“With all respect, sir, we aren’t Ms. de Luce.”

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce returns in this sequel to the extraordinary The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  Once again, the precocious tween tracks a killer through the countryside of her English town.  When a famous BBC puppeteer comes to town, everyone is excited to have a show in the church.  However, when he’s electrocuted during the performance, Flavia is on the case, with her chemistry and her sneaky sycophantic act.

  • While Bradley tells another solid story (with a well-crafted countryside murder), the book isn’t quite as good as the last one, if for no other reason than that it doesn’t really do anything new.  A book like this really challenges the question of whether mysteries ought to be in series or not.
  • The mystery of the murdered puppeteer is compelling, but a little less so than was the murder in the last book, as Flavia’s family is not directly implicated.
  • Once again, the book confirms my suspicion that British towns have seething underbellies of secret passions and nasty secrets.  Londoners are downright open books when compared with their judgmental, small-town cousins.

An enjoyable return of a great character, and well worth a read if you enjoyed the first book in the series.  That said, I would probably wait at least a year in between the two, as they are very similar.

See also: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Lots of games this summer

Dead of Winter game session
Dead of Winter game session (Photo by Rocky Kolecke)

It’s been a fun summer for board games.  I got a few new games, played a bunch, and am looking forward to continuing this fall.  Some highlights:

  • Mice and Mystics – We’ve enjoyed this collaborative adventure game in the vein of Redwall, playing approximately once every six weeks or so.   We have another round scheduled for this evening.  We’ve got a system in which the children play or don’t play as they see fit, drifting in and out of the action.
  • Dead of Winter – Another one from Plaid Hat Games, this one is a fun collaborative tale with a strong betrayer element.  I’ve played two games so far and can’t wait to play more.  The premise is that the group are survivors in a compound trying to fend off zombies.  Each player controls a group of survivors, thus making it possible to have one die without killing all of them.
  • Heroes Wanted – This kickstarter jem has been lots of fun around the Riley manse.  The mix-n-match heroes make for funny situations, and the kids like the easy gameplay mechanics.  Finn (6) is still having a bit of trouble managing his goals so as to maximize points, but otherwise, way fun.  I can’t wait to play this with a group of all adults so we can really try out the quirks.
  • The Game of Thrones Living Card Game – I only played one round of this, but holy cow was it fun.  I can’t wait to play again.
  • Love Letter – this simple game has been a big hit at our house, though Avery likes it more than Finn (because of the theme, I think).
  • We played lots of Loot and Munchkin and Treasures and Traps on our trip in the early part of July.  Loot is a light pirate-themed game that’s good for all, while Treasures and Traps is a lightweight Munchkin that exceeds its original in some ways (mostly in that it takes about 20 minutes to play instead of an hour).

The old favorites like Forbidden Island and Smallworld continue to make appearances, and the kids are getting better (and more cutthroat) at Settlers of Catan.

Sheep in books

Three Bags Full A Wild Sheep Chase The Android's Dream

In the last six months, I read three different mysteries (loosely defined) centered on sheep.

Three Bags Full – a murder mystery in which a flock of sheep tries to find out who killed their shepherd.  The author does a great job channeling the sheepish worldview, imagining what it’s like to be a constrained, fenced in animal.  There’s a black sheep who has learned to live on its own and a group of meat sheep that are like the jocks of the pasture.  But most of this plays for amusement rather than something deeper.

Wild Sheep Chase – an existential detective story in which a lazy adman goes on a journey to track down a missing friend and a strange sheep.  Odd and ephemeral, the novel blends the modernist novel worldview (think Graham Greene) with odd twists on detective stories.  And on top of it is a woman who looks plain until she sweeps her hair back behind her ears, after which she is gorgeous.  She makes a living as an ear model.

Android’s Dream – a science-fiction thriller in which a lazy diplomat super-soldier goes on a journey to track down a missing sheep.  In this case, it’s a bio-engineered sheep that’s needed for a political ceremony on an alien planet.  It makes sense, really.  The best part is that one can’t help but imagine the book will be in conversation with the Philip K. Dick novel to which it’s title refers, when in fact there’s very little to connect them.  (There are some overlaps, just not many.)

My hope was that after having read these three novels I would have something significant to say about sheep and mysteries and novels and life.  Alas, I got nothin.  All three books were enjoyable in their own ways, so I’d recommend them if they sound interesting.  But don’t expect your life to change.

I’m back, Baby

In early February of 2014, my blogs got hit with an automated hack that took them down, hard.  I was in the middle of preparing for the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association conference, so I took them offline (along with most of my website) “until I had time to deal with the situation.”  Now we’re six months later and I’m only now getting the ol’ beast running again.  Nonetheless, here we are.

"north sydney lamppost 2" by Jaqi
“north sydney lamppost 2” by Jaqi

I’m going to post-date a couple posts to fill in brief news from February – today, and after that it’s back to blogging.