The Devil and Mrs. Bradley

I started Gladys Mitchell’s The Devil at Saxon Wall today. The opening chapters, about a timid young woman who marries a strange man on impulse and then begins to suspect that her new husband is using witchcraft on her, are really creepy and effective. I hit the end of my e-reader sample chapters and was all, “I CAN’T. I have to find out what will happen to this poor girl.”

Mitchell was a contemporary of Golden Age mystery writers like Sayers and Christie, but if you know her protagonist Mrs. Bradley today, it’s probably from the British television adaptation starring a very glam Diana Riggs as Bradley. The novels are much darker than the series and Mrs. Bradley is usually described as “reptilian,” rather than elegant. That’s one of the things I enjoy about period novels–characters are sometimes less likable than contemporary mystery protagonists and you read them in frustration and amusement rather than identification (this is a very fancy way of saying I find Nero Wolfe obnoxiously endearing!).  It looks like the Mrs. Bradley ebooks have been recently re-issued, since all I could find were used copies when I looked for them after watching one episode of the series on Netflix sometime last year.





I am a terrible blogger.  I’ve been working a lot this semester and the blog has suffered as a result. Sorry! Still, some exciting news. My next Where is My Guru book review, Claire Dederer’s 2011 memoir, Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, will air Friday. Dederer is really funny, smart, and touching and her work fits perfectly with WIMG’s current “GuruMamas” parenting theme. You can read more about the book here. Listen live at 11 am.


The 100 Thing Challenge on Where Is My Guru. Tune in Friday at 11!


On Friday’s Where is My Guru show at 11am , I’ll be talking about Dave Bruno’s fantastic book, The 100 Thing Challenge. It’s all about a regular dad who realizes his life is being suffocated by his lifestyle of shopping and spending. Deciding to ditch the mall in favor of family time, Dave tries to limit his personal possessions to 100 items. I really loved this book and thought Bruno had so many interesting insights during his project.

Read more about it on the WIMG blog.


        Here’s David giving in a TED talk about the book:


Hollywood, Philo Vance, and what the kids are reading

Some cool things to talk about for booklovers:

  • I have a new Daily Muse column up on Hollywood themed books and other media.
  • I’ve got my next Where Is My Guru book, a yoga themed novel that I will unveil soon.
  • Renaissance Learning–the people behind the Accelerated Reader program that I loved as a kid–have an interesting new survey out on what high school students are reading now. They compare their 2012 results to previous decades, all the way back to 1907. What do you think of these results?
  • I’m still reading my way through classic mysteries this summer. Lots of Rex Stout, some Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Cater Dickson. I’m in the middle of The Bishop Murders. Not sure how I feel about Philo Vance, though. Any SS Van Dine fans out there?


Kismet! Demeter’s Paperback Perfume & “Too Many Cooks”

In what has to be the oddest example of bibliophile kismet, I received my vial of Demeter’s Paperback yesterday and a copy of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mystery Too Many Cooks today…and it turns out Too Many Cooks is a Bantam book. At least one online reviewer has said a Bantam book must have been Demeter’s inspiration for the perfume, which smells of old paper, ink, smoke, and vanilla. To my nose, there is a distinct resemblance between the  two. I’ve been comically smelling the pages of Too Many Cooks today to compare it to the perfume. Paperback is more vanilla-rich than a new Bantam book. However, I’m still curious to smell an older Bantam title….I might need to plan a trip to one of the local used bookstores. Not that my shelves need anymore books, technically-speaking! photo-54

I’m trying to be responsible and work….

On course planning and other things but I keep getting distracted. Archie Goodwin has that effect on a reader:

“I used as few French and miscellaneous fancy words as possible in writing up this stunt of Nero Wolfe’s but I couldn’t keep them out altogether, on account of the kind of people involved. I am not responsible for the spelling, so don’t write me about mistakes. Wolfe refused to help me out on it, and I had to go to the Heinemann School of Languages and pay a professor 30 bucks to go over it and fix it up. In most cases, during these events, when anyone said anything which for me was only a noise, I have either let it lay–when it wasn’t vital–or managed somehow to get the rough idea in the American language.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                  -Archie Goodwin in the forward of Too Many Cooks by Rex Stout

If you haven’t heard of Archie Goodwin, he is the narrator and Dr. Watson figure for a series of mystery novels by Rex Stout, which began in the 1930s and ended with Stout’s death in the mid-1970s. While the sarcastic Goodwin narrates, he is the “legman” for Nero Wolfe, an eccentric orchid collector, gourmet, and detective who seldom leaves his NYC brownstone. Someone on Goodreads called it the Mycroft Holmes-meets-Sam Spade series in an attempt at derisiveness. However, if you like both of those, the comparison  is fairly apt and not at all negative. I just read 1965’s The Doorbell Rang, where Wolfe is offered $100,000 to stymie FBI harassment of a wealthy widow who criticized J. Edgar Hoover. I had no idea this was a fairly controversial plot for the 1960s (according to Internet rumor, Wolfe fan John Wayne had a falling out with Rex Stout over this one and the FBI compiled a file on Stout, who they assumed was a Communist). Anyhow, my favorite part of these novels is Archie Goodwin’s voice, with its sly sense of humor.

The main characters don’t age, although there are a few contemporary references in the series, which is nice. I’m always slightly depressed by the aging of classic characters in series mystery novels, personally. The end of Tommy and Tuppence was a painful thing for me in high school, y’all. There was a Nero Wolfe television adaptation a few years ago, starring the late Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. It’s brilliant, perfectly cast and faithful to the books.

Oddly enough, I can’t find any of the books at my local B&N, so I’ve had to order them or dig up copies at my library. I think the library’s copy of The Doorbell Rang might actually be from 1965, but I’m not sure. It certainly looks like old paper.


Speaking of old paper, I just ordered a perfume that is supposed to smell like old books, Demeter’s Paperback. I’m wondering how this one will turn out. I love how books smell–you know that inky paper scent in bookstores? I’m hoping it smells something like that, although other online reviewers have guessed that vintage Bantam books were the inspiration. Anyone know what those smell like?

Rainy Day Reading

I’ve been on a mystery reading kick lately, so I decided to incorporate one of my favorite mystery novelists, Carolyn Hart, into this week’s Daily Muse column. Hart writes the “Death on Demand” series, named for her protagonist’s mystery bookstore in South Carolina, and works references to other mystery novels into her books. Every book features a contest, set within the fictional bookstore, to identify a series of paintings based on mysteries. It would be a brilliant idea for a real-life bookstore promotion, too.


The Hidden History of General Tso’s Chicken

Have you read my latest Daily Muse column? I linked to a TED talk from Jennifer 8. Lee about the history of Asian food in America. Lee wrote The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, a fascinating look at the development of Chinese food in the US. I really enjoyed it when I read it a few years ago. If you’re interested in history or food, pick it up sometime.