Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: "Sister" by Rosamund Lupton

If you like murder mysteries, get a copy of Sister by Rosamund Lupton. If you like character-driven stories, get a copy of Sister by Rosamund Lupton. If you like well-plotted novels, get a copy of Sister by Rosamund Lupton. If you like books that explore the relationship between siblings, get a copy of Sister by Rosamund Lupton. Yes, the book is really that good and yes, it really will appeal to all kinds of readers.

Beatrice is living in New York with her fiance when she gets word that her sister Tess has gone missing. She rushes to her native England to find out what happened and moves into Tess's flat to begin investigating her last moves. Soon her body is found, and it looks like suicide. However, Beatrice is certain that Tess never would have killed herself, even though a psychiatrist says she was suffering from postpartum psychosis after the death of her newborn son. So was Tess murdered, and if so, by whom?

This is one of those novels that is so intricate that I would love to see the author's notes. How did Lupton keep all the details straight and tease the reader with information at just the right time? Not only is there the murder mystery, which is structured as a letter Beatrice is writing to Tess to explain why she did what she did, but there is also Beatrice's witness statement to a prosecuting attorney, so the reader knows pretty quickly that there was a killer. These two elements come together at the end in a great twist I definitely did not see coming.

In Beatrice's letter, which is the murder mystery part, she also talks about missing her sister terribly and explains the nature of their relationship and their family dynamic. There is a ton of character depth, making this book so much more than just a mystery or suspense novel. We are inside Beatrice's head as she investigates Tess's death and also deals with the emotional side of losing her best friend.

So whether you like a good mystery or whether you prefer less action and more heart, definitely pick up Sister. You will not be disappointed. I can't wait to see what Rosamund Lupton will do next.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Civil War Websites

The June 1, 2011, issue of Booklist has an article with several recommended websites about the Civil War. This year is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of that bloody period in American history, so if you're interested in any aspect of it you'll probably find sources of information listed below.


COMMEMORATIVE SITES
Civil War Trust's Civil War 150th Anniversary -- Here you will find links to individual states' 150th anniversary websites. There are also links to the Civil War blogs of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Civil War -- has a complete run of Harper's Weekly, 1861-1865.

Lincoln at 200 -- includes an online exhibit about his role in the Civil War.

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln

The Civil War: 150 Years -- the National Park Service's website

CivilWar@Smithsonian


MAPS AND IMAGES
Civil War Maps -- Library of Congress American Memory collection

Gilmer Civil War Maps Collection -- from UNC

The Becker Collection: Drawings of the American Civil War Era -- Boston College collection

Selected Civil War Photographs -- this is just one collection from the Library of Congress; if you poke around their website you'll find several more


THOSE WHO SERVED
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

History of African Americans in the Civil War -- from the National Park Service

Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet -- from Duke University

Women Soldiers of the Civil War -- National Archives


MUSIC AND POETRY
Band Music from the Civil War Era -- Library of Congress American Memory

Poetry and Music of the War Between the States


PERSONAL HISTORIES
American Civil War Collections at the Electronic Text Center -- from the University of Virginia

United States Civil War Collection: Civil War Diaries -- Western Michigan University Libraries

Hospital Sketches, by Louisa May Alcott

A Diary from Dixie, by Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut

"My Precious Lulie ...": Love Letters of the Civil War

There are other sites listed in the article along with some brief commentary. To read the whole thing, check with your local library to see if they can get you a copy. Also, many of these sites are pieces of a whole. If you look around within a site, you'll often find more information.

I would also add the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, which you can find at the Internet Archive. Various formats for viewing are listed on the left. You can also find it at Civil War Home organized by battle. Cornell University's Making of America has the Official Records plus the naval records.

photo courtesy of Flickr

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Tool to Compare Schools

I saw a recent Mashable article on ProPublica's new tool to compare public schools across the US, so parents now have another source to turn to when evaluating school systems. If  you're moving to a new area or if you're debating public schools versus private schools, give this resource a try. The information comes from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and gathers together statistics such as the percentage of students getting free or reduced lunches and how many students are taking AP classes. The initial search is as quick as entering a ZIP code, address, or school. You can also browse by state on the left to get a brief overview. You can compare individual schools and share your findings on Facebook if you wish.

There is also a website called GreatSchools, which includes both public and private institutions. It focuses on test scores but also has demographics, funding, and other information, so between the two resources parents can get a good idea of their locale's educational system.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Books Related to "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is one of my favorite books. Rebecca herself has died before the book begins, but she is still a great presence throughout. More than the current events with the second Mrs. de Winter and her new husband Maxim, it's Rebecca's story that keeps me interested: What was she doing in London the day she died? Did she really commit suicide or was she murdered? And above all, who was she really?

Several years ago I came across Mrs. de Winter by Susan Hill. I don't remember anything about the plot, but I do recall being less than impressed. Indeed, when I was searching recently for reviews I found that it got rather lukewarm mentions in various places, mostly English newspapers. However, a couple of weeks ago I found Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman. Now here was a story that addressed the very questions I always had, and finding out who Rebecca really was is at the heart. Beauman's book was approved by the du Maurier estate and even manages to keep to the basics of Susan Hill's book. It's quite a feat for an author to take a well-loved classic and a not-so-well-received sequel and construct a plausible third narrative around them.

Hill's book begins right as Rebecca ends and follows Maxim and his second wife as they deal with the aftermath of finding Rebecca's body and end up leaving England for a while, then returning for various reasons. Beauman sets her book twenty years after Rebecca's death, using a minor character from the last few chapters of the original and introducing another character who is interested in Rebecca for personal reasons. There's intrigue, mysterious notebooks, a touch of romance, and the evil Mrs. Danvers. This book might even stand on its own if you like a good suspense novel. Definitely pick it up if you want to find out what really happened to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

If you like satire, you might also like The Other Rebecca by Maureen Freely. It's an updated retelling of the original, but it's supposed to also be humorous. I don't think I want to try this one, but if you don't mind your classics getting a little twisted treatment, you might go for it.