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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

There are many stories about the resilience of Christmas. From Rudolph’s shiny nose making it possible for presents to be delivered to Scrooge providing a goose dinner and presents hoping to improve his Christmas Yet to Come. But none of them is as weird and wonderful as the book I am about to share with you.

On the back of an enormous turtle swimming through space sits the Discworld, a flat disc of a planet full of wizards, barbarians, assassins, and technology run by imps. It is a place where the odd and magical is commonplace, but tonight something is definitely wrong.

Death – scythe-wielding, cloak-wearing Death – is out on Hogswatch Night, the yuletide celebration of the longest night of the year, but there is no Hogfather to be seen. The jolly old man with the sleigh pulled by hogs should be going rooftop to rooftop delivering presents. Where is he?

With no other options, Death dons a red coat and a false beard and starts delivering presents himself.

During his travels he visits the home where his granddaughter – Susan – serves as the nanny for two small children. Death refuses to explain what he is doing. He knows that Susan’s curiosity will force her to find out what happened to the real Hogfather.

As Death’s granddaughter, Susan is one of the few adults able to see creatures that children believe in. Her charges frequently call Susan in to deal with monsters living under their bed. She deals with them quite roughly using her weapon of choice, the fireplace poker.

Susan does take matters into her own hands, first traveling to the Hogfather’s palace in the very hub of the Discworld. From there she goes to visit the wizards of Unseen University who have been having troubles of their own.

Since Hogwatch began every time the wizards reference an imaginary creature – such as a monster living in the laundry room who eats socks – that creature appears. Susan deduces that this is due to a buildup of belief. Belief that should be manifesting the Hogfather.

Hoping to find out more, Susan visits a friend of hers who works as a tooth fairy. What she discovers is that her friend has been kidnapped by the same people who are attempting to destroy the Hogfather.

She follows their trail to the Tooth Fairy’s realm, a world completely powered by the belief of children. There Susan attempts to rescue her friend and save the Hogfather – and Hogswatch Night for children around the Disc.

Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather was published in 1996; it is the twentieth novel set in the Discworld. The series has a total of forty-one books. It is a comic fantasy series, which does not take itself too seriously. Pratchett pokes fun at literary and fantasy tropes while — at the same time — reveling in them.

In Hogfather, Pratchett alludes to the story of the little match girl. A child trying to sell matches door-to-door who is destined to die this Hogswatch because no stranger is willing to take pity on her. But not while Death is the Hogfather. He puts a stop to that traditional narrative by restoring some of the sand in her hourglass.

Sir Terry Pratchett is an institution in England, but he may be somewhat unknown here in the United States. His brand of absurdity and humor is an absolute delight, and I encourage you to give HOGFATHER a try this holiday season.

Review written by: Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

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A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

In Judy I. Lin’s debut novel, A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON, certain people — those who have been blessed with Shennong’s gifts — are able to use the ingredients and rituals of tea brewing to weave spells.

Some can use their power to see the future, others can brew teas that affect the mind, and some can heal. Practitioners of these arts are called shennong-tu, and masters are called shennong-shi.

Ning, a teenage shennong-tu, has been invited to the imperial palace to participate in a competition hosted by the emperor’s daughter. The competition will determine who will become the court shennong-shi, and win a favor from the princess.

She and the other trainees face a series of challenges to prove their skills. Winning will require a strong magical gift and a deep knowledge of tea. It will also require the strength of character to withstand the machinations of the court.

Ning is desperate to win a favor from the princess. Her sister, Shu, is gravely ill – poisoned by tea distributed to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Many people throughout the empire died as a result of the poisoned tea. Shu’s ongoing illness does not react to any antidote that Ning or her family have access to; the only way to save Shu is with the princess’s help.

As the competition progresses, Ning begins to form friendships with other people from the palace. In particular with Kang, the son of the banished prince – the current emperor’s brother. Kang has returned from exile to petition his uncle and cousin to right the wrongs that their people are suffering.

Ning and Kang form a bond before she knows who he is, before she knows the dangers of associating with him. Their connection does not go unnoticed by the princess. She tasks Ning with finding out Kang’s true motivations for returning to the capital.

As the princess well knows, there are those who are working against her. Not only out in the empire, but within the palace walls.

Now embroiled in a world completely alien to her own, Ning must navigate her loyalties to the princess, to her family, and to Kang – who she is now inextricably connected to after they shared a cup of tea.

The magic of Shennong requires a sacrifice of the user. When Ning is exerting her powers to look into someone’s mind, they can see into hers. If she uses her powers to heal someone, she has to experience their pain to do it. And the more magic she uses on a person, the more deeply they are bonded.

The world that Judy I. Lin has created is shaped by a deep mythology that simmers under the surface of her novel. She has carefully considered the layout of her world and the ways that geography, politics, and religion have shaped different regions. Ning feels like the proverbial fish out of water when she comes from the fringes of her small town into the heart of the country.

A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON is a character-driven fantasy novel within a beautifully rendered world. Lin’s turns of phrase are poetic and deeply evocative. Her descriptions of food – and tea, of course – will send you straight to the kitchen.

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Chat with Alyssa about Chat & Craft

What is Chat & Craft?

Chat & Craft is a monthly program offered by the JPL where crafters of all types are invited to come together over their mutual love of handcrafts. Many of the attendees have been coming since the program started in 2006. But they are very welcoming to new faces!

What do people do?

People bring in all kinds of things; there’s lots of crochet, cross stitch, knitting, needle felting, floral wreaths, we even have painters at times. If they sell the supplies at the craft store, chances are we’ve seen it at Chat & Craft.

Are you assigning crafts?

Generally, it’s bring your own project. We do offer group projects and classes at times. Back in June, I brought in a crochet pattern for a stuffed jellyfish – to tie in with summer reading – and people really seemed to like it. Next month, I will be bringing in supplies for everyone to make a small punch needle piece.

What changes have you made since you took over?

I took over the program early this year when the previous leader retired. I was grateful to have her foundation to build on. Since then we’ve done a re-brand, to make Chat & Craft more cohesive with the rest of our adult programming and I have been able to start providing supplies for classes, thanks to grant funding from the Lemons Charitable Trust.

When do you meet?

We get together on the first Tuesday of every month from 6 to 8pm in the library’s community room. Our next meeting will be September 6th, and we are learning punch needle embroidery.

Anything to say to those who might be interested?

I would say just give it a try! We really have a lot of fun, and there’s no pressure to be an especially good crafter – or even much of a chatter. Also, if you’re having trouble learning a new craft, someone here has probably tried it. Bring it in and we can get you on the right path.

 

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Nell Young’s whole life is maps, it always has been. Her father is a world-renowned expert in mapmaking and cartography at the New York Public Library, and he raised her to love maps as much as he does.

She followed in his footsteps through college: studying cartography and earning a highly-competitive internship in the NYPL’s Maps Division. All signs pointed to her earning a full position there when she graduated.

Until the Junk Box Incident. Nell and her father had a very public fight over a map and he fired her in front of the entire office. With her reputation as an up-and-coming academic ruined, and all her connections in the field broken by the loss of her father’s support. Nell was sentenced to a maps-adjacent career designing decorative maps for people’s living rooms.

After the fight, Nell wanted nothing more to do with her father. Although he had fostered her love of maps, he was a somewhat inattentive parent. He had done his best as a single father after her mother’s death, but he always felt distant.

Nell stayed away from him, and from the NYPL, for years. But she finds herself back in the library after hearing the news that her father has passed away at his desk. Looking through her father’s papers, Nell is shocked to find the map that she and her father fought about all those years ago – the catalyst of the Junk Box Incident. A nondescript, mass produced gas station map of New York’s highways.

During her internship, Nell discovered the junk box in the storage room of the Maps Division. Inside she had found some very rare and valuable maps, and – inexplicably – the gas station map. When she ran back to the office with her discovery, her father claimed that the maps in the box were fakes and fired her on the spot. What she cannot understand is why he seems to have held onto that worthless gas station map until the day he died.

As she looks into the history of the map, Nell discovers that every other copy has been claimed by a mysterious group called The Cartographers. Whether by purchase or theft, every copy of this map – in museums, libraries, archives, private collections, and antique shops – has disappeared.

Unable to stop digging into a mystery that is quickly taking over her life, Nell begins to chase down the people her father was in contact with before his death – people who turn out to be her parents’ college friends. They give her new insight into her family history and show her the real potential that maps hold, if you know where to look.

THE CARTOGRAPHERS by PENG SHEPHERD hops back and forth between Nell’s story and the first-person recollections of this older group of map enthusiasts. They tell her about events she was too young to remember and the truth behind lies that she has been told to protect her. The reader listens alongside Nell as she hears these stories from her past.

The book itself is a compelling blend of realism and fantasy. While much of the story is designed as a straight-laced mystery, there is magic here. It is a magic that feels almost plausible – and, if you read the author’s note, you will find that it is a magic that is very nearly real.

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Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

SPACE OPERA by Catherynne M. Valente is a book so up my alley that I put off reading it for years because I was afraid it couldn’t live up to how amazing it sounded. I can tell you now that I was wrong.

But before I tell you about the book, let me ask: have you heard of Eurovision?  It’s an annual song contest that the nations of Europe have been putting on since 1956. Each country brings a song and performs it live, and the entire thing is broadcast on TV for the viewers at home. Sort of like the Olympics for pop music.

SPACE OPERA is Eurovision, but in space.

Decibel Jones – former front man of the one-time super-group Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros – is asleep in his tiny London apartment when he is visited by an electric blue flamingo creature claiming to be from another planet.

The creature is called an Esca, and she has come to Earth with a somewhat threatening invitation.

She explains that all of the known sentient species in the universe come together annually for a song contest. They play whatever they have for instruments and sing with whatever they use to produce speech – be it a mouth, a trunk, or a hollow melodic rib cage.

All species who have developed the capability for space travel are required to send a representative to the contest. Meaning that Earth must now participate. And as a race applying for intergalactic recognition of their sentience, they must place better than dead last.

If they come last, they will have proven they are not sentient, not able to coexist with the other species, and their entire race will be wiped out – in order to protect the other races from the threat of a non-sentient species wreaking havoc on everyone else.

The Esca explains the stakes to Decibel, and every other human on the planet simultaneously. She then presents humanity with a list of performers that have the best chance of succeeding in the Metagalactic Grand Prix. At the very bottom of the list: Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros.

Next thing he knows, Dess finds himself and his ex-bandmate, Oort St. Ultraviolet, onboard a starship headed for the Metagalactic Grand Prix, with the fate of the world on their shoulders.

The two of them must write and perform a new song that will appeal even a little bit to a panel of intergalactic judges, while rubbing elbows with unusual beings from across the universe.

SPACE OPERA is so much fun to read. Valente mixes in a lot of humor and heart into her story of impending global destruction. Readers get glimpses into what people back on earth are experiencing as they watch the Grand Prix and glimpses into Dess’ childhood, as a kid dancing around in his grandmother’s scarves and a teen designing his first stage outfit from the thrift store bargain bins.

From their conception, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros were decidedly glam. They were a mid-2000s British pop sensation that burned briefly, but brightly.

The three members of the band, Dess, Oort, and Mira Wonderful Star, were a world all their own. Until Mira died tragically years ago. Without her, and with the band already falling from the spotlight, Dess and Oort didn’t have a reason to keep going. Dess made a go at a solo career, and Oort got married and had two kids.

Decibel Jones is Arthur Dent meets Lady Gaga; he’s a stranger out in the galaxy, but he tries very hard to treat everything with the practiced disinterest you expect from a rockstar. And if you don’t like Dess, then you will like Oort, who is the epitome of steady – the rock that kept the Absolute Zeros together while they lasted.

Valente has presented an excellent example of my favorite kind of science fiction, the kind that has gone out to space to have fun. She has taken cues from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is the gold standard funny sci-fi book.

Valente dedicates paragraphs to the history of an alien species or the peculiarities of its home world – a convention that Douglas Adams used liberally in Hitchhiker’s. Her story is brief, but the world she has built is populated with so many interesting characters that SPACE OPERA has only just scratched the surface.

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56 Days By Catherine Ryan Howard

When the pandemic started, many people – including myself – thought that no one would want to read fiction set during this time. On top of the fact that this is a disaster we are all living through, everyone was stuck in their homes learning to make their own bread and hoping they had enough toilet paper. Who would want to read about that?

You can imagine my surprise when covid-centered books began to trickle in.

Not to mention the surprise I am feeling now, recommending one of these books to you.

56 DAYS by CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD is set in Ireland at the very beginning of the pandemic. Two people, Oliver and Ciara, went on a date 56 days ago after meeting in a supermarket queue; 35 days ago – when Ireland’s lockdown began – they were both facing two weeks alone in their apartments and decided to quarantine together. Today, a team of detectives arrived at Oliver’s apartment, where they found a decomposing body in his bathroom.

As they sift through the evidence, we jump back to moments from the past eight weeks. Seeing the story play out from both Oliver’s and Ciara’s perspective.

Oliver is new in town, working at an architecture firm run by one of his brother’s friends. He is staying in a lavish, company-owned apartment. Ciara works customer service at a cloud computing company and lives in a tiny studio apartment nearby.

When lockdown began, they were really hitting it off – texting constantly and feeling like they could not go two weeks without seeing each other. With few friends in the city and Oliver in possession of a second bedroom to Ciara’s zero, it seemed like the perfect time to try living together. But they were both keeping secrets, and soon one of them would be dead.

When Oliver first sees Ciara, he suspects she is a journalist. He has been harassed by the press before, and decides to play along with her for a bit to see if he can figure out who she works for. But as he gets to know her better, his suspicions ease.

Ciara has barely any social media presence, and a quick call to the cloud computing firm she works for verifies that she really does work there. So Oliver lets his guard down, and begins to feel like the two of them really could be happy together.

What the reader doesn’t know yet is that Oliver is a convicted murderer. When he was a child, he and a friend were responsible for the death of a younger boy.

When the lockdown comes he sees it as a chance to let Ciara get to know him before she finds out what he did – to get to know the person that he is now, without the context of who he used to be.

For her part, Ciara is mostly alone in the world. Her mother is ill, and she and her sister barely talk. After a slightly awkward first meeting, she and Oliver seem to be really clicking, and she is eager to get to know him better. Everything else we know about Ciara is a lie.

56 Days is designed to keep you on your toes. As we see more of their lives, and discover more of their secrets, everything we know about Oliver and Ciara changes – recontextualizing every moment of their short history.

The most jarring example of this change is the moment they met, 56 days ago. The scene in the supermarket queue is repeated multiple times throughout the book.

First we hear Ciara’s perspective – surprise when Oliver addresses her, her first impression that he is someone who moves through life easily, and her choice to shut down their conversation or let him into her life.

Later in the book we hear Oliver’s – suspicion that he’s seen Ciara five times this week, even though he’s gone to lunch at a slightly different time every day, and interest in the bag she’s carrying.

When we hear their first meeting for the final time, the implications have come into focus. We know who they both are, we know what they have both done, and we know why Ciara has followed Oliver into this market five days in a row.

But, just when you think you know everything, 56 DAYS still has another secret up its sleeve.

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An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten

For these dark, cold winter nights, many readers turn to the cozy mystery genre. It is a genre full of stories of charming small towns beset by serial killers and warm winter cabins playing host to locked room mysteries – with victims and perpetrators alike trapped inside by record snowfall.

While the book I read has many characteristics of a cozy mystery, it is decidedly different than the others. The recently translated AN ELDERLY LADY MUST NOT BE CROSSED is the second book by Swedish author Helene Tursten about quiet, self-possessed, dangerous Maud.

Maud is in her eighties; she has outlived everyone in her family by many years, and has enjoyed a long retirement doing exactly what she pleases. She has traveled all over the globe. She is extraordinarily healthy and mobile. And has enough saved up to continue her current lifestyle until her death. She has a nearly perfect life, except that Maud is a murder.

Maud does not get any pleasure from murder, like a traditional serial killer. She merely sees it as a means to an end.

When the teacher she has been substituting for returns from extended medical leave – forcing Maud out of her teaching job – Maud takes matters into her own hands and arranges an “accident” to remove the obstacle. One snowy night she drops a chunk of ice on the other woman’s head.

In addition to ensuring her own survival as a single woman in Sweden, Maud uses murder to deal with pesky neighbors and those who pose a threat to her friends.

The people who fall victim to her coolly calculated wrath are mainly deserving of punishment. Men who abuse their wives (and disturb their downstairs neighbor on Christmas Eve), women marrying elderly men just for their money (especially when the man happens to be an old flame of Maud’s), and fully grown adults who accrue so much gambling debt that their mothers (and Maud’s favorite neighbor) have to sell their apartments to pay off those debts.

Maud will bring about their deaths, and she will never even be suspected. That is, until she murders someone a little too close to home.

At the beginning of An Elderly Lady Must Not be Crossed, the final murder of the first book is still an open police case.

An antiques dealer came to Maud’s apartment to make an offer on her father’s silver collection, but when it became clear that he was planning to undervalue the pieces, and make off with three of the most expensive items, Maud hit him with the fireplace poker – causing him to fall face first into the fender and impale himself.

Maud did her best to cover up the crime: leaving a small trail of blood with an old shoe, cleaning the poker so that the police would not find prints, and booking a few days at a spa so she could have conceivably been out of town when the murder occurred.

She even fools all of the police investigators using her infirm elderly lady technique – all of them, that is, except two officers, who are back at Maud’s door as this book opens.

Finding herself in a tight spot, Maud decides to go on an extended trip: an expensive safari in her favorite part of Africa. On the plane ride from Sweden to South Africa, she finds herself reminiscing about other justice-driven murders from her past.

An Elderly Lady Must Not be Crossed is a collection of stories, told with the frame narrative of Maud’s trip to South Africa. Things that happen on her trip remind her of times she was driven to crime to solve the problems in her life.

Readers can tell that Maud has no remorse for her victims. In her estimation, each and every one deserved what they got – and made life a little easier for Maud.

In my opinion, it is not necessary to read the first book – An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good – before reading this one. Each book stands on its own well enough for readers to feel confident starting with the second book.

If you are looking for a quick read to distract you from the cold this winter, try Helene Tursten’s AN ELDERLY LADY MUST NOT BE CROSSED.

 

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All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

When Nicolette Farrell was eighteen, her best friend went missing. The entire town came together to scour the woods for her, and the local police looked into everyone who knew anything about her disappearance. In the end, a detective was sent by the state to the small town of Cooley Ridge, and – according to Nic – she broke Corinne’s whole life open.

Corinne Prescott was a girl full of secrets: from the pregnancy test found in her bathroom trash to her emotionally and physically abusive father to whether she had been dating her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Jackson, or Nic’s brother, Daniel, at the time of her disappearance. The state detective dissected every aspect of Corinne’s life, but she could not reveal Corinne’s final secret: what happened to her the night she disappeared.

All of this took place ten years ago, and Nic has tried to distance herself from it as much as possible. She moved to Philadelphia for college, broke ties with all of her old friends, and never talked about her past to anyone.

Although she refuses to talk about it, Nic has never been able to let her past go. She hears echoes of Corinne’s voice in her head, and half expects her friend to turn up someday claiming that her disappearance was all a joke.

ALL THE MISSING GIRLS by MEGAN MIRANDA opens with Nicolette waking up to a phone call from her brother, which she lets go to voicemail. Her brother’s message says that their father is not doing well – he has vascular dementia – and that the two of them need to sell his house in order to pay for his care.

Later that day, Nic gets a letter from her father; a letter which reads “I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.” Nic knows that her father can only be talking about Corinne Prescott. She packs up her life in Philadelphia and heads back to Cooley Ridge to see what is going on for herself.

When she gets back to her tiny hometown, it’s like she never left. Her brother still treats her like a teenage disappointment. Locals still think of her as “Patrick Farrell’s daughter.” And most of her high school friends are still working around town; including her high school boyfriend, Tyler.

Just days after Nic comes back into town, another woman goes missing.

Annaleise Carter was a few years younger than Nic in school, and she was completely beneath the notice of a group of recent high school graduates. But ten years ago, during the investigation, Annaleise provided an alibi for Tyler, Nic, and Daniel.

With this new disappearance, suspicion has again fallen on the three of them. Suspicion that brings old theories about what happened to Corinne back into the town’s consciousness.

After being at the center of the Corinne investigation, Nic is suspicious of the way the police operate. She believes that rather than dealing with the facts of Corinne’s case, they focused on revealing secrets – both Corinne’s and those of people connected to her.

She also knows that the town is more interested in having a story to explain what happened, rather than knowing the actual facts. Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson served as the town’s scapegoat, transforming the clean-cut teenager into a single, tattooed bartender living above the local bar.

Nic’s father now lives in a care home where they can monitor his scattered brain. Sometimes her father is lost in old memories, speaking to Nic as if she were her own mother. When Nic tries to talk to him about the letter that he sent her, he becomes evasive, and claims that she is in danger.

Nic cannot be sure if he means that she is in danger now, or if he thinks high school Nic is in danger because of Corinne’s disappearance.

After Nic comes back to Cooley Ridge in the first chapter, the book jumps forward to two weeks after Annaleise’s disappearance – right into the thick of the investigation. Each chapter then pulls back one day until we get back to the night of the first day.

As the book progresses, we learn more about who Nic and her friends were in high school, and what it was like to have a friend like Corinne, who could love you and hate you in equal measure.

Nic also learns who Annaleise was: a woman full of secrets, obsessed with the fate of Corinne Prescott.

 

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Mend! : A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto by Kate Sekules

Over the last couple of years there has been a movement back toward mending. Rather than getting rid of old clothes, you can grab a needle and thread and give them a new life with a few simple techniques. And if the techniques are simple, they can be made complicated – that is where visible mending comes in.

Rather than mending to hide holes and tears, visible mending seeks to celebrate them. Using contrasting fabrics for patches and bold thread colors for seams and darns, visible menders draw attention to their work. They also turn their mass-produced wardrobe into a collection of one-of-a-kind pieces.

Have you ever had to throw out your favorite sweater just because it had a small hole? Visible mending may be for you!

At Joplin Public Library, we have a few books about visible mending – in fact, three have been added in the past year – but my favorite is MEND! : A REFASHIONING MANUAL AND MANIFESTO by KATE SEKULES.

Kate Sekules is a writer, clothes historian, mender, and mending educator; and in Mend! she brings all of these skills to the table. Her book delves into the history of mending worldwide, and into the current renaissance it is having today.

The book is organized into seven chapters that tell the story of mending: What, Why, When, Who, Where, How, and Which. “What” provides a brief introduction to the concept of visible mending.

In “Why,” Sekules talks about the cost of manufactured clothing on the planet, from poor working conditions in factories to the piles of clothing that end up in our landfills.

“When” examines the history of visible mending – starting with the Copper Age patchwork fur pants of Otzi the Iceman and ending with the psychedelic color palettes of 1970s hippie couture.

Sekules showcases the other artists currently making waves in the visible mending movement in the fourth chapter, “Who.”

“Where” discusses storage of your mending materials and organization plans for your wardrobe. Just because you haven’t worn an old skirt in the past year doesn’t mean it needs to be thrown out. Maybe you should add some embellishments and give it a whole new style!

Mend! turns its attention to methods in chapter six, “How.” This chapter provides new menders with a vocabulary to get started, as well as illustrated techniques for basic stitches. Sekules also offers advice for dealing with specific fabric, and finding time for mending.

“Which” follows up with project examples. Since every tear is different, Sekules does not give step-by-step instructions for a project. She gives examples of damage and provides readers with a suggestion for a mending technique.

This book is not a craft project book. There are not any patterns to cut out or numbered instructions to follow. It is a book of ideas; a place to find inspiration. Flip through it just out of curiosity, and when you splatter paint on your best jeans, check this book out again to remember how you do a satin stitch, or what kind of patch fabric works best with denim.

Mend! is full of useful graphs and charts, but it also has its fair share of photographs. And don’t forget that Kate Sekules is a clothes historian – she has a picture of King Tut’s 3,350-year-old mended kerchief, and lots of stories to tell about clothing.

My favorite anecdote from this book has to do with what Sekules calls “the opposite of mending.” In the late 1300s, people were shredding their clothes on purpose. Hoods, gowns, and doublets all received intricate, decorative slashes – probably to mimic the way a knight’s clothes would become slashed in battle.

So whether you’re wearing a punk rock shirt with the sleeves torn off, or pre-ripped jeans you bought at the store, you have these fashion rebels from the 1300s to thank.

As the pages of this book will tell you, visible mending is nothing new. It used to be a necessity to look after the few clothes you were able to afford. Although clothing is much easier to come by these days, we can still choose to be more careful with the clothes we have.

With inspiration from Mend!, and a few basic tools, you can revolutionize your wardrobe and make it as individual as you. But be careful, you may find yourself starting to wish that your clothes would fall apart!

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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

As the title implies, MEXICAN GOTHIC by SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA is an homage to the gothic fiction novels of the 20th century, but one set deep in the mountains of Mexico rather than the English countryside.

Noemí Taboada is the strong-willed, somewhat-spoiled daughter of a wealthy family. She spends her free time reveling in the glamor and decadence of 1950’s Mexico City – dating men her father doesn’t approve of, and enjoying life.

As the book opens, Noemí has been summoned home from a costume party by her father. Expecting to be reprimanded for her choice of date, Noemí is surprised that her father instead wants to talk about her cousin Catalina.

Catalina was recently married following a whirlwind romance. She kept her relationship with Virgil Doyle a secret from everyone, and the two went back to Virgil’s ancestral home as soon as they were wed.

Noemí’s father has received a frantic, confused letter from Catalina claiming that the Doyles are poisoning her and mentioning ghosts. Fearing that either Catalina is in real danger, or that she may need some psychological help that her new husband refuses to provide, Mr. Taboada asks Noemí to visit her cousin and report back about the situation.

Arriving at the crumbling mansion known as High Place, Noemí is immediately at odds with the Doyle family. Virgil is brusque, dismissive, and unhelpful. Virgil’s aunt, Florence, keeps Noemí from visiting Catalina, who she claims has tuberculosis. And the Doyle patriarch, Howard, talks almost exclusively about eugenics.

Now a sickly, bedridden old man, Howard also tells Noemí about his deceased wives. They were a pair of sisters, both wards of Howard when he came to Mexico. He married the elder sister initially, but she died within the year, leaving Howard to marry the younger sister.

From one of the local people in town, Noemí learns about the fate of Howard’s children. Years ago, Howard’s daughter Ruth had fallen in love with a local young man. When the young man went missing following her father’s disapproval of the match, Ruth took a shotgun into the house and shot every member of her family, including herself.

Howard survived his gunshot wound, Florence and young Virgil were not in the house at the time; the three of them were the only remaining members of the Doyle family.

Noemí’s only ally at High Place is Florence’s son, Francis. It is through him that she learns much of the history of the mansion and the Doyle family.  He tells Noemí about his family’s mining business that built their fortune, which has since dried up, and the English cemetery that Howard had constructed – with dirt brought over from Europe – where the deceased Doyles have been laid to rest.

When Noemí is finally allowed to see her cousin, Catalina seems relatively normal. She does seem weak and tired, but more coherent than she was in her letter. Until Catalina tells Noemí that the Doyles can hear her through the walls.

Concerned for her cousin, but unable to convince Virgil to get help for her, Noemí resolves to leave High Place and get help. Up to this point, the Doyles have been creepy and off-putting, but as Noemí attempts to leave the mansion, things begin to get a lot more supernatural.

Moreno-Garcia borrows elements from the classics of gothic fiction, from Flowers in the Attic to Dracula. MEXICAN GOTHIC is a creepy, atmospheric novel. The reader feels a growing dread as the history of the Doyle family is revealed, and as they – along with Noemí – come to understand just how much danger the Taboada cousins are in.

Noemí herself is not a traditional amateur detective. She is focused, driven, and stubborn. But while she has the fashion sense and charisma of a teenage sleuth like Nancy Drew, she has no real interest in solving the case. Her whole focus is on helping her cousin, not piecing together any mysteries.

It is an unusual book, and there is more going on below the surface than I can convey. Once you finish the novel, I recommend seeking out interviews with the author – she has a lot to say about this book, and about the real mining town in central Mexico that inspired the novel.

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