Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Finally!  Season 4 of The Great British Baking Show returns to PBS on Friday, June 16 at 9:00 pm (check local listings) with two back-to-back episodes. While I'm sure you've been busy since Season 3 recreating all the delicious treats in your own kitchen, it will be great to see the new contestants, flour-covered and stressed, attempting to follow the sometimes vague directives from Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.  Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are back as hosts, cheerleaders and (in a pinch) tasters.  

For a sneak peek, check out the PBS Great British Baking Show website. You can meet the new contestants and watch some videos to get some inspiration before the fresh season kicks off.  The series begins with two episodes:

Cake (9 pm - Check Local Listings) 
In the first episode, the 12 bakers test their baking skills as they tackle a back-to-basics British classic, a popular cake with a fatless sponge and tricky chocolate work. 

Biscuits (10 pm - Check Local Listings) 
The remaining bakers are asked to make 24 elaborately decorated biscuits; a biscuit that requires perfect piping; and a biscuit structure that demands precision baking. 

So get ready to settle in with a cuppa and choose your favorite contestant this week!

Friday, June 9, 2017

I have always enjoyed Paula Poundstone's comedy whenever I've had the opportunity to hear her, so I was thrilled to get a copy of her new book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  The book details her attempts to try various projects to see which, if any, would increase her feelings of happiness.  Each chapter takes a look at one of the things she tried.  The book starts with the "Get Fit Experiment" where she signs up for taekwondo classes.  Other things she tries include getting organized, driving a sports car, giving to others (through plasma donation and volunteering at a nursing home) and mediation (among others).  Each experiment is written up in a manner to appear somewhat scientific with a Hypothesis, list of Equipment, the Procedure and various Qualitative Observations, Constants, Field Notes and some Analysis of the project's ability to increase happiness.

While I expected the book to be funny, and it certainly had lots of humorous observations, I was unprepared for the many sad, alarming and depressing details the author shared about her own life.  In addition to being somewhat dysfunctional herself (she claims to suffer from depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and alcoholism), she wrote quite a bit about how much she struggles financially, yet she has 16 cats (in the house!) several dogs, a rabbit, a lizard and a bunny.  She also adopted 3 children, only one of whom seems to treat her with anything but contempt.  Her son, she claims, has a "computer/video game" addiction, to the point that she sent him to an electronics-free school in Virginia, but she never really provided any proof of this other than to say he always wanted to use her computer.  She also states, time and time again, that her children "have never watched television" although they have a TV and watch movies.  So movies=good, but TV=bad  . . . not sure what the justification for that was, either.

So while I enjoyed the occasional humorous observation, I was mostly left dismayed about the holes in her shoes, her lazy, deceitful children, her ramshackle house covered in "cat pee and vomit" and the fact that she doesn't even have a bed but sleeps on a sheet on the floor that she folds up every morning when she gets up.   Instead of being a funny or inspiring book (which I was expecting), I read about a woman who was struggling to keep it together in the face of non-stop chaos (OK, some of it self-inflicted . . . I mean I'm a cat lover, but I stop at three).  I can't really say I enjoyed the book.  All of the blurbs on the front and back of the book are from various celebrities talking about how funny it was.  I'm not sure they read the finished copy.

I received a copy of this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for this review


Friday, June 2, 2017

Can you ever really leave your past behind?  Even if you choose to totally re-invent yourself?  That seems to be the central question in the novel Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan. The novel starts out on a promising (for me, anyway) note when 8 people (mostly college students) decide to investigate an old abandoned prison.  What could possibly go wrong?  Things do go wrong, but for me the main wrong turn was away from what I hoped would be a spooky mystery into  . . . I'm not exactly sure what, but the early Gothic spookiness quickly evaporated and didn't return.

The book begins in 1980 when college friends Quentin, Casey, Tripper, Wailer, Maisie and Rachel, along with Maisie's brother Ben and Quentin's German professor Herr Krystal decide on a whim to visit the ruins of the abandoned prison.  They soon discover it has been taken over by feral cats, as well as a very creepy/haunted feeling atmosphere.  As young boys are wont to do (especially in novels), young Ben runs off after a cat, causing the group to splinter in an attempt to locate him.  Have these people never seen a horror movie?  Don't they know you never split up the group?  Apparently not.  By the time Ben is located, one member of the group has disappeared.

After this event, the story shifts to the present day, when the remaining college friends are in their late 50s and no longer in touch.  The main narrator of the book, one of the students, has left the past behind in a major way and is living with a spouse and stepchild in rural Maine.  Although this person has been married for 15 years, of course just now things in the marriage are becoming a little strained, and a big secret from the past is revealed.  At the same time, a skeleton has been discovered in the abandoned prison (which is being revitalized) and so the mystery of WHERE the missing student is has been answered. The police investigation begins to try to figure out what happened so long ago and the former friends will be reunited as secrets from the past are revealed.

I was intrigued by the description of this book, hoping it would be a creepy mystery, but sadly it's not.  A major problem is that each chapter jumps around both in terms of time period and character being discussed.  It was extremely confusing to try to figure out who was speaking each time a new chapter began.  Also, at the beginning and the end of the book, characters are forever spouting German, for no apparent reason.  There was a lot of description about the old abandoned prison, which also didn't really add anything to the story but served to add to the confusion.  Perhaps if I had known going in that it wasn't going to be an eerie ghost story or mystery I might have enjoyed the book more.  As it was, I was frustrated by all the shifts in characters and although there was a curve ball thrown in at the end, I was still disappointed.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Long Black Veil from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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