Moving Day!

Finally! It’s here. I have officially moved to:

My old site should redirect you here, but if not, please change your feeds and join me. It’s been an interesting process switching to DreamHost for hosting and using Why did I make the move? To be honest, it’s just as my name implies. I wanted more freedom than what gave me, and though I certainly enjoyed my time on, it was worth it to me to make the move and buy my own domain as well. I am sure the look of the blog will continue to evolve, but I am excited for this new venture.

You will also notice, in the near right column, I have added a feed, Twitter, and Facebook button, linking to a page for Picky Girl where I’ll post more random thoughts and any news I have about books, teaching, or anything like that.

Of course, that also brings me to a subtle but big change. I have noticed I blog less when I feel as though I *should* be blogging about books. I love reading, I do. However, I also love teaching and making my house a home. Why shouldn’t my blog reflect that? I have also noticed my blog-reading habits change. I don’t always want to read about books. I enjoy a wide variety of blogs and want my own to reflect that preference.

Thanks to all of you out there who have been patient over the last month or two with less-than-consistent posting. I hope to change that as I have given myself a bit more freedom to blog.

As always, happy reading, friends.

jenn aka the picky girl

p.s. A special thanks to Carin from A Little Bookish for all her help with html. It is definitely an uphill battle.

Lest you doubt the level of ‘picky’

Currently, there are 10 different paint colors on my wall, representing 4 trips to Lowe’s, one trip to Home Depot, and one trip to a local DIY store that carried Benjamin Moore Paint. You see, as soon as I spent a couple of days going over your posts, staring at the walls, and thinking of the end product for my bookshelf project, I decided to get busy. Last weekend was a long weekend; I thought I’d pick out a color and paint Sunday and Monday. Ha! I drove to Lowe’s, picked out a color, bought a sample and came home. I put a little on the wall, and oh my gosh, I hated it. It looked like the worst of a wintry day, and I really don’t like the cold, especially at this point in the season. So I went back to Lowe’s and then back again. I then decided to switch it up and went to Home Depot, and y’all, the color that looked gray at HD was flat-out purple. Uh uh. Then last weekend, I had tea with my best friend from high school, and she suggested (and my mom too) that I write Pottery Barn because the tearout I had was from their winter catalog. I got home, checked on the website and found the color: Newburyport Blue, Benjamin Moore. *cue angels singing* Except when I got the sample (which ain’t cheap in old Ben Moore), it was blue – country blue. I picked another color, got another sample and slapped it up on the wall. I think it’s a winner. It’s called Blue Note, which seems appropriate as I love Blue Note records. So, ten colors later (I mixed two together at one point to try to achieve the perfect blue gray), I give you the dining room table, in all its glory:

I. Am. THE. Picky. Girl.

It’s a mystery! edition 2

2011, my fellow readers and bloggers, has sucked. Yes, I realize it’s only Day 19, but from Day 1, spent at the ER with my Dad, it has sucked. Then there was Week 1 with Dad in the hospital, and work literally being the most insane. Ugh. Not to say there haven’t been a few good moments. I’m grateful I am employed. I am grateful my Dad is *mostly* ok and on a regimen to strengthen his heart for surgery. All in all, my daily mantra has become “Get glad in the same pants you got mad in” because it can always be worse, and I know it.

How does this relate to mysteries? Mysteries are, to me, like therapy. I hibernate with mysteries. There is some healing property in them, as you may be able to discern looking at the sidebar. Yep, every read in 2011 has been a mystery. So how were they? Let me tell you:

Dead Politician’s Society by Spano*

Funny, quirky, a little bit naughty and not a lot nice. This debut is about a young-ish policewoman, Clare, who is eager to prove herself as an undercover cop. She bristles around her handler and isn’t the most perceptive cop, so she gets in trouble. A lot. Like, murders happen with her in the same room. However, she isn’t grating. Here’s the deal: a politician gets killed, and an organization, The Society for Political Utopia, not only takes responsibility but also writes the local newspaper an obituary, explaining why. As the murders continue, everyone is a suspect, local university students who follow cult-like after their leader; the professor himself, who thinks he’s a maverick but who is, in reality, a stereotype, sleeping with his students; the mayor’s wife who has lived, as a lesbian, separately from him for years. All the while, the killer messages Annabel, a reporter for the local paper who wants to stay close to the story, but the story may come just a little too close. There were a few moments where I had to really suspend my disbelief, but all in all, this was a fun read.

*Read on my mom’s Kindle when Coffee and a Book Chick advertised Robin Spano was offering her ebook for a limited time at $1.99.

Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Love from Hell by M.C. Beaton

The Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton

I read this trio quickly and enjoyed every minute. Agatha Raisin is a middle-aged former publicist-turned-detective who is quite a bit vain and helplessly dependent on the idea of love, specifically when it comes to James Lacey, a man who, in all appearances, seems to want nothing to do with her. In The Terrible Tourist, Agatha chases after James to Cyprus, where all sorts of hijinks occur. Agatha meets an odd group of tourists while on a boating trip. She is alone, and there are two other trios, each a married couple and an older gentlemen. One group appears to be old money, while the other is a bit crass. The nouveau riche woman is murdered, and Agatha is in constant danger of being murdered. She is also in danger of leaving Cyprus broken hearted. In Love from Hell, Agatha and James are married, cannot abide one another, and argue constantly. That is, until James disappears, and a woman (with whom he has been sleeping) is found murdered. Agatha must, with the help of her friends, clear James’s name and determine whether or not she has any love left for her husband.

The Deadly Dance is the first novel where Agatha sets up her agency. The local constabulary isn’t happy with her amateurish investigations, but she quickly proves herself with the help of her ever-growing staff. The agency gets its first big “case” and what initially appears to be a horrible mistake, turns into a case bigger than Agatha bargained for. With the help of her friend/lover Charles, she must track down a fiendish, cold-blooded killer.

Death of a Village by M.C. Beaton

If I had to choose, I would most likely pick Hamish Macbeth over Agatha Raisin. The novels still have quite a bit of charm, but the stories don’t jump around like the Agatha Raisin series. In this episode, Hamish Macbeth decides to take a trip to ease his discontent. He drives to the hamlet of Stoyre, but the small village does not restore Macbeth the way he would wish. Instead, he finds a village somewhat different than what he remembers. The villagers are not welcoming; in fact, a fire destroys the home of the only outsider in Stoyre. Macbeth tries to investigate but is stopped at every turn by closemouthed, fearful villagers. Macbeth must make a chink in the village’s armor and figure out what the crime is with the help of reporter Elspeth and an elderly couple – Mrs. Docherty and Mr. Jefferson.


Each of these is a great read, and I could certainly recommend them for light reading. What about you? Any mysteries lately? What have you been reading?

happy reading – jenn aka picky girl

P.S. If you want to know about the two Winspear’s I read, stay tuned. I plan to write full reviews of each because they were fantastic!

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Judge a book by its cover? Moi? You must be mistaken. I mean, why would I ever look at the cover art and determine a book’s worth… ok, I can’t keep it up. Will you please look at this cover? Is it not just perfection? When I first saw it, I thought: “Genius.” Then I got my hands on a copy at my local library (have I mentioned how much I love my local library?) and thought it all the more. What you can’t see in the photo is that the blood spatter is actually a cut out and that the red paper beyond it is a shiny scarlet red. It’s absolutely brilliant.

But enough of my gushing over the cover. Sadly, this literary thriller just didn’t quite live up to its cover; thus, the old adage.

In The Sherlockian, the book opens with Conan Doyle vowing to kill off Sherlock Holmes. It’s actually quite funny. Doyle is jealous of Holmes’s fame and intends to be done with him, remarking “If I don’t, …he’ll make a death of me.” His friends argue as to what will be the death of Holmes, and Doyle seriously considers how his own life has been intertwined with that of Holmes. This is what Moore has done well. He has made flesh of a man many only see as the man behind Holmes. He injects regret and joy, sorrow and guilt into this writer and his friend, Bram Stoker as they embark on a prideful journey to prove Doyle, the creator, is just as good, if not better, than his creation. I found the scenes with the pair conversing to be the most engaging aspects of the novel.

Abruptly, however, the action switches to present day and a meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of Holmes devotees. Harold, its newest and youngest member, has been inducted after some preeminent research into Holmes. The meeting takes a sobering turn when a member, Alex Cale, comes into the hotel looking disheveled and claiming he is being followed. Alex supposedly has in his possession the missing diary of Conan Doyle. The next morning, Cale is found dead; the diary is missing, and Harold takes it upon himself to, along with Sarah, a reporter, in true Holmesian fashion, deduce the killer and the whereabouts of the diary.

Unfortunately, though I loved the Doyle/Stoker friendship and the mystery Doyle seeks to solve, Harold was just so incredibly blah. His character was not only uninteresting, but having built him up as an academic and researcher, Moore has simply written a boring, pathetic character. His naivete and clumsiness are not endearing, and at several points, I was irritated with him and Moore’s much-too-blatant hints and winks at the reader. Sarah, a “reporter” whose motives are obviously less than altruistic, pushes her way into the action, and both her relationship with Harold and her identity are simply ridiculous.There is no chemistry between the two, yet the reader is expected to believe Harold is willing to toss away his career for this woman.

I hate to be harsh, but I expected much, much more from this novel. And, to be fair, had Moore stuck with Doyle and Stoker, I would possibly be telling a much different tale. Unfortunately, he didn’t, and my powers of observation tell me this one won’t likely go down in the annals of Sherlockian history. However, I do hope for bigger and better tales from Moore after this somewhat disappointing debut.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Except not really because I would probably be absolutely petrified, have a heart attack, and die. If you are completely lost, the title refers to the first and very well-known line from the eerie Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. My first experience with Rebecca was as a child when I first watched Hitchcock’s interpretation with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, more recently two months ago. I finally picked up a copy of the book at the library the day before Thanksgiving and devoured it as it rained outside, which, I have to say, is pretty much perfect reading weather but is certainly perfect Du Maurier reading weather.

The unnamed narrator, a young, unworldly woman, meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo while acting as a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an older, wealthy, prattling woman. Mrs. Van Hopper refers to some sort of awful tragedy Mr. de Winter has endured (she seems to know everything about everyone), but our narrator doesn’t pry. Mrs. Van Hopper becomes ill, and the narrator finds herself more and more in the company of Mr. de Winter, an inscrutable but fascinating older man.

All too quickly, the holiday in Monte Cristo comes to a close, but Maxim refuses to let the naive young narrator sail off into the sunset. No, there is a much-less-happy-ending in the narrator’s future. The couple goes to Manderley, Maxim’s estate, and the young companion has no idea how to run a household, much less a household as large as Manderley. She meets the household staff and quickly learns Maxim goes about Maxim’s business while she is left to her own devices.

Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, conspicuously brings up Rebecca (the first Mrs. De Winter) in conversation, referring to how Mrs. DeWinter did this and how Mrs. DeWinter did that, leaving the narrator feeling more insecure and less able to learn how to adjust to her new home. Mrs. Danvers tempts the narrator with discussions of Rebecca’s rooms, the best in the house. When the narrator walks through the grounds, she looks up and curtains in Rebecca’s old room part to reveal Mrs. Danvers, ever watchful. Let’s stop there. Mrs. Danvers is easily one of the most spooky characters I have ever read about or watched in a film. Her obsession with Rebecca and her obvious distaste for the new Mrs. DeWinter verges on demented. This is one twisted housekeeper, and you should be very, very afraid.

As for Maxim, he is gone quite often and has turned sullen and standoffish inside the walls of Manderley. His moods are inconstant; he treats the narrator like a young girl (which drove me nuts). In the face of near insurmountable evidence, the narrator naturally believes he is still in love with the dead Rebecca. She begs him to host a ball for the neighbors, a costume ball, and Mrs. Danvers suggests what the narrator should wear. The tension mounts until the night of the party, and then there is all sorts of action.  Who was Rebecca, and what happened to her?

I will leave you hanging here because I don’t want to spoil anything. Plus, I think every blogger is owed several “Go read this book right now” statements throughout the year, so I’m calling in my first. Go read this book. Second, watch the movie. Third, come back and thank me, and we can talk. Need some more reasons? Spooky house? Check. Crazy housekeeper? Check. Dead wife? Check. Now go.

If you’ve read it, have you seen the movie? I seriously felt as though it played in my head the entire time. Hitchcock, of course, is a genius, but this film is truly a work of art and an excellent, excellent adaptation. What did you think? Rebecca truly made me want to devour everything DuMaurier has written.

Ooh! Ahh! Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a fabulous New Year’s Eve. 2011: Better known as the year I turn 30. This will be a banner year. In that vein, I am cleaning house today. No reading or lounging around or blogging. I am taking down Christmas decorations, being ruthless about my closet, and trying to make decisions about my bookshelves.

2010 was a great year. It was my first year as a book blogger, and I have really enjoyed finding others’ blogs, connecting with bloggers on Twitter and sharing in discussion right here. I hope for much, much more discussion in the year to come. I read over 100 books, and as it was my first time ever to keep track of that, I was thrilled. You may have noticed, I have no charts or graphs detailing number of pages, number of female/male authors, etcetera. I am a laidback blogger. I love seeing charts and graphs, but I’m just not that kind of gal.

Here are some other things I’ve learned about myself as a blogger: I suck at challenges. No, really. My title “My First Challenge!” is the only post. I felt so guilty. Still feel guilty. Ugh. The sad thing is, I probably actually DID finish the challenge but didn’t post about it. I don’t like memes, except this one. Readalongs are awesome. The library is mega awesome. Twitter is not evil. If there is a blogging tiff, I will know nothing about it. Romance novels aren’t all that bad. Meeting bloggers in person is fun! And last but not least, I can read anywhere.

So that’s my wrap-up. My goals for 2011 for my blog? Blog more regularly. Try to increase comment discussion for the simple reason that I love discussing the books I read. Other than that, I plan to keep it simple. What do you guys think? If there are any lurkers (those who read but don’t comment), please say hi. I’d love to meet you – and to maybe twist your arm to read a couple of my favorite books!

Happy New Year, and as always, happy reading.

jenn aka picky girl

A home for my books.

I must have been a very good (albeit, picky) girl this year because I got Lowe’s gift cards. Hm, you might be thinking. What on earth will she do with that? Why, buy lumber for bookshelves, of course! My previous home had built-in bookshelves and though they were stacked three deep, they were perfect. How many bookshelves does my current home have? Three measly ones in my office to hold school books for reference. The rest of my books are shoved into cabinets and closets but are mainly under the bed in the front room. You read that right. While this has made for a major purging of books I wasn’t in love with, it makes it very difficult to lend books or find books for quick reference. It also makes it difficult to figure out what I have read and what I haven’t. So the goal is to turn a wall in my spacious dining room into built-in bookshelves. I am taking the opportunity to do it up right. New paint colors and everything. The problem, as it stands is that I love the color of my walls, but I really don’t love the white trim with the color for a library/dining room.

I’m thinking something a little lighter than the paint on this wall from the blog Isabella and Max:

Here is the space as it is, along with my inspiration photo:

So should I go with color on the walls with white trim and bookshelves? Or cream or white on the walls with black or gray on the trim/bookshelves? These are my dilemmas. But wait! I also need help with the details. I have several favorites, though the picture above is certainly the most classic. What do you like/love about these options? Which do you hate? Which one is only eh, okay? I want the DL, blogging buddies. I know design may not be your passion, but along with readings, it’s a big passion of mine, so help a gal out:

The End of a Semester (or, How I Turned into a Softie)


I have tried and tried and tried to finish a blog post this morning and just can’t. I have about 10 drafts going, but alas. Nothing. So I’m going to go au natural this morning.

I think part of it is the end of the semester has just really wiped me out. Grading nonstop until 1:30 in the morning is exhausting. And then, brilliant me decided to have a Christmas party. THE DAY AFTER GRADES WERE DUE. So that turned into a whole evening/morning of manic cleaning, menu planning, and decorating. The next day my parents moved out of my house (they stayed with me for a month between the sale of their old house and the closing of their new house), so the weekend was spent painting rooms and unpacking them. Their new house is beautiful and closer to me and not 100 years old, which is good for a number of reasons. Then Monday, my brother (aka Picky Boy) came in from NYC. In other words, it. has. been. crazy.

However, it’s a good crazy. I’ve done a little bit of reading, but honestly, I’ve been so busy, reading hasn’t been much on my mind. Plus, reading dozens of essays right at the end of the semester did me in. I had to share one story, though:

I had one student who, from the beginning of the semester, I really liked. He’s a young kid, from an inner-city school, and he was just so enthusiastic. When the class turned in its first essays, his was awful, though I could tell he spent some time on it. Truly. It was terrible. There was no organization, no coherence. The grammar was abhorrent, and there were sections I could barely read. So I pulled the kid aside and asked him to set up a time to meet with me because he failed the assignment. Those of you who teach know, not every kid will take advantage of extra help. This student did. He came to my office. I gave him two specific areas of concentration to focus on and told him to rewrite one paragraph. He did and brought it to me, and I increased his grade based on that paragraph.

Throughout the semester, he remained engaged and worked diligently, but he could never seem to really make the cut. We continued to work on several problems in his writing, and he improved steadily. During the final, I graded their final essays, and when I came to this particular student, I put my pen down. I read it through, and it was very obviously still his own work, but guys, it was good. It was organized. The essay topic was dead on, and I was so proud of him. I marked a few things and slapped a 90 on that essay and wrote him a note about his hard work.

When he came up to turn in his final, I pulled him aside and told him he couldn’t take the essay with him, as I wasn’t handing them back but that I wanted him to look at his grade. He scowled at my mark-ups on the first couple of pages, but when he got to his grade, he clutched his chest, looked at me, looked down at the essay and back up at me: “Really? I really got an A? I’ve never made an A on a paper.”

I told him he had done the work, had improved steadily and that he did a fantastic job on the essay. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he looked at me and said “Thank you so much. You made my Christmas.” I explained to him that the grade had absolutely nothing to do with me and that he should be proud of himself. He thanked me again and walked off, saying he would text his mom and grandma. I discreetly wiped tears from my eyes as well.

And you know what? He really made my Christmas. It’s easy to wish I made more money and gripe about how teachers don’t get paid enough (we don’t). It’s simple to fall into the trap of whining about those who don’t put in any effort and then complain because they get a C in class. But to really see a student persevere and improve and then appreciate your and his own work? It was really touching. The only problem is, ever since, I have been boo-hooing at the smallest things, and I am not a crier. Hell, last night we watched Cupcake Wars, and I practically cried. We watched Miracle on 34th Street yesterday, and the second Santa spoke Dutch to the little girl, off I went again. Don’t even let the ASPCA commercials come on. Frankly, it’s embarrassing, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.

So, to you and yours, whether or not you celebrate Christmas or just use the break as an excuse to read, I hope there is a little softie in you (if, for nothing else, so I don’t feel quite so foolish), and as always, happy reading.


(Almost) back to regularly-scheduled programming…

Merry Christmas! I feel awful for not posting in so long and hope you haven’t abandoned me. However, I have been doing a whole lot of this:

And not a whole lot of this:

But I do have reviews and exciting news right around the corner. So stay tuned, dear blog readers, I will return.

In the meantime, what the heck have YOU been reading that I should add to my TBR (To Be Read) list?

It’s a mystery!

Actually, it’s three mysteries. I did quite a bit of reading last weekend, and I decided to do three short reviews as opposed to individual ones. In fact, I may bring this back regularly since I tend to read them often. If you’ve read any good mysteries lately and want to link up, leave your link in comments, and I’ll include it here.

Every now and again I just get on a kick where all I want to read are mysteries, so bear with me. It usually happens toward the end of a semester when my brain feels fried from grading essay after essay. So, in no particular order, here’s the low down:

Death of a Poison Pen by M.C. Beaton – a Hamish Macbeth mystery

I’ve heard quite a bit about M.C. Beaton, both from bloggers and from my mom, who loves Agatha Raisin. Even though cozy mysteries aren’t usually what I like, I thought it might be a nice switch. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find quite a nice combination of hardened detective and charming Lochdubh in this book. This isn’t the first book in the series, but I definitely didn’t feel as though I was left out in any way. Hamish Macbeth is the underdog. His superiors don’t really like his methods, but his methods seem to solve a lot of cases. In this book, Macbeth is seeking out a writer of petty but poisonous letters. Everyone seems to have gotten one, and Macbeth is afraid pretty soon someone will take matters into her own hands. Of course, he’s right, and pretty soon there are swinging corpses showing up and startling the otherwise quiet village. Throw in an outsider looking for an adventure and following Macbeth in an effort to make her friend (and Macbeth’s former girlfriend) jealous, a nosy reporter, and a vindictive headmistress of a local school, and the writing is on the wall: Murder most foul, as Miss Marple would say (not to totally mix my cozy mysteries).

Mr. Dixon Disappears by Ian Sansom – A Mobile Library Mystery

Ah, I had such high hopes for this book. A mobile librarian who is a bit of a deadbeat? A mobile librarian who is a bit of a deadbeat who also runs into crime? Sign me up. Israel Armstrong is that librarian, and the story opens with him setting up a mobile exhibit about a local legend – Dixon and Pickering’s, a department store. As he is setting up, though, the store is robbed, and the owner, Mr. Dixon, disappears (see! that’s where the title come from). The local police don’t trust Armstrong, who is an outsider in this Irish village and has a very funny name for an Englishman. He is arrested, and mayhem ensues. The setup is all very nice, and the humor is great. My biggest problem with this mystery? It couldn’t decide whether or not it was cozy or hardboiled. One instant, Israel is dressing in disguise and trying to decipher the local dialect, the next, he is dropping the C word (very bad) and pissing me off. Eh. I may try another, and I certainly don’t hope to dissuade you. It just didn’t make me an instant fan.

Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate by M.C. Beaton

Don’t be fooled. Beaton may be the same author of this series and the Hamish Macbeth series, but they are definitely distinct series. I enjoyed them both, even though the cozy mystery is not usually my cup of tea. Agatha’s husband has left her for the monastery – except he never makes it to the monastery. Her pride is just a bit hurt until the new curate, a devilishly handsome younger man, asks her to dinner. However, shortly after their dinner (and a goodnight kiss), Tristan the curate, is found murdered. Agatha and her handsome mystery writer friend take on the investigation themselves, traveling to and from London with several near misses, red herrings, all while a cold-blooded murderer is on the loose. The murders are actually quite vicious, which I didn’t expect for a cozy mystery, and the ending was satisfying. What more can you ask for?

I do hope you’ve enjoyed these short reviews. As I mentioned before, if you’ve reviewed any of these or possibly other mysteries, let’s link up! Anyone else feel like winter is perfect cozy mystery weather? If so, what’s on your list?