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What We've Been Reading

Urban Waite - Sometimes The Wolf

Signed Copies Available

Fran Recommends:

Urban Waite’s Sometimes The Wolf is the follow-up to Urban’s critically acclaimed debut, The Terror of Living (Signed Copies in soon, we promise!), but you don’t have to have read The Terror of Living first; Sometimes the Wolf stands on its own. Still, reading them in order is what I’d recommend!

Bobby Drake has lived under the shadow of his father, Patrick’s, conviction for smuggling drugs out of Canada. The fact that Bobby’s dad was sheriff, as Bobby himself is now, adds to the sting, and in a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business, so there’s no hiding from his family’s history. Now, after twelve years, Patrick is out on parole, which means that Bobby has to confront his own feelings since his dad is going to stay with them – Bobby and his wife, Sheri – until Patrick can get his feet under him.

But to survive in prison, Patrick had to make some unpleasant alliances, and two of them are coming after him. In addition, FBI Agent Driscoll is certain that Patrick was involved in other crimes besides smuggling drugs, and Driscoll is determined to bust Patrick for those past deeds. 

Bobby doesn’t know who to trust, and when his dad runs, everything falls apart, and Bobby has to figure out what is going on, and what he really believes.

I fell for the characters in The Terror of Living, and it’s great to be back with them in Sometimes the Wolf. Getting to know Patrick, to see more of Driscoll and Sheri, to meet the other new characters in this second book, well, it’s coming back to see old friends and meet the new people in their lives. Granted, some of these people are pretty unpleasant, but that’s what makes it interesting.

It’s a tribute to Urban Waite’s talent for storytelling that I can say that his writing style drives the English teacher in me crazy. He uses incomplete sentences with wild abandon, and the staccato style, the short, choppy phrases do, at times, pop me out of the story. But I love the characters he’s created and the events in their lives so much that I can shake it off and dive back in. And I can’t deny that Urban’s style does raise the tension level in the book to incredible heights without sacrificing imagery. If anything, he’s found a way to make the images more vivid.

And one of the reasons I love this taste of Cascade Noir is the fact that everyone, good guys and bad guys alike, are nuanced. Okay, one bad guy is just out-and-out nasty, but everyone else has moments of strength and weaknesses that keep them from being cariactures and land solidly in the realm of real people. It’s one of Urban Waite’s absolute strengths, and why I always look forward to reading his work, choppy sentences and all.

Agatha Christie - They Came To Baghdad

Amber’s project for 2014: My 52 Weeks of Agatha Christie. Here’s her explanation.

Series: Stand Alone

Summary: Victoria Jones lost her job, again. But on the upside, she was given references and a week's pay - so with money in her pocket, Victoria treats herself to lunch in the park. While there, she meets Edward, a rather dashing young man on his way to Baghdad for work. Before Victoria can learn much more about him, he blends into the crowd and is gone. In an instant Victoria decides she must get to Baghdad to see Edward again.

Shortly upon arriving in Baghdad a man, who turns out to be a British agent, dies in her hotel room. His death and last words plunge Victoria into a whole new adventure in the covert world of secrets and spies. A world which, if she doesn’t play her cards right, might just claim her life as well!

Review: This volume is an interesting entry in the Christie canon, as it is not a whodunit or thriller per se. It follows in the footsteps of The Man In The Brown Suit, as it is an adventure novel at its core with political intrigue and mystery thrown in for flavor. I enjoyed reading about Victoria and her over-the-top antics which ultimately save the Western world from tearing itself apart (it was set at the beginning of the Cold War). The book I think just reaches the level of pot roast, adding flavor to the canon and is well worth reading. However it is not quite as brilliant as The Man In The Brown Suit, whose spunky narrator followed a similar adventurous path. I think it just reached the pot roast level due mainly to the fact I don’t see this particular book as being very plausible, entertaining yes, plausible no. But don’t go on just my opinion check out both of them yourself and tell me what you think! 

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things....

Do you remember the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Not the Johnny Depp version, but the classic Gene Wilder edition? (If you don’t you should watch the classic version tout suite!) Right now I am hoping you remember the bit where Wonka is expounding on his great idea for nursery room walls, lick-able wallpaper! Where all the fruits, including snozzberries, taste like the real deal. Since then the practical side of my brain has been trying to figure out how to engineer similar wallpaper which wouldn’t turn into a slobbery, disgusting mess over repeated lickings. However I can congratulate Christie in making me rethink this scene in a sinister light since my reading of They Came To Baghdad.

To understand why this movie scene might contain more menacing connotations, and why I can thank Agatha Christie for altering my perception of an innocent film, we need a bit of background. "Scheele’s Green" - ever heard of the stuff? Well neither had I until I read a passage in They Came To Baghdad which mentioned it, “That reminds me, what’s Scheele’s Green?..It’s something in the chemical line.” (pg. 85). Curious about what they were speaking of I looked it up.

Evidently, back in 1775 people were fed up with the green pigments available at the time; they faded and turned awful colors over time (plus they weren’t very bright). Enter a man called Carl Wilhelm Scheele who solved the inherent problems with the color and produced a nice vibrant green. It was called Scheele’s Green (Obviously. Later this pigment was refined & altered slightly and named Paris Green but they were essentially the same animal). The thing is the main ingredient is rather dodgy: arsenic.

This particular pigment had a wide range of uses - dyes, paints, intestinal antiseptic, insecticide and rat poison. I mean what could possible go wrong with using the same compound to dye your dress and kill bugs? Plenty. Over time, people begun gathering empirical data, such as those who wore green clothing seemed to get sick more often. Or when the green paint started getting damp and moldy the people living in those rooms seemed to get sick (and sometimes die) far more readily than people who lived in non-green rooms. We now know that the mold is what caused the issue here; it altered the chemical structure of the green compound and emitted a poisonous fume which slowly weakened (and killed) people. Which is the basis of one theory on Napoleon’s death, since no leader bent on world domination can die without generating at least one conspiracy theory. This one states that while in exile on St. Helena, Napoleon had a favorite room in his home, The Green Room. The Green Room of course was pained Paris Green, and when Napoleon became ill, he spent more and more time indoors and breathing in these poisonous vapors. While his death is official listed as being caused by cancer, some scientists point out that arsenic is also a carcinogen and again could have hastened his death.

However the most common way Sheele’s or Paris Green ended up in a home was through wallpaper. It was all the rage in the UK to have its vibrant color adorn your walls. And you guessed it, the wallpaper had the same problem as the paint when it became damp and started to mold; it emitted a poisonous gas which harmed all those who used the room. Even if you kept the wall paper from molding, if you fancied papering your sitting room with green flocked wallpaper, the dust generated from the flocking was just as deadly when inhaled (since you were breathing arsenic powder). 

So now think back to Willy Wonka’s wallpaper with the knowledge that the greens used for the leaves, grapes and apples may have contained a toxic agent to produce its bright colors. The pigment’s use in paint was only banned in the 1960’s (not sure when the dye was banned). So if Wonka had stockpiled dye which used Scheele’s or Paris green and didn’t pay attention to the outside world very much, he may have inadvertently been poisoning his guests... So this is how Christie bent my perception of a childhood classic through a passing comment made in They Came To Baghdad! And I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.

Favorite Quote: 

“Strangely enough, your capacity to think up a convincing lie quickly is one of your qualifications for the job.” (pg. 131) I suppose each job has its own unique standards!

Cheating: My husband is getting a bit nervous that I might win. And recently he’s started asking me to fill out these pesky passport forms...SO I can’t buckle now!