Mourning in Miniature by Margaret Grace

I was first introduced to the Miniature Mystery series of books a few years ago at a time when I least expected it: I was visiting the local craft shop. I was chatting to the store owner about how I was looking for supplies to build furnishing for my dollhouse. Next thing I know she was telling me about a local writer, Camille Minichino, who built miniatures and also wrote mystery books under the pen name, Margaret Grace. She gave me a copy of the first book, Murder in Miniature and I was on my way to becoming a fan.

Later that night I cracked open a copy of the book and entered the world of Lincoln Point, a fictitious Bay Area town that, based on the description, sounds an awful lot like Castro Valley except it’s located on the Peninsula (i.e.: Silicon Valley) near Palo Alto.

Other than the fact that she gets herself involved in horrid murder investigations, the main character Geraldine Porter (“Gerry”) is right up my alley. She is not only a retired school teacher and grandmother to 10 year old Maddie (I have a sweet spot for old ladies, seeing as how I’m practically one myself) but she is a miniature enthusiast. Each book in the series features a specific miniature project Gerry or one of her friends is working on that gets tied into the story.

In the most recent book I read, Mourning in Miniature, the project is a miniatureMourning in Miniature replication of the hallway lockers in the local high school where Gerry first taught. It was created by a friend and member of the local craft group, Rosie Norman in honor of her upcoming 30 year reunion.

As I write this I realize I have a lot in common with Rosie Norman. First of all, I too am looking forward to my 30 year high school reunion this year, although I haven’t constructed a miniature model of my locker – yet! In addition to this, like Rosie I am a bit on the frumpy side, love miniatures and also love to read. I also like to hang out with old ladies.

Luckily this is where the similarities end because by chapter 4 Rosie is the main suspect in the investigation of the murder of the high school football star. Since the football star from my high school is a great guy (his signature phrase is: “Love ya! Nade Cali Style!) I think he’s pretty safe from an unlikely demise at our reunion. Also, if I was the suspect in a murder investigation, I don’t think I’d have a great friend like Geraldine Porter to try to clear my name. You’ll read have to read the book to find out whether or not Rosie really did it.

I pride myself in being able to pin the killer before the main character does in some of the mystery books I read but this is one that had me stumped till the end. In addition to the mystery, we also get a new character that may or may not present a little romance for Gerry. Seeing as how she is a widow with a precocious granddaughter and an active crafts group, I’m sure Gerry could use a little romance. I’m looking forward to see where it goes in the next book, Monster in Miniature.

Overall, I think Mourning in Miniature was a great read. I give it a classic Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating classic

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The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Like many of her devoted fans, my first introduction to Meg Cabot was The PrincessThe Princess Diaries Diaries. I read the series several years ago and oh my what a joy! I’ve been looking forward to reading the series again and the anticipation of book 11, Royal Wedding which releases on June 2, 2015 seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Just like the first time, my second read of The Princess Diaries did not disappoint. Written in the first person, the book is the diary of high school freshman Mia Thermopolis. Starting on September 23 we find that it is the first few weeks into the school year of New York City’s Albert Einstein High School and Mia has a big problem: Algebra. She is not only flunking the class but she has just learned that her mother is dating the teacher, Mr. Gianni.

As if the Algebra problem isn’t enough, Mia then finds out that her father has been keeping a very important secret from her: he is the Prince of a small European country, Genovia and as his sole heir Mia is a Princess who is one day expected to take over the reign.

Finding out that you are a princess sounds like every girl’s dream, but Mia is smart enough to see past the glamour and money. Being the ruler of an entire country sounds like a horribly stressful proposition!

Despite the seriousness of the matter, the tale of Mia’s first month of royalty is delightful and funny. As she struggles with this new identity Mia finds out who her true friends are and also meets a few new ones.

While Meg Cabot wrote several great books before this, The Princess Diaries which was published in 2000 is truly her best work. In all of Meg Cabot’s books you can tell there is a little piece of herself in the main characters but Mia and her friends have a little something else that makes them very special. I’m not sure what it is but maybe in this next read I’ll find out.

If you are looking for a fun teen read, or want to find out what I find so special about Meg Cabot, please do read The Princess Diaries. I’m sure it’s no secret that I give this one a full fledged Shrimp Coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

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Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

Abundance bookI’ve mentioned before that I like reading historical fiction. Of this genre, my favorite is fiction based on real historical icons. Therefore, when I saw Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund I snatched it up.

I’ve been a fan of Marie Antoinette ever since high school French class when Mrs. Berard spent a week lecturing us on the French Revolution in French. Because I was a horrible student I had to spend extra time with Mrs. Berard after class so she could explain everything to me again in English which had me entranced. Prior to the help in English, the only thing I remembered was that the infamous quote “Let them eat cake” was actually “Qu’ills mangent de la brioche.” Brioche is not really cake, but actually a fancy sweet bread made with lots of eggs. According to Mrs. Berard, Marie Antoinette said this during the Paris bread riots.

Most modern day historians now agree that Marie Antoinette did not in fact insensitively suggest that the hungry peasants of Paris should eat brioche if they were out of bread. This includes Sena Jeter Naslund. In fact, the quote is not even addressed in the book. A tiny part of me wishes that it was. Otherwise, I loved the book.

In Abundance, we get an intimate and picturesque look at the life of Marie Antoinette that does seem very believable. One of Naslund’s sources was letters exchanged between Marie Antoinette and her mother. Many letters appear in the book and while I do not know if they are the actual depictions, I’d like to believe that the tone was at least duplicated. Even as the character develops, which Naslund does very well, she maintains her sense of youthful sweetness and naiveté.

In addition to Marie Anotinette, the reader also gets a good picture of the other people in her life, including her husband, Louis XVI. When we first meet him he is portrayed as dull and awkward but grows into a thoughtful and sensitive man as the marriage progresses. According to Naslund and several other historians, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s marriage was not consummated for several years. (Note: Mrs. Berard left this part out entirely.) Marie Antoinette’s frustration, as portrayed in this book, became my own and I am now interested in reading biographies of Louis XVI. I have yet to find anything that speculates that he was gay so I’m dying to know: what the hell was his problem?

If you paid attention in history class (or like me, you had to get your French teacher help translate your notes) you know Marie Antoinette’s fate. Maybe because of the spoiler, the end chapters about the last year of her life were my favorite.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a deep intimate portrait of one of my favorite historical figures with plenty of new details I will pick up in subsequent readings. I give this one a shrimp coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

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Flash Fiction Challenge: My take on horror spam

I see Flash Fiction challenges on blogs all the time and never give them a thought. Then yesterday I saw a Tweet from Chuck Wendig that caught my eye. I went to his blog and read the challenge in full. The assignment? Write a horror story framed as spam.

I was compelled and had to give it a try.  Two minutes into the project I immediately realized how hard it would be and almost gave up.  In the end I’m glad I didn’t.  It is, admittedly, low on horror but high on scam and creating the voice was fun as all get out.  And so here we go.  What do you think?

My dearest friend I write you with most urgent need. I assure you most that this is not much scam as my need is great. I am HRH Prince Dooya Fukguys last remaining heir of the Fukguys Royal Nigerian dynasty.

My need is great as I am currently prisoner to vampire clan in deepest Nigeria. It is a strange and terrible story that you must believe. I was captured by the lead vampire just weeks away and am desperate to escape. They sleep by day and torture me at night staring with their red blood eyes. They get hungry for human blood each day and snack on my neck. The pain my friend! Oh the pain! They keep me trapped in their dungeon with nothing but the internet to please me and feed me rib eye steaks against my most vegetarian pleas. I suffer from the daily torturous pain. It’s true my story is!

I have enlisted the services of a vampire hunter who will kill the horrid vampires but first he must receive his pay. I must send him $1,687.93 from only an American bank. Please my friend can you help me? I can send you today a cashiers check for $1,687.93 that you can use to fund your bank account and wire the money to my vampire hunter by the name of Mr. Phil McKrackin.

It will only take hours for Mr. McKrackin to release me from my captures. He is a reputable vampire hunter who will most quickly work. If you send me today your address where I can mail the cashiers check I will be released by October 31, 2014 when I can wire to your bank a reward of $15,000,000 from my royal Nigerian dynasty bank. I must have your assurances for help immediately my friend as I grow weaker from loss of blood each day.

Please my dearest friend I await your response.

HRH Prince Dooya Fukguys

Sent from my gmail account

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Awaken by Meg Cabot

Good news! I finally finished the Abandon series by Meg Cabot. Even better news? The Awakenbooks get progressively better, so much so that I can honestly say I really enjoyed the final book, Awaken. The best part is I finally got the key story elements I love so much from Meg Cabot: spunky heroine and a good support network.

Awaken starts up right where Underworld leaves off. It is a few hours later and Pierce, having finally embodied the spunky Meg Caboty heroine we all love, is helping out on the docks of the underworld greeting the newly dead. She is already an asset to the place being polite and helpful (unlike John and his cronies) to the confused new arrivals. She even hands out glasses of water.

We quickly learn that Alex and Kayla have been brought to the underground as well and like Pierce we’re not sure how long they are going to stay or what they are going to do next. Unfortunately we don’t get to find out because a couple of fury possessed ships show up ready to reek havoc on the place. Hot hunky John, ruler of the underground and Pierce’s boyfriend, jumps aboard one of the boats to prevent the impending disaster and disappears along with the fates. Now it’s up to Pierce and her friends to bring the fates (and hopefully John) back to where they belong.

A lot happens in this book. Pierce desperately wants to find John but discovers that she is also tasked with having to restore balance to the underworld and save the world above from destruction by the evil furies! Along the way storylines that began in the previous books are resolved. We get the full scoop on Seth Rector, Alex’s dad and Pierce’s parents. We also get a really cool quote:

We do need storms sometimes, because they clear away the bracken so that the sun can shine on flowers that might never otherwise have had a chance to bloom.

I love this quote, which is the theme of the book, because it’s a good message about life as well. Sometimes you have to suffer through hard times in order to get to better times. This is kind of like how I felt at the beginning of this series actually. While I wasn’t a fan of the first book I stuck it out and was finally rewarded with this final one which was pretty delightful! I give it a good solid, classic Mrs. B!

Mrs. B rating classic

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Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman

As someone who relies almost exclusively on Hulu and Netflix for her TV entertainment, I know I was late to the “Orange Is the New Black” party. I waited until this summer to finally watch this Netflix exclusive series. The premise, life inside a women’s Orange is the New Blackprison, had me fascinated. When I discovered the show was based on a real life memoir by Piper Kerman I jumped on my Kindle and bought a copy pronto.

As I expected, the true story does not have the sexy drama we see on Netflix. However, I was surprised to see many parallels between the book and the show. Like on the show, the real Piper did become involved with a drug dealer and they led a pretty glamorous life traveling the globe. Also, many of the women Kerman met in jail clearly served as inspiration for characters we meet in the show. The same goes for some of the experiences Kerman had while incarcerated.

I was interested to read about Kerman’s real life experiences in prison. One of the things that surprised me was the kindness she experienced from other inmates when she first arrived. Sensing that Kerman was frightened and alone, many women greeted her kindly and supplied her with toiletry items she would otherwise be without in the first few weeks while her commissary account was being set up. As I read on I found this was customary for newcomers.

Kerman also confirmed that prison could be extremely boring and the most common way to fill the hours was reading. She also took up running and became physically fit. There is a tiny part of me that thinks this might be lovely. However the downside is you need to commit a crime to get there. I also had a hard time accepting the boredom claim since Kerman and her fellow inmates all had jobs assigned to them. According to her story Kerman worked several hours a day as an electrician. That alone seems like a good time filler.

A common criticism of this book is that Kerman came off as snooty since she constantly reminded the reader that she was not your typical prisoner, being white, educated and upper-middle-classed. I didn’t notice this when I read the book. The criticism I have is that the writing was not as good as I would have expected. The prose is a little choppy and Kerman’s attempts at humor failed with me. The story also ends rather abruptly. We get nothing about how Kerman assimilated back to her life after her 14 month sentence.

If you are looking for an interesting memoir or are a fan of the Netflix series, I recommend “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” by Piper Kerman. Overall I enjoyed the book and give it a classic Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating classic

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Sunnyvale Public Library

Last month Jerry took me someplace I never thought he would: the Sunnyvale Public Library. OK…it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary. While I’d like to believe he was indulging me in my love of libraries the real reason we were there was to attend an Atari event.

Welcome to Sunnyvale Library

I’ll admit a peripheral interest in video games. They are the source of my livelihood after all. Not only that but Atari was one of the first “high tech” companies in area, before it was even called the Silicon Valley. That’s history! Give me some history and a library and I’m happy.

Atari Party

We arrived at the event just in time to hear Dan “Father of the Trak-Ball” Kramer. Jerry and Dan knew each other when they both worked at Atari and have been friends ever since. Dan’s talk about his days at Atari and how he developed the Trak-Ball was well received by the crowd.

Trak Ball Dan

We had a few hours before the second and main speaker, Al Alcorn, so after a trip to Fry’s Electronics (surprise, surprise) we returned to the library so Jerry could catch up with his old work friends and I could finally explore the library

The Sunnyvale Public Library is in a large, expansive building with plenty of space. This is important since book collections are always expanding and they have a lot of collections. In addition to a big DVD section they also have a lot of foreign language collections including Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. They even have a special section devoted to trademarks and patents. (A nod to high tech industry no doubt and near and dear to my IP heart.)

Patent Bulletin board

The Sunnyvale library also has plenty of room to settle down to read or work which is what I like to do at libraries. There are comfortable chairs placed about and plenty of tables to sit at. There’s even a fireplace to sit by. I finally settled in the quiet area for some precious reading time.

Chair  Fireplace  Quiet Area

I’ve heard that the Silicon Valley has a lot of very nice public libraries due to contributions from the local high tech companies. The Sunnyvale Public Library is one of them. I’m looking forward to visiting more libraries in the area.

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Too Big to Miss by Sue Ann Jaffarian

A few years ago when I stumbled upon a paralegal podcast featuring Sue Ann Jaffarian I stopped in my tracks. At last, I thought, I’ve met my virtual mentor. Sue Ann is not only a full-time paralegal; she also writes mystery novels on the side. I’m not a big mystery fan but when I learned that Odelia Grey, the heroine in Sue Ann’s popular series, was a paralegal I knew I had to give the books a try. I started with book one of the series, Too Big To Miss, and it hooked me right away.

The book opens in the grocery story with plus sized Odelia Grey comfort food shopping. I loved Odelia right away because her voice was funny and real. I could identify with her on so many levels. I could even understand how Odelia gets involved with the murder of her friend, Sophie London.

In addition to the exciting elements you’d expect from a murder mystery, Too Big To Miss has underlying themes about body image and self- esteem. Sophie was a plus sized model and also ran a support group for large people called Reality Check. Even after her death, I saw Sophie as a beacon of strength for Odelia who was determined to find the murderer.

I’ll be honest. It’s been a few years since I read the book and I forgot who the culprit is. What I do remember, however, is the development of Odelia’s character. Throughout the book Odelia comes in contact with people who are outright rude to her about her size. Yet despite this she is able to go on and develops new found confidence. This makes her a hero in my mind. I doubt my ego could ever survive the mental abuse Odelia suffers.

If you are interested in exploring the mystery genre or you like chick lit I recommend you give Too Big To Miss a try. I enjoyed this and subsequent books in the series and look forward to reading more. I give this one 3 and ½ Mrs. Bs.

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Underworld by Meg Cabot

This is book 2 of what I have decided is my least favorite Meg Cabot series. Luckily, I did Underworldenjoy this one more than the first. 

Like the title says, Underworld starts in the underworld where John has whisked Pierce away to protect her from her fury possessed grandmother. Pretty early in the book Pierce learns of her destiny, something that took me by surprise (in a good way). In fact, I may never eat waffles again. She then learns of some disturbing news of what is happening on Isla Huesos and convinces John to take her back.

One of the things I liked about this book is the development of Pierce’s character. While I still found her a tad annoying, I began to see hits on the strong spunky heroine we expect from Meg Cabot. We also meet some fun new characters and begin to see the development of the support network I missed in the last book.

It did occur to me while reading this book that this series would translate well to film. So while I’m not too excited about the book, I would love to see the movie or TV versions.

The improvement of this book from the first in the series gave me a bit of hope. While I would recommend it to fellow Meg Cabot fans I still reserve my editorial comment that “it’s not one of my favorites.” I give this one

3 Mrs. Bs. 

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