hadn’t noticed before.

Screencaps by me.

SNIPPETS: Turbulent pastry cooks

Seed biscuits and milk! I hated Mrs. Mullet’s seed biscuits and milk the way Saint Paul hated sin. Perhaps even more so. I wanted to clamber up onto the table, and with a sausage on the end of a fork as my sceptor, shout in my best Laurence Olivier voice, “Will no one rid us of this turbulent pastry cook?”

— Flavia de Luce, from Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is quite the treasure chest of hilarious and clever passages. The above, voiced by narrator Flavia de Luce, is one of my many favorites and I think fairly showcases her precociousness and characteristic bite. I can’t wait to see more of Flavia in Bradley’s subsequent books.

Readers — What book or character has tickled your ribs lately?

SNIPPETS: Bravery and friendship

There have been times in Sticky’s life when an important question would flummox him no matter how well he knew the answer; and times he had run away from his problems; and times when he’d felt himself paralyzed when action was most needed. He’d never understood this tendency of his — he knew only that he rarely lived up to expectation, and for this reason had clung so fiercely to his nickname. Any boy with a name like George Washington must surely have great things expected of him.

And yet, in these last days, he’d become friends with people who cared about him, quite above and beyond what was expected of him. With perfect clarity he remembered Reynie saying, “I need you here as a friend.” The effect of those words, and of all his friendships, had grown stronger, and stronger, until — though he couldn’t say why he didn’t feel mixed up now — at the most desperate moment yet, he knew it to be true. There was bravery in him. It only had to be drawn out.

So it was that Sticky stepped in front of Reynie and said, “May I go first, Mr. Curtain? I’ve been looking forward to this ever since my last session.”

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart

I really like this moment in the story. It’s quite beautiful because this is when Sticky — the boy who ran away, the boy who always felt inferior to his more audacious companions, the boy who wrestled long and hard with fear and cowardice, the boy who felt alone — realizes two very magnificent things: He’s not alone, he has friends who love him and believe in him; and he can be brave. And he acts on that realization by doing something incredibly brave: he volunteers himself for a go with the Whisperer, even though the Whisperer terrifies him, allowing Reynie the few precious seconds necessary to beam a SOS from right under their enemy’s nose. This is Sticky’s hero moment, the moment when he fights the fear rattling in his chest; and not for his own sake, but for the sake of others — his friends, Mr. Benedict’s team on the mainland, and ultimately the world.

I like what this passage says about bravery and friendship: that friendship is something good and powerful, that bravery isn’t measured by the grandness of a person’s gestures, that being brave is impossible without love. It’s so true, all of that. And unfortunately, I find myself forgetting that a lot. I guess I don’t so much as like this passage as I am thankful for it. I’m thankful for the reminder … and also the simultaneous encouragement. Sticky and I are so similar, always feeling cowardly in comparison to our bolder friends, always struggling to be brave. And if he can be brave when bravery is most needed, then so can I.

Readers — What have you been reading lately that has inspired or encouraged you?

SNIPPETS: Life is infinitely stranger

“[…] life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outré results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”

— Sherlock Holmes, from “A Case of Identity,” by Arthur Conan Doyle

I picked up Adventures of Sherlock Holmes last week, as something fun and light to read on my morning commutes. (I do so dislike falling asleep then; it’s always so unpleasant, waking up again.) I came across this quote, and thought it something neat to share. I’ve always liked this quote, ever since I read it for the first time. I like the concept expressed, the imagery (very Peter Pan-ish, don’t you think?), and the eloquence in Holmes’ words. Gosh, the Victorians knew how to use English.

Your turn, readers! What was something neat that you came across in a book?